Vulture bird is one of the most common scavengers (feeding on carrion/dead plant material). There are almost 23 different species of vulture bird.
These birds are often misunderstood as an indication of death but actually they are important part of natural ecosystem. They feed on dead animal matter and protect the environment from harmful diseases caused by microbes.
Scientific Name Of Vulture Bird:
Old World Vultures:
The scientific names of Old world vultures are “Gypaetus barbatus”, Gypus flavus”.
New world vultures:
The scientific name of New world vultures is “Cathartes aura”.
The word “vulture” describes all the types of carrion eating birds and does not refer to single group. The 23 different species of vulture bird are categorized into Old world vultures and New world vultures. Despite many similarities, they have some differences too. Old world vultures are the member of “Accipitridae” family. These include kites, hawks and eagles. New world vultures are the member of “Cathartidae” family.
Vulture bird derives from convergent evolution i.e. the two groups are similar in features and behavior but are different taxonomically.
New world vultures include Cathartes aura (Turkey vulture), Andean condor and California condor. Old world vultures include Griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture, European black vulture, Indian vulture and Bearded vulture.
Scientific Classification Of Vulture Bird:
Order: Cathartiformes, Accipitriformes
Family: Cathartidae, Accipitridae (Gypaetinae, Gypinae)
Genus: Cathartes, Gypaetus, Gypohierax, Neophron, Aegypius, Gypus, Necrosyrtes, Sarcogyps, Torgos, Trigonoceps
Species: Cathartes aura, Gypaetus barbatus, Gypohierax angolensis, Neophron percnopterus, Aegypius monachus, Gyps fulvus, Gyps bengalensis, Gyps rueppelli, Gyps indicus, Gyps tenuirostris, Gyps himalayensis, Gyps africanus, Gyps coprotheres, Necrosyrtes monachus, Sarcogyps calvus, Torgos trachelliotos, Trigonoceps occipitalis.
Size Of Vulture Bird:
The average size of vulture bird is 64 to 81 centimeters or 25 to 32 inches.
Weight Of Vulture Bird:
The average weight of vulture bird is 0.85 to 2.2 kilograms or 1.9 to 5 pounds.
Wingspan Of Vulture Bird:
The average wingspan of vulture bird is 130 to 183 centimeters or 51 to 72 inches.
Top Speed Of Vulture Bird:
The top speed exhibited by vulture bird is 30 miles per hour.
Age Of Gender Maturity Of Vulture Bird:
The vulture bird becomes Genderly mature at the age of about 8 years.
Habitat And Distribution Of Vulture Bird:
Old World Vultures:
They are found in Asia, Africa, Europe and Pacific Islands.
New World Vultures:
They are found in America and Canada. Both types of species can be found in tropical as well as temperate climates. But they mostly prefer tropical climates. They can be seen near large open areas, trees, cliffs and on ground.
Anatomy Of Vulture Bird:
Some of the anatomical features of vulture bird are,
Bare heads and necks:
Bare heads and necks are the most distinctive features of vulture birds. This prevents the feathers of these birds from becoming wet with blood while eating the carcass. It also helps in maintaining the temperature of the body.
They have big and sharp beak. The vulture bird uses this sharp beak to separate muscle and flesh from the bones.
Talons and feet:
Vulture birds have weak feet and blunt talons. The talons and feet are used for walking as well as for killing prey.
The plumages vary greatly in colour from white, black, gray and tan to orange and red.
Legs are white in colour. This is mainly due to uric acid present in the bird’s waste. This uric acid helps in maintaining feet temperature and killing microbes.
Syrinx is the throat structure that gives voice to birds. New world vultures lack this feature.
Physical Appearance Of Vulture Bird:
The vulture bird has dark and dull appearance.
These birds vary greatly in size. “Black vulture or Cinereous” is the largest species of Old world vulture. Its average size is 3 feet, wingspan is 9 feet and weight is 30 pounds. “Condor” is the largest New world vulture having wingspan of about 10 feet.
Behavior Of Vulture Bird:
Vulture birds are mainly social. They fly, feed and roost in flocks. “Committee, volt, venue” are the terms used for the group of vultures. “Kettle” is the term used for the group of vultures during flight. “Wake” is the term used for the group of vultures feeding together at carcasses.
Vultures exhibit vomiting as a defense mechanism against predators. It also helps to lighten their body weight so that they can escape easily.
These birds have amazing feather adaptation which enables them to fly high above the ground in search of dead animals. They spread their wings to warm up in the sun whenever they feel cold.
The difference between Old world vultures and New world vultures lies in their nesting behavior and senses. Old world vultures make their nests out of sticks. On the other hand, New world vultures do not make nests.
They lay eggs on bare surfaces. Moreover, New world vultures have strong sense of smell that enables them to detect carcass from far distances. On the other hand, Old world vultures do not have a strong sense of smell and detect food with the help of their sight.
Vulture birds live in a narrow geographical range but some species such as “Turkey vultures” that are northern based species are widespread and exhibit migration during winter.
Are Vulture Birds Dangerous For Humans?
Vulture birds are harmless although they exhibit an intimidating presence. They do not attack humans. They feed only on dead animals. In fact they are great recyclers of waste. They remove human and animal waste and help to keep our environment clean.
Communication Of Vulture Bird:
Vulture birds mostly lack complexity related to vocalizations. They usually make hisses, grunts and barking sounds. In addition, some visual cues are used in courtship rituals as well as for communication purposes.
Diet Of Vulture Bird:
Vulture bird is a scavenger that is a class of carnivore. They feed on carrion. They also kill wounded animals for food. They mostly follow wounded or dying animals so that they can feed on them after their death.
They also work side by side with other scavengers for food. They allow other scavengers to eat the dead animal first if vulture birds are unable to pierce animal’s hide.
Vulture birds have enzymes in their stomachs that enable neutralization of dangerous microbes. In this way, they help in cleaning the environment.
They are also known as “voracious eaters”. They leave very little carcass behind and sometimes eat the whole of it.
Bearded vulture birds eat bones. These birds have some adaptations that enable them to eat bones.
- They drop the bones from high in the air and then make little pieces so that handling would be easy.
- They have strong tongues which are covered with grooves that enable them to reach to bone shafts and extract the nutritious marrow.
- After extracting the marrow, they swallow the remaining bone. They exhibit very elastic and thick esophagus that enables them to swallow the pieces of bone. As the esophagus is thick, it prevents any kind of internal injury caused by tough edges of bone.
- These vulture birds have stomach acid of pH less than 1 (extremely acidic). Bone breaks very quickly because of this acidic environment and digestion becomes easier.
Reproduction Of Vulture Bird:
Vulture birds exhibit monogamous mating system. They vary greatly in their breeding behaviors. Different species may have different breeding patterns and courtship rituals.
After mating, female lays 1 to 3 eggs. The incubation period is about 1 to 2 months.
After hatching, both the parents take care of their chicks. The parents perform regurgitation to feed their young ones. Even after fledging for several months, the chicks will not leave the nest immediately.
Predation And Threats To Vulture Bird:
Vulture birds have few predators because of their large size and strength. Chicks are most commonly threated by eagles as well as jaguar. Small mammals also include in predators of these bird’s eggs.
Hunting and habitat loss by human activity are the biggest threats to vulture bird. Another threat is accidental poisoning. They mostly die after feeding on animals with medications.
Population Of Vulture Bird:
Population of vulture bird is declining. Red headed vultures are less than 10,000, White rumped vultures are also less than 10,000 and Indian vultures are 30,000.
Some governments are making efforts to restore natural habitat by reducing harmful toxins in the environment.
Conservation Status Of Vulture Bird:
The conservation status of vulture bird is “Endangered”. According to International Union for Conservation of Nature, the extremely endangered species of vulture bird include White rumped vulture, Red headed vulture, Indian vulture and White headed vulture. However, Turkey vulture is recorded as “Least concern” species.
Vulture Bird Dream:
Vulture birds are generally ugly animals and indicate death. Dreaming about vulture bird shows a warning that you need to change some of your habits and the ways to deal with your life.
Dreaming about vulture generally indicates luck and shows that you have to amend your attitude towards life to enjoy good luck.
If you see vulture flying in your dream then it means that you will either receive a bad news or lose something very important.
If you see many vultures in a single dream then it means that either you will help someone financially or someone close to you will get huge amount of money.
If you see vulture landing in your dream then you have to make quick decisions in your life. You cannot avoid them.
Vultures surrounding you:
If you see vultures surrounding you in your dream then it means that you will face terrible luck.
If you see vultures attacking you in your dream then it means that people close to you will make you upset. They will disappoint and betray you.
If you see a dead vulture in your dream then it means that you will experience good luck financially.
Vulture eating carcass:
If you see a vulture eating carcass in your dream then it means that you will win in your life but at the cost of suffering of others. Someone else will sacrifice for you.
If you see a black vulture in your dream then it means that some bad things may happen in future.
If you see a white vulture in your dream then it means that you will experience good luck.
If you see yourself killing a vulture in your dream then it means that you have to change your attitude. You need to listen to yourself and stop doing the things what others want you to do.
New World Vultures:
- The New world vultures are found in North and South America.
- They are the member of “Cathartidae” family.
- They exhibit seven species of vultures.
- They are called as birds of prey because they are carnivorous.
- They are related to herons and storks.
- They have excellent sense of smell.
Old World Vultures:
- The Old world vultures are found in Asia, Africa and Europe.
- They are the member of “Accipitridae” family.
- They don’t have strong sense of smell and locate their food with the help of their strong sense of sight.
- They are closely related to raptor species.
- They are also carnivores.
- They exhibit sixteen species of vultures.
Characteristics Of Vulture Bird:
Some of the characteristics of vulture bird are,
- Vultures have heavy bodies and their feathers are more hairy as compared to other birds.
- They perform soaring high above earth.
- They have bald heads and necks.
- They have broad wings and strong beak that helps in tearing carcass.
- They provide great benefits to humans because of their scavenging behavior. They clean the environment from dangerous microbes.
Facts About Vulture Bird:
Some facts about vulture bird are,
- There are 23 different species of vulture bird. 7 species are included in New world vultures and 16 species are included in Old world vultures.
- Nesting site of vultures include treetop.
- Vultures can eat 1kg meat in 1 minute.
- They are found in all the continents except Antarctica and Australia.
- You cannot keep vultures as pets because it’s illegal.
- They exhibit vomiting to escape from predators. The vomiting makes them light in weight which enables them to escape easily.
- During hot weather, they pee on their legs to cool off.
- The most distinctive features of vulture birds are large wings and sharp beak.
- They have solitary lifestyle.
Lifespan Of Vulture Bird:
The average lifespan of vulture bird is 20 to 30 years.
Vulture birds are ugly birds that are commonly misunderstood because of their feeding habits. There are 23 different species of vulture birds. They are scavengers that are beneficial for maintaining clean environment. They have some unique and strong sense of smell. They are the most underappreciated birds.