Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Old World Vultures: Top Ten Vultures (Part 1)

This coming Saturday is International Vulture Awareness Day, and in honor of the event, we are going to be taking a "Top Ten" look at the vultures!  Before we dive right in, I must make an important distinction.  Despite the fact that both the Cape Griffon vulture (native to Africa) and the turkey vulture (native to North America) are called vultures, they don't all belong to the same group!  Despite the often startling similarities possessed by these two different avian families, these similarities are not the result of a common ancestor, but the result of convergent evolution!  The Old World Vultures (native to Asia, Africa, and Europe) are in the same group of birds as the hawks and eagles do.  Meanwhile, the New World Vultures (native to the Americas) are just kinda out there, not too closely related to the Old World Vultures, but still birds of prey.  In order to keep this post from rapidly getting out of control (as has been known to happen to my blog posts), I have decided to break this Top Ten list into two parts.  The first part focuses on five awesome Old World Vultures, while the second post lists the last five vultures on the Top Ten list, all five of whom are New World Vultures!  Happy International Vulture Awareness Day, everybody!

10.  We'll start off with the lammergeier!  I remembered this one from a David Attenborough special that I saw several years ago!  This particular Old World Vulture was featured in a brief segment of "The Living Planet," and it was smashing good fun!  (That was a pun.  Unless you display a higher than average familiarity with your Old World Vultures, you probably won't get it.  But you will).  The lammergeier enjoys a nice meal of animal bones, especially the marrow on the insides, but oftentimes these bones are simply too tough for the bird to crack.  To successfully reach the innards, the lammergeier launches itself into the air, bone in hand, and flies upwards.  Once it has reached a satisfying height, the lammergeier will release the bone and, if all goes well, the bone will crack open upon impact with the hard rock below!  To see a video of this fantastic bird in action, make sure to click the link HERE!

2.  The smallest of the Old World Vultures, the palm-nut vulture is definitely quite distinctive, and, at least to my eye, looks a lot like an eagle!  (Not so much in the picture below, though, there it just looks like a bat!)  The palm-nut vulture, unlike most birds of prey, regularly consumes vegetable matter, with the primary component of its diet being the fruit of the oil-palm!  The palm-nut vulture does eat other foods as well, though, including crabs, fish, small mammals, reptiles, and birds.  Unlike most other vultures, rarely will a palm-nut vulture be spotted at a large carcass.

3.  The Egyptian vulture, much like the palm-nut vulture, also has a very varied diet.  This particular vulture also has ties to the lammergeier in the ways it gets to its food!  As is typical of vultures, the Egyptian will scavenge large carcasses, and this carrion is the primary component of its diet.  Just like the palm-nut, the Egyptian vulture will also consume rotting vegetables and fruits and, even grosser, it will eat poop!  (Although it may be gross, it is thought by many scientists today that part of the reason that so many people have allergies is because we don't eat poop!  Well....kind of.  Just read the post HERE.)  The Egyptian vulture also loves to eat eggs, but to get at the soft interior, the bird employs the use of tools, throwing rocks at the eggs to break them open!  To see a video of this, check out the YouTube link below!  But honestly, you might want to mute the video, the guy's voice is SOOOO annoying....
4.  Although this guy doesn't look quite as funky as some of the other vultures that we have already looked at, I really like the Cape griffon vulture (oftentimes simply called the Cape vulture, not to be confused with the griffon vulture) because I get to see them in the giraffe exhibit at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo most times we go down!  I was unable to figure out what the scientific name of the Cape griffon vulture, Gyps coprotheres, means.  I found that the genus name, Gyps, means "Condor" in Greek, and I am thinking that the species name, coprotheres, might have something to do with poop, given the fact that the Greek root "copros" means dung or excrement (i.e. coprolites are fossil poop).  However, I couldn't find anything on the Internet that would either confirm or deny my assumptions, so instead of hearing about some fascinating aspect of the Cape griffon vulture's feces, you instead can view some pictures and a video that myself and Grace Albers took at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo!
The video is indeed the link below, I didn't just accidentally upload two of the same picture!
5.  Finally: number 5, the last Old World Vulture on our Top Ten list!  Meet the white-headed vulture, aptly named due to the fact that it has a white head and it is a vulture.  The white-headed vulture is an early riser, often the first vulture to arrive at a carcass.  Because of this, it would have been funnier for me to put the white-headed vulture at the very top of this list, but I'm too lazy to change it so you will have to get by with me just telling you about how funny it is.  Often considered to be an "aloof" vulture (meaning that it generally sticks to the outskirts of a group of feeding vultures), the white-headed vulture can be very aggressive, rushing into the midst of a large group of vultures to grab a scrap of food, and then rushing right back out!

This concludes the first half of our "Top Ten Vulture" posts.  Check back soon for the second half, the New World Vultures half of the posts!

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