Now a day’s most people consider vultures vile and disgusting birds. If you are one of these people hopefully we will help win you over for the waste management engineers of the wildlife! Here is North America we have two species of vultures, black vultures and turkey vultures. These two species share numerous features but still have their own unique differences.
Even though these birds’ wingspans can be between 4.5-5 feet for black vultures and 5.5-6 feet for turkey vultures, these large birds of prey are not the most graceful fliers. They can often times be observed conserving energy by gliding on thermal up drafts. The black vultures generally hang higher in the drafts above the turkey vultures. While black vultures use their sense of sight to find a meal the turkey vultures have one of the most highly developed senses of smell in the bird world and can pin point carrion in a dense forest within 12-24 hours of death. By floating above the turkey vultures, black vultures can more easily find food by following the turkey vultures and running them off.
Most birds of prey have strong talons and sharp beaks to help in killing and eating their prey. Vultures however have feet more adapt to running, which they can do quite quickly, and are unable to use them to tear into their food. Luckily for black vultures they still have sharp beaks that can easily rip into flesh, sometime so fresh that it is still alive. Turkey vultures on the other hand have a much weaker beak and must rely on either decay or previous scavengers to get to the ‘meat’ of their meals.
Vultures’ also have a very strong family culture which can be seen in their feeding habits. They are highly social and live in close nit family groups that spend meals together and ‘free time’. Monogamous parents work together to raise their young starting from sharing the responsibility of incubating their eggs (typical clutch size of two eggs). Once the eggs have hatched both the mom and dad will regurgitate well digested food for the babies to eat. Even after the babies have fledged and are able to fend for themselves the parents continue to support their young for up to eight more months.
Vultures play a very important role in our ecosystem. Their scientific name, cathartes aura, means purifying breeze, as they assist in the biodegradation of deceased animal matter. If we did not have vultures to play clean-up crew we would have rotting animal carcasses acting as petri dishes for disease. It is actual common practice for farmers in some areas to rely on vultures to clean-up cattle that have passed away. In some religions as well, such as Tibetan Buddhists, people practice a ritual known as sky burials. In this ritual they place their deceased loved one on a platform so that the vultures may release their souls and take to upward to the sky.
Due to this vital role they play in the ecosystem it is important that we continue to protect them. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 does include vultures and states that they may not be harasses, harmed or killed without proper permits issued by the federal government, and there is no open season on vultures! Still numerous vultures are killed each as a result of human impact. Many times other animals are drawn to roadways either in search of food or in an attempt to find other resources and are struck by cars. This then attracts scavengers such as vultures who may share the same fate.
Other Eww-some Adaptations:
Truly bald heads allow for scraps of rotting meat to simply flake off preventing it from leading to disease.
Vulture’s waste contains uric acid which acts as a sterilizer. Vultures will sanitize their legs by defecating on them after they are done eating to kill any disease that may have transferred from their dinner onto their feet or legs.
Vulture’s stomach acid is so strong that they can safely digest; anthrax, botulism, cholera, and salmonella.
When vultures are feeling defensive they vomit! This reflex has two purposes, the first is to repulse the attacker and the second is to lighten their load to aid in escape.
If you happen to find any wildlife in trouble please make sure you report it to a licensed rescue organization like Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife. We also ask that you consider making a donation to Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife so that we may continue our work to conserve and protect wildlife in the Tampa Bay Area.