The vulture, made famous in cartoons as a precursor of death but in reality a massive bird of prey and an important contributor to keeping the bush clean. they are present on all continents except for Australia and Antarctica.
There are 22 species and almost all of them are at least in a concerned state according to a 2016 study. It was found that 9 are critically endangered, 3 are endangered, 4 are near threatened, and only 6 are least concern.
Sadly, in some areas these birds are purposefully poisoned by poachers so that rangers will not find the poachers kills quickly as they are a dead giveaway that something’s amiss and rangers go to investigate the death often finding it first thing in the morning. Tracking the poachers can then start immediately and the earlier the start the greater the chance of catching the culprits.
Vultures typically feed on carrion but sometimes prey on sick or dying animals. Some species have very little in the way of neck feathers which allow the birds to use their long necks to get deep into a carcass without matting the feathers in the dead animals body fluids.
At times vultures may take lambs or as in Argentina, the Andean Vulture at times takes calves. Animals that eat carrion keep the rest of the kingdom safe as there is less likelihood of disease spreading if the carcass is consumed.
The bearded vulture has such powerful stomach acids that it can break down bones in around 24 hours – bones and bone marrow account for most of this birds diet!
Then you get the other side of the scale, the Palm Nut vulture that eats fruit from palm trees as well as grains and husks, this all being the major part of its diet, but it is not totally disowned by its relatives as it does still eat small mammals and carrion.
Vultures soar on the currents for hours using their incredibly good eyesight to find a carcass and some species such as the Turkey Vulture use their awesome sense of smell too. It is believed that on average vultures can see a 3 ft (1 m) long carcass in the open from 4 miles ( 6 km) away. They are also quick to detect circling of other birds, realizing that it may be food, but vultures don’t circle dying animals waiting for the to die.
On the ground there is a definitive pecking order in that the larger birds get first option but any mammal scavengers such as jackals, hyenas and coyotes get priority so its necessary to eat really fast when the opportunity presents itself. Vultures fill their crops and feeding on a carcass is often the land version of a shark frenzy. Vultures have incredibly powerful stomach acid which allows them to feed on rotting carcasses which are often infected with forms of bacteria or diseases that would normally kill other mammals.
Vulture predators are really a threat for young birds and chicks and consist of other birds of prey and raccoons. When threatened a vulture will vomit which does two things, it may distract the predator buying precious time and also lightens the load for the vulture to get airborne.
Vultures pair for life or at least for a number of years, often spending time together outside of the breeding season. The nest is usually found either in a cave, on a rock ledge r in a thicket. The clutch is normally between 1 and 3 eggs with chicks hatching in about 30 to 40 days and will fledge at around 9 to 10 weeks.
Some interesting facts about Turkey Vultures is that they like to nest in hollow trees, managing to climb up and down the vertical hollow tube. When the young fledge they need to first climb all the way up before facing the daunting task of mastering flight.
Furthermore, they have a night time body temperature about 6 degrees Celsius (43 F ) lower than the daytime.
And here’s something amazing about Egyptian vultures which use rocks to break open eggs, typically ostrich eggs. The sad part for the vulture is that there is often an audience in the form of ravens and as soon as the egg is broken they charge in and relieve the vulture of its well deserved meal.
Vultures, unlike other birds of prey don’t have the powerful talons but still have the awesome and deadly beak. Vultures are known to peck at the eyes of dying animals, leaving them blind while using their sharp beaks to tear open the skin and access the meat.
Vultures defecate on their feet which serves to both cool the legs and kill any bacteria they might have picked up at a carcass. This works for vultures due to their high strength acid in their systems.