DixPix Photographs

     

SOUTH CORDILLERA

 
     
  Fauna:  BIRDS OF CARRION  

 

Vultures, and their fellow scavengers of corpses, form an important link in the ecology of the Southern Cordillera, as elsewhere.  They are also among the largest and most gracefully soaring birds, and include the grandest of all, the Condor.

 

The Andean Condor has largely escaped the bad image of its fellow vultures.  It is considered somehow a noble bird, the stuff of emblems and national seals.  The scientific name sort of lays it on the table, however.  Meet  Vultur gryphus. Click to see big picture (516x480 pixels; 30 KB)
It is an amazingly graceful flier.  Most of the time it seems to depend on updrafts to carry it, and on those finger-like wing-tips for control.  The Andean Condor is the national bird of both Chile and Bolivia. Click to see big picture (640x390 pixels; 35 KB)
The Condor looks best when viewed from above, and the white markings of the upper wing are showing.  Here it is soaring above the Futuleufu Valley in southern Chile. Click to see big picture (640x444 pixels; 56 KB)
Covering almost the whole of the southern Andes, the Condors are at home in the Altiplano and the forests of the eastern foothills. Click to see big picture (504x480 pixels; 32 KB)
But somehow they seem to be more emblematic of the crags and icefields of Patagonia. Click to see big picture (640x240 pixels; 41 KB)
A look at the head of a captive male condor shows that whatever their flying skills, on close inspection they look a lot like a vulture. Click to see big picture (615x480 pixels; 78 KB)
The Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) with its red head is the classic vulture and a common site, here checking out an old pelican carcass.  Vultures are called 'jotes' in the Southern Cordillera, and to be more specific this is a 'Jote con Cabeza Colorada'. Click to see big picture (640x424 pixels; 83 KB)
Like Cormorants, Turkey Vultures sometimes sit with wings outstretched, perhaps either to dry them or catch the sun. Click to see big picture (552x480 pixels; 50 KB)
The bare heads of vultures and condors allow them to explore into carcasses such as this of a sea lion, without getting their feathers bloodied. Click to see big picture (563x480 pixels; 128 KB)
Most Turkey Vultures seem to hang around towns and cities, where they find garbage as well as corpses. Click to see big picture (499x480 pixels; 34 KB)
And there is nothing like a vulture patiently waiting overhead when one is on long treks though the desolation of the Atacama Desert. Click to see big picture (640x417 pixels; 35 KB)
The Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) is known as 'Jote con Cabeza Negra' and for some reason it is not even in the same genus as the turkey vulture. Click to see big picture (636x480 pixels; 95 KB)
Apparently they lack the keen sense of smell for detecting carrion that other vultures have, and tend to follow them to carcasses.  They also tend to gravitate toward towns and cities. Click to see big picture (426x480 pixels; 40 KB)
Black Vultures are said to be more social than Turkey Vultures, especially in great spirals circling over cities or during migration.  They will sometimes kill small or young animals. Click to see big picture (467x480 pixels; 77 KB)
It is perhaps unfair to class Caracaras with vultures, as they also hunt, but somehow they always seem to be around carcasses. Click to see big picture (337x480 pixels; 34 KB)
The most common and widespread is the Southern Caracara, locally known as 'Traro' or 'Carancho' (Caracara plancus). Click to see big picture (610x480 pixels; 102 KB)
Lacking both the size and the featherless head of the true vultures, the caracara is at somewhat of a disadvantage in the squabbling hordes that tend to collect around any large, fresh carcass. Click to see big picture (358x480 pixels; 74 KB)
The Chimango or Tiuque (Milvago chimango) is often classed with the Caracaras, in fact its full name is 'Chimango Caracara'.  This one is looking quite plump and content in Bariloche, Argentina. Click to see big picture (432x480 pixels; 70 KB)
Its role has been likened to that of crows in North America, and indeed in field and farmland they are on the lookout for anything that has died or is small enough to kill. Click to see big picture (640x471 pixels; 104 KB)
Here is one near Curico, checking out farmland in the central valley of Chile.
But Chimangos seem mainly drawn to towns, where they (like crows) have become a bit of a specialist in garbage and road-kills. Click to see big picture (543x480 pixels; 55 KB)
The handsome Mountain Caracara (Phalcoboenus megalopterus), with a juvenile on right, taken at over 4000 meters altitude in the Yauyos Range, Peru.  Known as Carancho Cordillerano, it seems more a bird of prey than other caracaras. cara mtn
The rare King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) only gets peripherally into the area of concern in Bolivia and northern Argentina.  As this captive specimen shows, however, it a spectacular bird. Click to see big picture (317x480 pixels; 78 KB)