Saturday, September 1, 2012

Really Weird Birds Part 6: International Vulture Awareness Day

Since International Vulture Awareness Day is this weekend, in this episode of Really Weird Birds, we will take a look at some weird vultures!  Vultures are unusual and gross birds to begin with, but some are just extra strange. 

First up, the Lammergeier, also called the Bearded Vulture, is native to mountainous regions from Europe  through much of  Asia and Africa.
 Bearded Vultures like mountainous areas, sometimes living as high as 25,000 feet.

Many people know that vultures are scavengers and eat the meat of dead animals.  But the Bearded Vulture will land at the skeletal remains of an animal and have a feast!  Yes, this vulture is happy to eat just the bones! 

Bone marrow is a nutritious and life-sustaining food source for Bearded Vultures, and it makes up 85-90% of their diet.  In fact, to get to the marrow in very large bones, while carrying the bone with their feet they will fly high over a rocky area and drop the bone, shattering it on the rocks.  They will then just swallow the shards not bothering to extract the marrow.  They let their stomachs do the work.  Their powerful stomach acid, with a pH of 1 (the same as battery acid), dissolves the bone.  The Bearded Vulture has a strange but excellent strategy of obtaining nutrients that are inaccessible to most other animals.

Next in our line-up is the Palm-nut Vulture, found in forests and savannahs across sub-Saharan Africa, usually near water.
 The Palm-nut Vulture is the smallest of the Old World Vultures.

Unlike other vultures, this one is omnivorous…mostly vegetarian, in fact.  Their favorite food is the fruit from oil palm trees!  They will hang upside-down underneath the fruit, pull it off with their beak then hold it in their feet to eat it.  Sometimes they will also eat small vertebrates and invertebrates such as fish, crabs, amphibians and mollusks.  Rarely have they been witnessed at the scene of a dead animal. 

Our next candidate, the Egyptian Vulture, performs a very interesting behavior.
The Egyptian Vulture has a wide breeding range from southern Europe to northern Africa east to western and southern Asia.

This is a vulture that has figured out how to use a tool to help obtain a delicious meal. For example, if they find an ostrich egg, the shell is too strong for them to break without help.  An Egyptian vulture will pick up a stone in its beak and repeatedly throw it at the egg until the shell cracks and breaks.
 Osiris, WBS’s Egyptian Vulture, demonstrating how to break an Ostrich egg
Vultures are not usually considered handsome, but our final candidate, the King Vulture, is unusual because of its beautiful coloration!  They have the most awesome color arrangement on their heads compared to any other vulture. 
 King Vultures are found in South America.

King Vultures have a variety of colors on their head: red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, black.  In addition, the majority of their body is mostly white with a light rose tint, very unlike the other vultures in the New World, which have mostly very dark feathers. Their powerful hooked beaks are expertly adapted for ripping through tough carcasses.  Other scavenger birds give way when these guys arrive at a dead animal.

To learn about the resident vultures at the World Bird Sanctuary, the threats facing vultures all over the world, and what you can do to help, visit us on September 1st for our celebration of International Vulture Awareness Day!

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

1 comment:

Lemayrenee said...

So cool. Love the vultures. Just returned from WBS it was a wonderful day. Cool and rainy. They did not seem to mind so neither did I. I got to see several of my vulture friends today.