10 Things about Vultures

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While not the most elegant nor the most striking of the bird species, Vultures are among the most endangered birds on earth. We take a look at just why these interesting creatures deserve a better rap.

1. Vultures are the closest thing to flightless birds, that can actually fly. Their aerodynamics leave much to be desired, and without thermal currents to support their weight, vultures would simply sink to the ground shortly after take-off.

2. They are just able to muster enough forward thrust to launch themselves into the nearest air current and even have to dump 'fuel' by vomiting if they need to take off in a hurry. It is thought that this distasteful habit may also serve to dampen the appetite of any would-be pursuer.

3. By making use of these currents, they are able to locate their next meal, more often by chance than proficiency, or by spotting other vultures which look like they are on to a good thing, whereupon they simply glide over and join in the fray. Their excellent motion-sensitive eyesight allows them to distinguish easily between their kin circling beneath them and the landscape below.

4. Most vultures are purely scavengers. Their mobility on the ground is only slightly better than their flying skills, and their usual method of hopping along is not best practice when it comes to stalking anything in the African bush.

5. They feed exclusively on the kills of larger predators and animals that have died due to injury or illness. Vultures do not attack livestock – ever.

6. Although vultures prefer fresh meat, they will eat rotting meat. In this way, they perform a vital role in cleaning up the bush and preventing the spread of disease – a world without vultures is inconceivable.

7. They are supremely adapted for this job as the clean-up crew of the bushveld. Their bald heads and bare necks prevent blood, bacteria and parasites clinging to their necks while feeding, greatly reducing their chances of infection, while research has shown that it may also play a role in thermoregulation (ability to maintain own body temperature). On the digestive end, their stomach acid is potent enough to cope with feeding on meat that is past its sell-by-date.

8. Several types of vultures usually congregate around a kill, and the various species have bills adapted to feed on different parts of the carcass, reducing food competition.

9. A group of vultures gathered around a kill is called a wake, and when in flight they are referred to as a committee, venue or vault.

10. They are social birds when compared to other raptors, and these groups are called kettles, when they are not flying – or feeding of course.

Keep your eyes on the sky while out game viewing – a spiral of vultures is a dead give-away when it comes to tracking down a kill site, with a good chance of spotting the perpetrators.

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Wednesday, 13 December 2017