Tuesday, December 14, 2010

ABC Wedneyday: V is for Vulture

There are two groups of vultures, Old World and New World vultures. All of them are carrion eaters, often with some degree of specialization (feeding only on bones ect.). They can digest not only rotten meat, but also meat infected with anthrax, Botulism and other disease, thus preventing infections from spreading.

Here's a vulture that those of you in the Americas may be familiar with, the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura). That is the only vulture species I have ever seen in the wild, in Oregon, where a group fed on a dead gull.
Turkey vultures are unusual birds because they have a very keen sense of smell and use it to find food, especially those populations living in wooded areas. They also don't have a larynx and can only vocalize in hisses and grunts.

A Monk Vulture (Aegypius monachus) so called because of the "shaved" head and cowl. It's a large bird, with a wingspan of up to 3 metres/119 inches and it can fly at very high altitudes, the haemoglobin in its blood can take in an extra amount of oxygen. It lives in Europe and Asia and it can feed on things like small bones, sinews and muscles that other vultures and carrion eaters won't eat.
This bird isn't blind in one eye, it just blinked and shows the nictitating membrane, the third eyelid.

Here's a Griffon Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) also known as Laemmergeier (lamb vulture) because it was believed that they attacked lambs. They are counted among the Old World vultures, but in fact they are not that closely related to other vultures and resemble hawks in many respects. They have a feathered neck because once they arrive at a carcass, there are usually only the bones left. The Bearded Vulture will then either crack the bones with its beak or pick up big bones and drop them onto rock from a great height. They feed almost exclusively on bone marrow. They used to be called Ossifrage, which means bone breaker, and they may also use that technique on tortoises.

Here's my favourite vulture, the King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa).
Königsgeier Frankfurt
It lives in Central and South America and it got its name because when several vulture species will gather around a carcass, the King Vulture is the first to feed and will chase all the others away. With the exception of the condor, the King Vulture is the biggest vulture. Here's a closeup of the colourful head.

Schmutzgeier Hanover
Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), here's a much better picture. They are one of the few bird species who use tools, they crack ostrich eggs with stones. Apart from eggs, they eat just about anything: carrion, plants, insects and even faeces. They are common in Africa and there is a small population in Europe.
Depictions of Egyptian vultures were used as hieroglyphs and they were sacred birds.

See what else V stands for with ABC Wednesday

Photos were taken at Tierpark Berlin (Griffon and Monk Vulture), Zoo Frankfurt (King Vulture), Zoo Hannover (Egyptian Vulture) and Burgers Zoo (Turkey Vulture).


Cezar and Léia said...

This post is very interesting and I loved that you could illustrated all birds.I didn't know about this Vultures, thanks for sharing!

Sylvia K said...

Great bird for the V Day, although I have to admit they're not one of my favorites! Your photos are terrific as always and the information you share with us is always fascinating and informative! Hope your week is off to a great start! Enjoy!


Roger Owen Green said...

Well, I guess they perform a function in the world. But they're not my favorite creatures. and a couple of them are rather homely to boot!

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Gigi Ann said...

What a clever and informative V day post today. I didn't know there were so many different Vultures throughout the world. Enjoyed reading the information about them. Thanks for all the research you did for us today.

EG Wow said...

The only vultures I have seen are turkey vultures. They are very common here during the warm months but they fly south for the winter. They are very good at cleaning up roadkill on country roads.

photowannabe said...

Ugly but totally fascinating. We have a lot of Turkey Vultures around here. Thanks for showing so many varieties.

Reader Wil said...

Your post is as always very instructive, interesting and well written. You are an expert in biology!Have a great Christmas time!

Wanda said...

They are so ugly, they are magnificent. That close up link you shared about made me jump out of my skin!!!!

That's as close as I ever want to be. Most interesting read, and I do learn to much from you weekly.

Tumblewords: said...

Wonderfully expressive photos. I've seen several of these in the sky and in action but without the 'up close and personal' that you've captured so well here!

Rinkly Rimes said...

It seems vultures do very useful work! Botulism indeed! What a pity they have such a bad press!

VioletSky said...

It's not everyone who can post so enthusiastically about vultures. they are fascinating birds, but I must admit, that Monk Vulture is especially ugly!

Jama said...

Looks like our choice is the same except that mine is not the real vultures! lol

Gattina said...

Honnestly I prefer a cute little owl to this kind of birds, they have vicious eyes !

Hooked on Memes said...

You gave us such an interesting essay on vultures. Thank you!

I didn't know about their function in preventing disease. I shall certainly look on these birds in a new light. Well done.

Y. Ikeda said...

Fabulous entry! I could learn a lot from your post with great photos. Now I want to see vultures in my eyes since I haven't. Thanks for sharing and have a wonderful day.

MorningAJ said...

Amazing birds! Super photos.