Vultures are pretty awesome birds. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I’ve taken quite a liking to them since seeing them at the Aillwee Caves birds of prey centre, and I have learned a lot about them.
Vultures are scavengers as everyone knows, (the two at the centre were named Henry and Dyson in relation to that) and will not eat living things, but you shouldn’t dislike them because of that. Someone’s got to clean up all those carcasses littering the African plains. They’re pretty large birds and they look quite impressive in flight, though they’re not big flyers and will spend more time on the ground. Flying can be tiring when you’re so big.
Seeing them for the first time was quite funny. I was taking pictures of an owl that I was loving because it had a face that made it look permanently surprised at what was going on, when my sister and her boyfriend called me over, pointing at the cage. They were laughing, and then I saw why. I first went to look for the birds where you’d think they’d be, perched on something as in the first photo, but then I saw them lying down on the ground, right by the bars. I don’t have any pictures of them fully because they were so close, but trust me, it’s quite a funny site to see vultures lying down. They still have that menacing look but you can’t help but laugh.
A particular characteristic of many vultures is a bald head, or a lightly feathered head, which is designed to stay clean for all those times of poking into corpses, and they also have a bald patch on their necks which is believed to be for regulating their body temperatures. Fun fact – the Ruppell’s vulture is the world’s highest flying bird. In 1973, one collided with an airplane off the Ivory Coast. At the time, the plane was flying at 37,000 feet.
Sadly though, vultures are in a lot of danger, especially in south Asia. Over the last few years in places like India and Nepal, the vulture population has decreased by over 90%. The Indian vulture is critically endangered. It’s due to a drug called diclofenac which is a painkiller for people but in these places is also used in treating joint pain livestock to get a few extra days of work out of the cattle. When the livestock die, the vultures come to eat but the drug causes liver failure in them. The drug was banned in veterinary use in 2005 but stock piles of it are still around and being used in some areas.