CONDOR

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CONDOR. The popular name of the great vulture of the Andes, formed by a mispronunciation of the Indian name hunter, which, according to Humboldt, is derived from another word in the language of the Incas, signifying to smell well. This species (vultur gryphus L., hodie cathartes gryphus) belongs to the vulturine family of diurnal rapacious birds, and the genus cothartes of Illiger, &c, which is distinguished by the following characters :the bill is elongated and straight at base; the upper mandible is covered to the middle by the cere; the nostrils are medial, approximate, oval, pervious and naked; the tongue is canaliculate, with serrated edges; the head is elongated, depressed and rugous; the tarsus rather slender; the lateral toes equal; the middle toe is much the longest, the inner free, and the hind one shortest; the first primary is rather short, the third and fourth are longest.The natural history of the condor was in a fair way to rival the ancient fables of griffins, basilisks and dragons, or even of exceeding the roc of Sinbad the Sailor, in extravagant exaggeration, until that admirable and judicious observer, Von Humboldt, placed it upon the basis of truth. By divesting this bird of all fictitious attributes, and bringing it into its proper family, he certainly spoiled a great number of romantic narratives of their principal embellishment; but he amply compensated therefor, by giving this additional proof, that there are no monsters in nature, and that even when she appears to depart most from jhe ordinary standard, as to size, situation or habits, her beings are parts of a single plan, in which all the agents are modifications of one great type. We therefore feel grateful to the indefatigable naturalist, whose residence of 17 months in the native mountains of the condor enabled him daily to observe its peculiarities and habits, and to furnish us with satisfying statements of realities, in place of the wild and inconclusive figments, so long imposed upon mankind. His careful measurements establish the fact, that the wonderfully gigantic condor is not generally larger than the lammergeyer, or bearded vulture of the Alps, which it closely resembles in various points of character. We shall soon see whether the rational student has lost by stripping the condor of qualities bestowed upon it solely by credulous ignorance, and whether the truth to be told of its history be not more interesting than all the fictions. Upon a chain of mountains, whose summits, lifted far above the highest clouds, are robed in snows coeval with creation, we find a race of birds, whose magnitude and might, compared with others of the feathered kind, is in something like the proportion of their huge domicils to earth's ordinary elevations. Above all animal life, and at the extreme limit of even Alpine vegetation, these birds prefer to dwell, inhaling an air too highly rarified to be endured, unless by creatures expressly adapted thereto. From such immense elevations they soar, still more sublimely, upwards into the darkblue heavens, until their great bulk diminishes to a scarcely perceptible speck, or is lost to the aching sight of the observer. In these pure fields of ether, unvisited even by the thundercloudregions which may be regarded as his own exclusive domaino the condor delights to sail, and with piercing glance surveys the surface of the earth, towards which he never stoops his wing, unless at the call of hunger. Surely this power to waft and sustain himself in the loftiest regions of the air; his ability to endure, uninjured, the exceeding cold attendant on such remoteness from the earth; and to breathe, with ease, in an atmosphere of such extreme rarity; together with the keenness of sight, that, from such vast heights, can minutely scan the objects below,are sufficiently admirable to entitle the condor to our attention, though we no longer regard it as a prodigy, or as standing altogether solitary in the scale of creation.Notwithstanding that the condor is a lover of the clearest and purest air, it must be confessed that he is a carrion bird, and is quickly lured to the plains by the sight or scent of a carcass, especially of a sheep or ox. To such a feast considerable numbers repair, and commence their filthy banquet by first plucking out the eyes, and then tearing away the tongue of the ani* mal, their favorite delicacies ; next to these, the bowels are the morsels most eagerly sought for, and devoured with that greedy gluttony which distinguishes the whole vulture tribe. The appetite of these birds seems to be limited only by the quantity of food that can be gorged into their stomachs; and when thus overloaded, they appear sluggish, oppressed, and unable to raise themselves into the air. The Indians profit by this condition to revenge themselves on the condors for the many robberies which they commit upon their flocks, and, watching while they eat, until flight has become exceedingly difficult, attack and secure them by nooses, or knock them down with poles, before they can get out of the way. If the CONDOR, thus loaded, succeeds in rising a short distance from the ground, he makes a violent effort, kicking his feet towards his throat, and relieves himself by vomiting, when he soon ascends out of reach. Many, however, are surprised, and captured or killed before they are able to ascend. But the condor does not exclusively feed upon dead or putrefying flesh; he attacks and destroys deer, vicunas, and other middlingsized or small quadrupeds; and, when pinched by hunger, a pair of these birds will attack a bullock, and, by repeated wounds with their beaks and claws, harass him, until, from fatigue, he thrusts out his tongue, which they immediately seize, and tear from his head; they also pluck out the eyes of the poor beast, which, if not speedily rescued, must soon fall a prey to their voracity. It is said to be very common to see the cattle of the Indians, on the Andes, suffering from the severe wounds inflicted by these rapacious birds. It does not appear that they have ever attacked the human race. When Humboldt, accompanied by his friend Bonpland, was collecting plants near the limits of perpetual snow, they were daily in company with several condors, which would suffer themselves to be quite closely approached without exhibiting signs of alarm, though they never showed any disposition to act offensively. They were not accused, by the Indians, of ever carrying off* children, though frequent opportunities were presented, had they been so disposed. Humboldt believes that no authenticated case can be produced, in which the lammergeyer of the Alps ever carried off* a child, though so currently accused of such theft, but that the possibility of the evil has led to the belief of its actual existence. The condor is not known to build a nest, but is said to deposit its eggs on the naked rocks. The eggs are reported to be altogether white, and 3 or 4 inches long. When hatched, the female is said to remain with the young for a whole year, in order to provide them with food, and to teach them to supply themselves. In relation to all these points, satisfactory information still remains to be desired. We have seen that hunger impels the condors to descend to the plains, and it is also true, that they are occasionally seen even on the shores of the Southern ocean, in the cold and temperate regions of Chile, where the Andes so closely approach the shores of the Pacific. Their sojourn, however, in such situations, is but for a short time, as they seem to require a much cooler and more highly rarified air, and prefer those lofty solitudes where the barometer does not rise higher than 16 degrees. When they descend to the plains, they alight on the ground, rather than upon trees or other projections, as the straightness of their toes renders the first mentioned situation most eligible. Humboldt saw the condor only in New Grenada, Quito and Peru, but was informed that it follows the chain of the Andes from the equator to the 7th degree of north latitude, into the province of Antioquia. There is now no doubt of its appearing even in Mexico, and the southwestern territory of the U. States.The head of the male condor is furnished with a sort of cartilaginous crest, of an oblong figure, wrinkled, and quite slender, resting upon the forehead and hinder part of the beak, for about a fourth of its length; at the base of the bill it is free. The female is destitute of this crest. The skin of the head, in the male, forms folds behind the eye, which descend towards the neck, and terminate in a flabby, dilatable or erectile membrane. The structure of the crest is altogether peculiar, bearing very little resemblance to the cock's comb, or the wattles of a turkey. The auricular orifice is of considerable size, but concealed by folds of the temporal membrane. The eye, which is peculiarly elongated, and farther distant from the beak than in the eagles, is of a purple hue, and very brilliant. The neck is uniformly marked by parallel longitudinal wrinkles, though the membrane is not so flabby as that covering the throat, which appear to be caused by the frequent habit of drawing the neck downwards, to conceal or warm it within the collar or hood. The collar, in both sexes, is a fine silken down, forming a white band between the naked part of the neck and beginning of the true feathers, and is rather more than 2 inches broad, not entirely surrounding the neck, but leaving a very narrow naked space in front. The rest of the surface, the back, wings and tail, are of a slightly grayishblack, though sometimes they are brilliantly black; the feathers are triangular, and placed over each other tilewise. Humboldt never saw male condors with white backs, though descriptions of such have been given by Molina and others. The primaries are black; the secondaries, in both sexes, are exteriorly edged with white. The wing coverts, however, offer the best distinction of the sexes, being grayishblack in the female, while, in the male, their tips, and even half of the shafts, are white, so that his wings are ornamented with beautiful white spots. The tail is blackish, wedgeshaped, rather short, and contains 12 feathers. The feet are very robust, and of aai ashenblue color, marked with white wrinkles. The claws are blackish, very long, and but slightly hooked. The 4 toes are united by an obvious but delicate membrane ; the fourth is the smallest, and has the most crooked claw. The following are the dimensions of the largest male condor described by Humboldt (it was killed on the eastern declivity of Chimborazo):length, from tip of the beak to the tip of the tail, 3 feet 3 inches 2 lines (French); height, when perched, with the neck moderately extended, 2 feet 8 inches; entire length of head and beak, 6 inches 11 lines; beak alone, 2 inches 9 lines ; breadth of beak, closed, 1 inch 2 lines; envergure, or from the tip of one extended wing to the other, 8 feet 9 inches; breadth of leg bone, 11 lines; length of longest toe, without the claw, 3 inches 11 lines ; claw, 2 inches; length of two lateral toes, with their claws, 3 inches 7 lines; claw, 2 inches 3 lines; shortest toe and claw, 1 inch 8 lines. From this measurement, it is obvious that the condor does not exceed the average size of the largest European vulture; and Humboldt states that he never saw a condor whose envergure measured more than 9 French feet. He was also assured, by veiy credible inhabitants of the country, that they never saw one whose envergure was greater than 11 feet. He finally concludes that 14 feet is about the maximum size to which the largest condor would attain. Two or three specimens of the condor have been exhibited in Philadelphia and New York within the last 7 years, and were evidently not full grown birds; yet the envergure of the largest of them measured 11 English feet. The envergure of the specimen belonging to the Leverian museum, described by Dr. Shaw, measured 14 English feet. Notwithstanding, therefore, what is said by Humboldt, of the general correspondence in size of the Alpine lammergeyer and the condor of the Ancles, we cannot avoid believing that a full grown individual of the latter species would be much more than a match, in every respect, for any European species. The condor is pecuharly tenacious of life, and has been observed, after having been hung for a considerable time by the neck, in a noose, to rise and walk away quickly when taken down for dead, and to receive several pistol bullets in its body without appearing greatly injured. The great size and strength of its plumage defends its body, to a considerable degree, from the effects of shot. It is easily killed when shot, or struck sufficiently hard, about the head.