For the past five years, Andy N. Condor has been fêted with an aviary-wide celebration of his advancing age. Now, as he nears his golden years, the Andean condor’s big bird-day is being celebrated around the world.
The popular vulture’s Facebook page—where he has more than 13,000 followers—has been displaying sneak peaks of hatch-day well-wishes from fans and friends world-wide, including a very large special package from Princess Condor, a slightly older female bird who resides at the Philadelphia Zoo. Might we say she’s a cougar condor?
At Andy’s 60th bird-day celebrations this Saturday, April 27, aviary staff will unveil a video compilation of more than 90 bird-day messages from fans. The schedule of activities, which last from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., also includes a chance for the condor to tear into his special package from Princess and devour an entrail-filled bird-day cake.
Andy recently received a visitor who travelled all the way from Pennsylvania for his birthday, Helen Dishaw, the vulture’s primary caretaker, says in a Facebook post. “She cried when she met him,” Dishaw recalls. “Ever had the feeling you are in the presence of greatness? I feel that way every day with Andy—he just touches people's hearts in ways that humble me.”
Andy was hatched—the staff is careful to note that birds, technically, do not have birthdays—at the San Diego Zoo in 1959, and he’s lived at the Tracy Aviary since 1960. Condors can survive to their late 70s in captivity, so Andy still has his best years ahead of him. Local Utahns who remember seeing Andy as kids decades ago now bring their own children and grandchildren to see him. "That sense of history here is humbling. He's been inspiring people longer than we've been alive,” Dishaw previously told City Weekly .
The big bird only got his first taste of the outdoors eight years ago, when Dishaw started taking him on walks around the aviary. His daily strolls quickly became a favorite of guests and staff alike.
Dishaw has gotten to know Andy pretty well over the years. "He's like the love of my life," she told the Weekly in 2017. "If something happened to him, I don't know what I'd do."
Vultures are not generally known for their positive attributes. “He's a vulture, the most vilified and persecuted of species," Dishaw noted. But the caretaker and other aviary staff members believe Andy has something to teach guests about what the scavengers are really like, including their tendency toward cleanliness and curiosity. Condors are the largest flying land birds in the Western hemisphere. Although Andean condors are not endangered, their numbers are decreasing. Andy is one of the only Andean condors in Western states.
He is related to the California condors, which are endangered, with only 463 members of the species as of 2017. That’s up from 22 in the late 1980s. Biologists recently located a rare California condor pair nesting in Zion National Park, where the monogamous birds are caring for their first egg.
“This is a really fun opportunity because Andy is such a likable character,” Tony Miller, the aviary’s marketing events coordinator, says of the impending festivities. “It gives people a chance to learn about vultures because people have a lot of misconceptions about vultures and the good they do for the world.”