Vultures are some pretty fearsome-looking beasts! Notoriously associated with picking on dying animals in the desert, these are predatory birds which to some extent receive a bit of a bad rap. Therefore, we’re here to help separate some facts from fiction in a complete fact file on the venerable vultures you may well have seen if touring the drier plains the world has to offer!
How much do you really know about vultures? Let’s take a look and run through some big figures and stats, and other fun facts about vultures which shouldn’t get your feathers in much of a ruffle!
Vultures are birds of prey and are generally associated with feeding on carcasses of other desert animals.
Groups of vultures are called many different names. As with most groups of birds, this group can be called a ‘Flock’. Depending on the purpose of their gathering, however, they may also be called a ’Volt’, ’Committee’, ’Venue’, ’Wake’ or ‘Kettle’.
A Kettle of vultures generally applies to those who are mid-flight.
Around 23 species of vulture exist, spread throughout the world.
Vultures are often broken down into ‘Old World’ and ‘New World’ as a result of where they live. This is generally a reference to America being the ‘New World’!
New World vultures are found North America, South America, and the Caribbean.
Old World vultures, however, are found in Asia, Africa and even in Europe.
Vultures can often have dramatic coloring, with feathers ranging from bright gold to black.
Usually, vultures have next to none or only very few small feathers on their heads and neck.
An adult male Andean Candor
With a wingspan of up to 3.5 meters and weighing up to 15 kilograms, the Andean Condor is the biggest member of the Vulture family.
Most common vultures do not ‘sing’ as other birds do. They ‘hiss’ and ‘grunt’.
Vultures have a high acid content in their stomachs. This is to help dissolve the bone matter they swallow, which forms between 70 and 90% of their diet!
The urine of Vultures is also especially high in acid content! Their urine disinfects their legs, protecting them from bacteria on carcasses which they feed from.
To survive in extremely hot temperatures, Vultures urinate on themselves to help keep cool. This is known as ‘urohidrosis’.
Vultures eat nuts, other birds, and fish as well as carcasses of larger mammals.
Vultures are welcomed in many habitats as they help to keep the environment clean! Eating dead flesh stops the spread of disease.
It is recorded that Vultures can reach a height of 11.5 kilometers in full flight.
Thanks to evolution and adaptation, vultures can fly to heights way beyond many other species. The air might be thinner, but the added height gives the advantage of a broader view to find food.
Old World vultures have a very poor sense of smell but exceptionally good eyesight. They can spot a 3 foot snake from 4 miles!
International Vulture Awareness Day’s held annually on the first Saturday of September.
In 1973, an airplane flying at 37,000 feet collided with a Rueppell Griffin Vulture off the Ivory Coast.
Vultures can eat a huge amount in one sitting. They can reportedly eat up to 20% of their body weight in one go!
Most species of vulture mate for life. Observers often see ‘pairs’ together. Many share the parenting role!
Vultures are one of few animals to use ‘tools’. Egyptian vultures are known to lift rocks to split eggs.
Many of the species are very sociable and accept other vultures – sharing of a meal is commonplace.
Some tribes regard the vulture as a symbol that helps us connect with the Earth. They believe that despite the ‘pull’ of the Earth, vultures harness the power to soar above and serve as a reminder to have faith that even difficult things are possible.
Vultures usually live between 10 and 50 years.
A pine nut or also known as the palm-nut vulture
The smallest vulture is the ‘pine nut vulture’ -it weighs up to 1.7 kilograms and is up to 60 centimeters tall.
Vultures have extremely strong, curved beaks, ideal for ripping meat from bones.
Male vultures attract mates by soaring around females, demonstrating their aerobatic flying skills.
New World vultures don’t make nests for their eggs. They prefer to place them in cavities in rocks.
The largest of the vulture species only lay one egg per breeding season, but the smaller of the species can lay between two and three eggs per season.
Old World vultures build nests on large platforms, often found in trees.
Vulture chicks reach almost the same size as their parents, usually within three months!
Chicks, having been fed in the nest for the first few weeks with small pieces of meat and regurgitated food, begin to go on flights with their parents to learn how to find and devour food, ripping flesh from bones.
The heads of some species of vulture turn red when the birds are angry or upset!
Old World vultures have been seen to ‘play dead’ when threatened until the threat loses interest and goes away.
Ancient Egyptians regarded vultures – not just cats – as sacred animals.
Vultures signify the letter ‘A’ in Egyptian hieroglyphics. These symbols are found on walls of historical monuments, crockery, parchment, and paintings.