Vultures are unique creatures of mother nature. However, they are mostly misunderstood. Mostly, they are associated with evil and death. However, this is not true at all. They are ecologically very important birds and have a vital role in the ecosystem. They are also referred to as “Nature’s Clean-Up Crew”.
Not only are they very powerful flyers, but they also prevent the spread of diseases such as rabies and tuberculosis. They are the protectors of the world’s avifauna. All these things are caused by their eating habits. So, it is natural to wonder what do vultures eat?
Biology Of Vultures
In order to discuss what do vultures eat, it’s important to take a brief look at their biology. Vultures are the birds that scavenge carrion. In total, there are 23 extant species in the world. The vultures are divided into two main groups: old world vultures and new world vultures. Old World vultures include 16 species and are mainly found in Europe, Africa, and Asia. New world vultures are mainly native to North and South America. This group includes seven species, which all belong to the Cathartidae family. They are very adaptable birds and can live and survive in many different habitats, including the suburbs.
Generally, the physical characteristics of those birds are that they do not have a feather on their head and are bald. It has the purpose of keeping the head clean when eating. Another use of the bald head is to help them with thermoregulation.
When the temperature is low, they normally hunch their bodies and hide their heads. However, when they are feeling hot, they spread their wings and stretch their necks to cool down. Their wings can spread to nearly 11 feet. Another interesting feature of those birds is that they use their urine to cool down. This also helps them to kill the bacteria and parasites that may be on their legs.
Vultures live and move around as a group, and their flies are called “kettles“. However, when they are resting as a group on the trees, they are called “committee.” When the group of vultures is eating together, they are referred to as “wake“.
Now let’s find out and discuss what do vultures eat.
Eating Habits Of Vultures
To explore what do vultures eat, first, we have to start with their eating habits. Vultures normally bask after their meal. When they do so, the sun and heat dry the bacteria that are hidden in the food, and this helps them to remain healthy.
Those birds have extremely good eyesight. Research showed that they can see potential food the size of three feet from miles away when they are on open plains. Well, mostly the food is a dead carcass. Many species of vulture start to make circles above the carcasses that they find. This behavior draws other vultures’ attention and is a signal to gather around to eat.
However, it is a myth that they fly around in circles over the animal that is dying. They cannot see when the animal is dying and can only find the food by its smell, sight, or sound of other creatures eating. Vultures are mostly silent birds, but when they gather around prey, they start fighting and bickering over the best feeding spots.
When the vultures decide the feeding spots and land around the carcass, they will start to eat the flesh. Mostly, there is very minimal competition between those birds, because their meat preferences are different and they eat different kinds of meat within the same carcass.
White-backed vultures, which are mainly located in Africa, have a few different feeding habits. They normally plant the feed on the carcass of dead animals, hold it with their feet, and eat the meat with their beaks. Turkey Vultures have a very improved sense of smell, while Black Vultures mainly find the food using their eyes.
Even though vultures are huge, they can fly hundreds of miles to find food, and they can reach an altitude of up to 15,000 feet. (4,472m)
What Do Vultures Eat In The Wild?
Vultures are scavenger eaters, meaning that they mostly eat any kind of dead animal. Vultures mainly feed off carrion. Mostly, they are carnivores and eat dead animals. The answer to the question of what do vultures eat in the wild is the following. Common foods that vultures enjoy the most are carrion, reptiles, mammals, birds, fish, invertebrates, and amphibians.
Vultures are opportunistic and will eat whatever they find available. Interestingly, they rarely kill the animals. Mostly, they prefer the easy way out and will eat sick, dying, or already dead animals. They are different from other animals because of their capability of breaking down rotten meat. They prefer fresh meat. They will eventually eat meat that can be toxic to other animals. This is the thing that gives them a very important role. By eating toxic leftovers, they prevent the spread of diseases. Their stomachs have very strong acids and are adaptable to the meat that is full of diseases and bacteria. The acid kills all the unwanted microorganisms.
Andean condors are considered to be new world vultures and are present in California. Even though they mostly eat carrion, they are also hunters and will attack smaller animals such as baby lamas, lambs, and goats.
Vultures can clean the carcass in half an hour and are very efficient eaters. Some species of those birds can even eat the bones and make sure that there is no waste.
Even though their beaks are very powerful, they can not eat the stiff carcass. If this happens and they come across the difficult meat, they will wait for other animals to open the flesh. This is the reason why vultures are often seen with other hunters such as coyotes, eagles, and hyenas.
What Do Vultures Eat As Babies?
Have you ever wondered what do vultures eat when they are young? Surprisingly, some of their eating habits are different when they are babies. Vultures do not build the nest and lay their eggs there. Instead of this, they lay the eggs on the ground, in the hollowed trees, stumps, cliffs, caves, old buildings, bush piles, or even in the bare nests of other birds.
Vultures do not have strong legs, and therefore they are not able to carry food to their chicks. They have a crop like many other birds. A crop is a pouch located near the throat which is used to store extra food. What they do is gorge on carcasses and collect the food in their crop. After they reach the nest, they will regurgitate food and feed it to the babies.
The process of hatching can go on for several days. During that time, babies eat the yolk sac. When they get hatched, the yolk is fully eaten. After they get hatched, they start to eat solid food and are fed by their parents. The needed vitamin D is received from the bones and carcass fragments. When the babies get older, they are given larger bone chips too. Mostly, the parent takes the bigger bones to the nest for the babies.
Babies start to fly when they are 4 months old. When they start flying, they will have to learn the eating rules and habits. During this learning phase, the babies will return to the nest if they cannot find the food or have other trouble, and the parents will still feed them. This can go on for months. When time is up, parents kick them out of the nest and they have to start living independently. So, that’s what do vultures eat before they grow up.
Threats to Vultures
We discussed what do vultures eat, but it is interesting to know what the threats are to them. Even though it may seem different, vultures face many threats. First of all, the biggest enemy of vultures is poisoning. Mostly, they get poisoned by the toxins that may be in the food they eat. Another threat to them is the cars. There have been many cases when vultures have been hit and killed by cars and have also been electrocuted by power lines. The main predators of vultures are hawks, snakes, and wild cats.
When they feel threatened by other animals, they start vomiting. This behavior has several purposes. First of all, it makes the body lighter in weight and makes it easier for them to fly away. Another thing is that they use it as a defense mechanism. This way, they deter the predator that threatens them.
Interesting Facts About What Do Vultures Eat
- Vultures can eat the carcass and meat if it is toxic to other animals.
- Those birds will hunt and attack other animals if there is no food available.
- It is a myth that vultures are a threat to livestock.
- When they feel threatened, they vomit to reduce their body weight.
- New world vultures are extremely silent. This is caused by their lack of the syrinx, which is responsible for vocalization.
Vultures have a significant role in the ecosystem. What do vultures eat determines their importance in nature. Without them, the various deadly diseases would be spread all across the world and would threaten all animals and humans.
Today, among the 23 species of vulture, 14 of them are either threatened, endangered, or critically endangered. All this is because of the human impact. We need to see how much their presence means for us and for the general ecosystem and start to protect and care for them.