As part of our study of Bolivia and the “Around the World in 12 Dishes” series, we looked more closely at one of the great symbols of the Andes – the condor. A really great online resource about the Andean condor (cousin to the also endangered California condor) is, of course, National Geographic.
Many Americans are familiar with the famous song “El Condor Pasa,” written by a Peruvian composer last century and based on Andean folk melodies. It was later popularized by none other than Paul Simon, who added his own lyrics. He can be seen here singing on Sesame Street:
The condor had been respected by the native Andeans as a mystical bird, but the newly arrived Spanish saw it as a nuisance. Ironically, the Spanish hunted it to near extinction out of a mistaken belief that it was killing their cattle. Yet this was not the case, as the condor is a scavenger, meaning it feeds off of carrion (dead meat), just like a vulture.
My Monkey was quite indignant over this devastating mistake: “They should have killed the eagles instead!” he told me many times. Well, not quite the “living in harmony with the natural world” sentiment I was aiming for, but at least he does have an emotional attachment to the condor!
The Andean condor is one of the largest flying birds on the planet – in fact, it is the largest if you go by wingspan, as they measure an enormous 10 feet (3 meters) from tip to tip. They need that wing power, as they are also some of the heaviest flying birds around!
To help Monkey get a sense of just how large these birds were, we did an activity based on a display I saw at our local zoo. The idea is to have children measure their own “wingspan” and compare it to the wingspans of various birds, including the condor.
First we researched the wingspans of various birds, from the Andean and California condors to the hummingbird. Then, of course, we measured his!
Here are the measurements we used:
Hummingbird: 4 inches
Mandarin duck: 28 inches
My Monkey: 46 inches
Bald Eagle: 7 feet
California Condor: 9.5 feet
Andean Condor: 10 feet
Then we marked the measurements all on our floor with masking tape. (We had planned to do more birds, but Little Monkey thought the game was to pull up all of the tape markings as soon as we had put them down, so we decided to keep our list relatively brief).
We first marked a spot that would serve as our center then marked each wingspan on either side of this, so that when you look down at the floor, the wingspans line up on top of each other and you can really see how they size up.
Beyond learning about the Andean condor and other birds, this is a great exercise in measuring and counting. Older kids could also help halve the wingspan measurements, since half (one wing) is on either side of the middle mark.
Our conclusion: Andean condors are big! But don’t worry – they’ll only eat you if you’re already dead 😉
Title image via http://indiracevallos.wikispaces.com/
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