21 Interesting Vulture Facts: Nature’s Clean-up Crew

A vulture is a unique kind of bird that is known as a bird of prey. This bird scavenges on carrion. Vultures are sociable birds and are mostly seen as a collective unit. However, they have different types of names according to what they do at a specific time.

These are fascinating birds that can be found on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica.

They play a crucial role in the ecosystem by cleaning up carcasses and preventing disease spread. So, today we will learn some amazing facts about this amazing creature known as the vulture.

Facts About Vultures

There are Old World and New World vultures:

There are mainly Old World and New World vultures. Old World vultures have 16 types of living species that can be found in Africa, Europe, and Asia. On the other hand, the vultures known as New World vultures have seven types of species that can be found in North and South America.

Vultures have different names depending on their activities:

A group of vultures has different names as per their different activities. When they are in flight, they are called a ‘kettle.’ However, when they are resting in trees or on the ground, they are known as ‘committee,’ and when they are feeding, they are termed a ‘wake.’

Outside of the oceans, these vultures are the only well-known birds that are obligate scavengers.

They are bald birds:

A specific characteristic of many vultures is that they are bald, unfeather-headed birds. The bare skin of these birds is believed to keep their head clean when feeding and even plays a vital role in thermoregulation.

Also, there is a very practical reason behind their baldness. When vultures feed on carrion, their heads often become covered in blood and various other fluids. Having a bald head makes it much easier for vultures to remain clean and avoid infection.

Vultures have great eyesight:

Vultures have excellent eyesight so that they can spot a carcass from a great distance. In addition to this, they have a keen sense of smell. This helps them to locate their prey. Vultures can see almost four times better than us humans and also can see a wider range of colors.

They have a unique digestive system:

Vultures are scavengers, which means they feed mostly on the remains of dead animals. So, they have a unique digestive system that enables them to eat rotting flesh without getting sick. 

The powerful stomach acid of vultures helps them digest putrid carcasses infected with botulinum toxin, anthrax bacteria, and even hog cholera bacteria that would be lethal to many other scavengers. Hence, they can remove a lot of harmful bacteria from the environment.

They are social birds:

Vultures are social birds and can be found in large groups. They usually communicate with each other through grunts, hisses, and other vocalizations. They also engage in social grooming, which assists them in maintaining their feathers and removing any parasites.

They are very patient birds:

Vultures are incredibly patient birds. They can wait for several hours for their prey to die. This is because they like to eat already dead carrion rather than kill their own prey.

They have a long lifespan:

Vultures have a relatively long lifespan. Some of their species can even live up to thirty years in the wild. This is because they usually eat carrions, which reduces their risk of contracting diseases.

They are amazingly efficient feeders:

Vultures are very efficient feeders and can easily strip a carcass down to the bones in just a few hours.

Their strong beaks and talons help them to tear through flesh and break bones. Moreover, they have a strong sense of smell that helps them to detect the scent of rotting flesh from more than a mile away.

They are important for our ecosystem:

Vultures play a vital role in the ecosystem by cleaning up a lot of carcasses and preventing the spread of disease.

Without this bird, carcasses would rot and become a breeding ground for bacteria and other unwanted pathogens.

They have a unique method of cooling themselves:

Vultures can be seen to hunch their bodies and also tuck their heads in the cold. They also open their large wings and stretch their necks in the heat. Also, they defecate on their legs, which helps evaporate moisture and cool them down.

New World vultures even urinate straight down their legs; hence, the uric acid can kill bacteria accumulated from walking through carcasses.

They do not carry food:

These unique birds do not carry food to their children in their talons; instead, they disgorge it from their crops. The bearded vulture in the mountains is the only species specializing in eating bones. These birds carry bones to the nest for the young and only hunt some live prey.

They are built for soaring:

Vultures have broad, long wings that are perfectly designed for soaring. They can stay aloft for several hours at a time. This enables them to cover large distances in search of food.

The Andean condor vultures that are found in South America have the largest wingspan among almost all types of vultures in the world. Their wings are spread 10 to 11 feet when extending them fully.

They are endangered:

Many species of vultures are endangered, with some populations declining by almost 99%. Vultures in South Asia, especially Nepal, and India, have dramatically reduced since the early 1990s. 

It has been discovered that this decline resulted from the residues of the veterinary drug known as Diclofenac in animal carcasses. Hence, the Government of India has taken this fact seriously and has banned this drug for animals. 

They may vomit if threatened:

Some vultures often vomit when approached or threatened. However, some people believe those vultures do not “projectile vomit” on their attacker to defend themselves but lighten their load, which can help them take off easily. The vomited meal residue can distract their predator, offering them much time to escape.

They are often associated with death:

In multiple cultures, vultures are often associated with death and even sometimes seen as a symbol of bad luck or doom. This is because they feed on carrion, which is associated with decay.

Egyptians believe that vultures are female:

In ancient times, Egyptians believed that all types of vultures were female and were born from eggs without the intervention of a male.

Thus, those birds were even linked to motherhood and purity. However, these birds were also associated with the eternal cycle of rebirth and death.

Vultures were present in many ancient myths and stories:

In Pre-Columbian times, these unique birds, known as vultures, were considered extraordinary beings and had high iconographic status.

Vultures appeared in various Mesoamerican legends, myths, and even fables, with many civilizations, like the Aztecs and Mayan, developing many stories around vultures. Many Mesoamerican stories depict vultures negatively, whereas others carry more positive attitudes.

Their decreasing population can be a threat to humans:

The decreased population of vultures is a big threat to us humans. For instance, the declines in the populations of this unique bird species may result in resource damage and increased disease transmission through increased numbers of pests and disease vector populations that scavenge carcasses opportunistically. 

Vultures help us a lot by indirectly controlling these disease vectors and pests through competition for carcasses.

Some vultures lay eggs on the ground:

After mating, the black vultures do not build nests. Instead, they usually lay their eggs directly on the ground.

In some cases, they lay eggs in bare, dark cavities that can be found in caves, cliffs, hollowed trees or stumps, brush piles, or abandoned buildings.

The crow-sized hood is the smallest:

The vulture, known as a crow-sized hooded vulture, is one of the smallest vultures around the world. These birds have a wingspan of just five feet, and you can see them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Hence, at the end of this article, we learned about 21 amazing facts about vultures. These facts have offered us a clear picture of this significant bird of our ecosystem. To know more, you can visit our website.

vulture infographic

Interesting Takeaways:

  1. Vultures are scavenging birds that play a critical role in cleaning up animal carcasses and preventing the spread of disease.
  2. Vultures have a unique adaptation in their digestive system that allows them to consume carrion without getting sick.
  3. Many species of vultures are currently threatened or endangered due to habitat loss, hunting, and poisoning.
  4. Vultures have a long history of cultural significance in various societies, often being viewed as symbols of death and purification.
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