Vultures are large scavenging birds that are known for their unappealing appearance and diet of carrion. There are two distinct categories of vultures: New World vultures and Old World vultures. There are 22 species of vultures, according to the Vultures of the World website, and the bird can be found around the world.
New World and Old World
New World vultures, which live on the American continents, are ancestors of storks and ibises. There are seven species of New World vultures. They include such well-known species as the California condor, the turkey vulture, the black vulture and the king vulture. Old World vultures live in Europe, Asia and Africa. They include such species as the hooded vulture, the white-headed vulture and several species of griffon.
Vultures typically have blunt talons and are unable to kill prey themselves. They sometimes eat the remains left behind after other carnivores have eaten from an animal, but often they eat animals that have died of natural causes. In order to locate corpses, vultures fly over their surroundings for long periods, searching the ground below. When one vulture finds some food, others often follow soon after to join in.
Because vultures dine on dead and decaying animals, they also consume all of the maggots and other life forms on the meat. Vultures are able to safely digest this kind of food. Vultures regurgitate food in order to feed their young back at their nests.
Most vultures are capable of flying for hours straight without stopping, according to the Vultures of the World website. They have very long, broad wings that allow them to fly relatively effortlessly. Vultures occasionally ride thermal pockets of air by holding their wings still and allowing the air to send them in circles. Some vultures need to flap their wings more than others. For instance, the black vulture flaps frequently and the turkey vulture does not.
The vultures' stark bare heads, which are often wrinkled in adults, is their most distinctive feature. The heads are an evolutionary development related to their diet. The lack of feathers on their head means that the bacteria that lives in the food that they eat does not get caught in any feathers when they bury their face in it. This keeps any disease from lingering on their bodies after a meal.
- Photo Credit vulture image by Tom Curtis from Fotolia.com