Friday, September 16, 2011

Vulture Culture

Scavenging is their specialty and vultures are extraordinary scavengers.  The vulture has keen eyesight and excellant sense of smell.  This aids in finding dead critters to dine on. Vultures are fairly heavy birds, which is useful in chasing other scavengers such as coyotes or jackals away from a carrion feast. Various species of vulture possess different characteristics designed for the food they eat.  For example, some vultures have super strong bills, the better to rip tendons and sinew off a carcass.  Other vultures have long necks that make it convenient to reach deep inside of a dead animal and pluck out some tasty innards.  Still other vultures eat the bones of an animal.  Large bones are dropped from great heights to break them up for easier swallowing.  These birds have amazingly strong stomach acids to do the digesting.

Most Vultures eat dead things.  However, some eat insects and the inside material of eggs.  To crack a small egg, the bird will pick it up and drop it.  If it is a larger egg, the vulture will repeatedly drop a stone on the egg to crack the shell.

Vultures rarely flap their wings and are able stay aloft on wind currents for hours.  Many vultures gather in groups to rest, as well as while soaring.  Some vultures work together with other (vulture) species to find dead stuff to eat.  They then share the find.

Some Vulture Facts
-they are found in North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia
-22 different species
-male and female look similar
-they lack a syrinx (the body part most birds use to sing with)
-mostly quiet, but occasionally hiss and wheeze
-vulture fossils have been found along side of mastodons
-they lay their eggs on the bare ground or in a hollow log
-largest vulture has a wingspan of 12 feet and weighs 26 pounds
-many vultures squirt urine onto their legs to keep cool
-can eat as much as 20% of their body weight
-feet designed for walking, no talons

What is the difference between a Vulture and a Condor?  And where does the Buzzard fit in?

Most vultures from Europe, Africa and Asia are decended from birds of prey such as eagles.  Those found in the Americas are from the same line of ancestry as storks.  These similar birds coming from separate roots are considered examples of divergant evolution. The difference between a vulture and a condor appears to be a secret known only to experts. 

As for buzzards: that is a charming colloquial term for condors and vultures originating from the USA.

Condors and Vultures by David Houston
Encyclodedia of North American Birds by Michael Vanner



  1. I think they get a bad rep, from the scavenging, but I've always thought of them as a magnificent bird.

  2. They get too little respect, that's for sure. Vultures ought to be celebrated - scavengers provide an important clean up service!

    I love watching them soar in the sky. They are indeed, magnifient.

  3. They are also BIG. I was walking a chocolate lab named Kemi down a trail once and we came across one working on something. He looked at us, we looked at him, he took one step toward us and Kemi and I were out of there!

  4. They are big! I see Turkey Vultures up close quite regularly. Each time, I'm astounded at the size of them- they seem almost prehistoric!