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I'm a Science Teacher, Nature Photographer, Husband, Father, and Grandfather who loves to explore the natural world by traveling, photographing and thinking. 


Saturday, September 3, 2011

International Vulture Awareness Day.

Today is International Vulture Awareness Day. Organizations that deal with birds of prey all over the world have chosen today as the day to push for spreading awareness of important role of vultures in the world's ecosystems. Throughout much of western culture, vultures have become the symbol of impending death. Their presence in the sky indicates to most of us that death has, or is about to occur. In addition to their reputation as bringers of death, the physical look of vultures does not enhance their lovability. Their generally bald heads give many of their species a particularly gruesome look. Because of their association with death and their less than cuddly appearance, vultures rarely receive much notice for the good they do for ecosystems. Indeed, the presence of vultures allows ecosystems to much more effectively recycle dead and decaying carcasses. Because of the speed with which vultures will dispose of most carcasses, the opportunity for the spread of infection and disease is greatly reduced. In addition, the efficiency of these impressive birds to locate carrion allows other smaller scavengers to key into those sources of food.

Perching Black Vulture

Today I share with you two vultures, one is very common in  North America, the other common in Africa. In the United States, the two most common vultures are the Black vulture (Coragyps atratus) and the Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura). The image you see here is of a Black vulture taken during my last visit to the C enter for Birds of Prey. Unlike the Turkey vulture, the Black vulture does not possess a very keen sense of smell. As such, like vultures tend to locate their prey almost exclusively by site. They are also known to be very observant and will utilize Turkey vultures (and their sense of smell) to hone in on a new carcass. As such, they have become more assertive than the turkey vultures and will occasionally drive Turkey vultures away from a shared carcass. Like vultures are also known for being very quiet. Given that, black vultures lack a syrinx, the vocal organ of birds, they are unable to make more than a low grunting or hissing noise.

As you probably know, vultures tend to take advantage of road kill carcasses. He said byproduct of this behavior is that these generally large birds are often struck by vehicles because they cannot rise up away from a carcass in time to avoid oncoming vehicles. This fact results in them being among the most common birds of prey that are brought in for treatment at wildlife rehabilitation centers.

This next image is of the less familiar vulture to most of you here in North America. It is called a hooded vulture and is a vulture of African origin. Being an African vulture, it belongs to the group of vultures we refer to as old world vultures. The main difference between Old World vultures and New World vultures is that New World vultures have that keen sense of smell I mentioned before, whereas Old World vultures lack that keen sense of smell. The hooded vulture is one of the smaller vultures, but still possesses traditional vulture features. You can clearly see the curved tip to the peak useful for tearing flesh. You can also clearly see the bald head, which makes it more difficult for bacteria from carcasses to fester on the birds had. The hooded vulture is known as a very comfortable bird around humans. In many small African villages, these vultures are allowed to hop about in and out of huts helping to scavenge and keep things clean. Indeed, their scientific name, Necrosyrtes monachus, literally means “a monk-like (bird) that drags away the dead.”

And finally, for those of your who see vultures as just "ugly old birds", they can have a very cute look when they are chicks and just little bundles of downy feathers. This chick is a Lesser Yellow Headed Vulture.

Lesser Yellow Headed Vulture Chick Center for Birds of Prey, Awendaw, South Carolina


Anonymous said...

Wow - great shots. I love the way their eyes make them look so surprised!

Tatjana Parkacheva said...

Excellent photos.
I don't think these birds are ugly.


Kay L. Davies said...

Good work, John. You are so right about these guys. Without them, the world would be littered with carrion, and smell worse than an industrial site.
Love that last photo. We seldom think of vulture chicks when we think of "baby birds"!!
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Rhea said...

Vultures definitely perform much needed services in the ecosystem! I think they are very striking. I've never seen a baby vulture before. What a funny little ball of fuzz! Thanks for sharing!

Carletta said...

Super super shots!!
We have the Turkey Vultures here but I've never seen a Black Vulture.
Wonderful info.
I love the detail of the wings in your first shot and that eye in the second - nice work!
Carletta's Captures

Cheri said...

The chick is adorable. We have vultures here that live along Lake Lure, hanging gout at the lifeguard station!

Carolina Mts

eileeninmd said...

Wow, very cool shot of the vultures. Great closeups.

Santosh said...

Hi..blogwalking here today
have a nice day
thanks for sharing
from santosh
Creaziest Photo Collection

Lisa RedWillow said...

Amazing. Just amazing.

Lisa RedWillow said...

Are you on Google +

John S. Mead said...

Thanks Lisa! I am on Google + the URL is