Vultures are scavenging birds, feeding mostly on the carcasses of dead animals. Vultures are found in every continent except Antarctica and Oceania.
A particular characteristic of many vultures is a bald head, devoid
of feathers. This is likely because a feathered head would become
spattered with blood and other fluids, and thus be difficult to keep
A group of vultures is occasionally called a venue in literature. When circling in the air, a group of vultures is called a kettle. The German word Geier does not have a precise meaning in ornithology, and is sometimes used to refer to a vulture in English, as in some poetry.
Vultures are classified into two groups: Old World vultures and New World vultures. The similarities between the two groups are due to convergent evolution rather than a close relationship.
The Old World vultures found in Africa, Asia and Europe belong to the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, kites, buzzards and hawks. Old World vultures find carcasses exclusively by sight.
The New World vultures and condors found in warm and temperate areas of the Americas are not closely related to the superficially similar Accipitridae, but belong in the family Cathartidae, which is quite close to the storks. Several species have a good sense of smell, unusual for raptors.
Vultures seldom attack healthy animals, but may kill the wounded or sick. Vast numbers have been seen upon battlefields. They gorge themselves when prey is abundant, till their crop bulges, and sit, sleepy or half torpid, to digest their food. They do not carry food to their young in their claws, but disgorge it from the crop. These birds are of great value as scavengers, especially in hot regions. They can eat rotten flesh containing anthrax, botulism, and cholera bacteria, which are destroyed in the stomach.
In Southern Africa, the name for a Nubian vulture is synonymous
with the term applied to lovers, because these vultures are
always seen in pairs, mother and child remaining closely bonded
together. Pairing, bonding, protecting, and loving are essential
attributes associated with the vulture's size and its ability to
soar high up in the sky. The Egyptians considered the vulture an
excellent mother, and its wide wingspan was seen as
all-encompassing and providing a protective cover to its
infants. The vulture hieroglyph was the unilateral sign used for
the glottal sound (3) including words such as mother,
prosperous, grandmother, and ruler
In the Western world, the image of the vulture is far more negative, with 'vulture' used as a metaphor for those who prey on the weak or dying, with associated negative connotations of cowardice and selfishness (although the vulture plays an important natural role).
This Vulture Page is Copyright The Animal Web Guide © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub