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The endangered vulture

March 13, 2014
by
Wikimedia Commons

Karen Lyons Kalmenson

Source Wikimedia

Vulture is the name given to two groups of convergently evolved, usually scavenging birds of prey: the New World vultures, including the Californian and Andean Condors; and the Old World vultures, including the birds that are seen scavenging on carcasses of dead animals on African plains. Research has shown that some traditional Old World Vultures (including the Bearded Vulture) are not closely related to the others, which is why the vultures are to be subdivided into three taxa rather than two. New World vultures are found in North and South America; Old World vultures are found in Europe, Africa and Asia, meaning that between the two groups, vultures are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.

A particular characteristic of many vultures is a bald head, devoid of normal feathers. This helps to keep the head clean when feeding. Research has shown that the bare skin may play an important role in thermoregulation.[1]

A group of vultures is called a wake, committee, venue, kettle, or volt. The term kettle refers to vultures in flight, while committee, volt, and venue refer to vultures resting in trees. Wake is reserved for a group of vultures that are feeding.[2][3] The word Geier (taken from the German language) does not have a precise meaning in ornithology; it is occasionally 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 different groups are due to convergent evolution.

The New World vultures and condors found in warm and temperate areas of the Americas are not closely related to the similar Accipitridae, but belong in the family Cathartidae, which was once considered to be related to the storks. However, recent DNA evidence suggests that they should be included among the Accipitriformes, along with other birds of prey.[citation needed] However, they are still not closely related to the other vultures, and their similarities are due to convergent evolution. Several species have a good sense of smell, unusual for raptors, and are able to smell dead animals from great heights, up to a mile away.

There are seven species.

Vultures seldom attack healthy animals, but may kill the wounded or sick. When a carcass has too thick a hide for its beak to open, it waits for a larger scavenger to eat first.[4] Vast numbers have been seen upon battlefields. They gorge themselves when prey is abundant, until 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. Vulture stomach acid is exceptionally corrosive, allowing them to safely digest putrid carcasses infected with Botulinum toxin, hog cholera, and anthrax bacteria that would be lethal to other scavengers.[5] New World vultures often vomit when threatened or approached. Contrary to some accounts, they don’t ‘projectile vomit’ on their attacker as a deliberate defense, but it does lighten their stomach load to make take-off easier, and the vomited meal residue may distract a predator, allowing the bird to escape.[6] New World vultures also urinate straight down their legs; the uric acid kills bacteria accumulated from walking through carcasses, and also acts as evaporative cooling.

The vultures in south Asia, mainly in India and Nepal, have declined dramatically in just the last 10–15 years.[dated info] It has been proposed that this may be due to residues of the veterinary drug Diclofenac in animal carcasses.[8] The government of India has taken very late cognizance of this fact and has banned the drug for animals.[9] However, it may take decades for vultures to come back to their earlier population level. The same problem is also seen in Nepal where government has taken some late steps to conserve remaining vultures.

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to the vulture a
terrible fate has
been assigned.
this magnificent bird
misunderstood and
maligned.
this carrion eater
has a huge job
to do,
cleaning up after
all the mes and the
yous.
but man has the most
ignoble distinction
of almost poisoning
this great bird
into extinction.
in this”master plan”
he has allowed disease
to flourish and spread.
when vultures could
be tidying up this
soup instead.
so please everybody
before it is too late,
stand up for these
beautiful birds…
and advocate!

thank you.

Karen Lyons Kalmenson

 

5 Comments leave one →
  1. karenlyonskalmenson permalink
    March 13, 2014 1:47 pm

    there is beauty in function. and these wonderful big,beautiful birds are essential to the survival of many ecosystems.

    thank you stacey for giving vultures their long overdue, props 🙂

    Like

    • March 13, 2014 3:50 pm

      Thank you so much for bringing this to my awareness, hon, props to YOU. 🙂

      Like

      • karenlyonskalmenson permalink
        March 14, 2014 4:07 am

        you are so welcome, sweet soul ♥

        it is so heartwarming to see all the “likes” here for these fine birds 🙂

        Like

        • March 14, 2014 6:13 pm

          I agree, and I think a lot of people read but don’t have an account, so there are those as well. Thank you for bringing this to my attention to post on OC!

          Like

          • karenlyonskalmenson permalink
            March 15, 2014 5:59 am

            you are so very welcome and, once again, thank you for sharing 🙂

            Like

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