What do vultures eat?

In this brief guide, we will address the query: “what do vultures eat?” Also, we will explore what vultures are, where they’re distributed, what their role in the environment is, and what actions people can take to protect these important birds.

What do vultures eat?

All vultures’ diets, (save for palm nut vultures) consist of carrion. However, some species have been recorded as having predatory habits and they have been known to prey on small species of reptiles, birds, rodents, and invertebrates such as insects and other arthropods. 

As carrion eaters, a main component of their diet is leftover carcasses and remains of dead animals and this reputation has garnered them an image associated with funeral rights in many countries all over the world. 

By definition, vultures feed upon animals that are dead and decaying, but they have been known to prey upon animals that are very close to expiring by stalking them and waiting for them to perish. 

While they’re not equipped with the most evolved hunting abilities, they possess a keen sense of smell and hearing. 

Their smell allows them to detect bloated and rotten corpses whereas their hearing helps them zero in on carcasses that are being feasted on by loud predators. 

When in flight, they can cover great distances, and this helps them find food sources through the landscape. 

Their unique microbiome, antibodies, and immune system help them thrive on a diet that would otherwise be potentially lethal, due to the microorganisms and parasites they could encounter when eating carrion

What are vultures?

Generalizing, vultures are birds of prey distinguished from others because of their dietary habits. Well not normally equipped to be hunters, they have been recorded as praying upon small species of live animals but other than that the book of their diet is carrion. 

Taxonomically vultures can be broken down into two different families. Vultures found on the American continent are different from those in the old world. 

Old world vultures are categorized in a family (Accipitridae) that also includes eagles, buzzards, and hawks. Notably, these vultures don’t have a keen sense of smell (unlike their American relatives), and most of their scavenging depends on how keen their eyesight is.

New world vultures (found in the American continent), on the other hand, have a very powerful sense of smell and use it to locate their food within a range of 1 mile. Seven of the 23 species of vultures that are currently listed as extant are listed as New World species.

Besides their carrion-eating, they’re also renowned for a habit of micturating (urinating) down their legs. 

This is to disinfect themselves after they’ve eaten and trudged through decaying corpses. 

The acid content in their urine has a sterilizing effect that neutralizes bacteria and other pathogens, and it can also help them regulate their body temperature. 

Where are vultures distributed?

Depending on their classification as either old-world vultures or New World vultures. In the case of the former, they can be found in Africa, Europe, and Asia, and the latter types can be found in North and South America.

Notably, seven of the 23 reported species currently listed as extant can be found on the American continent; the remaining 16 can be found in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The exact regional distribution will depend on the species and its distribution and availability of food.

In some places where the disposal of animals is a bit of a contested subject these species of birds have experienced declines in their populations. 

Notably, in India and some African countries, there has been a decline in the numbers of vultures due to pharmacological substances found in carrion, and revenge poisonings. 

They play important roles in the environment and their conservation is of utmost importance.

What is the role of vultures in the environment?

Vultures play an important role in the environment, as they are critical for the safe disposal of pathogens and toxins. If unchecked, these could spread disease and pollute habitats, endangering many species of animals, and altering the delicate balance of ecosystems.

This important activity is attributed to their very powerful stomach acids that can handily dispose of even the most noxious microbes they can encounter on a corpse.

While their environmental importance cannot be understated, some synthetic compounds may be lethal to these animals and they may often be the inadvertent targets of revenge poisonings and improper disposal of animal corpses.

In India, the veterinary use of diclofenac in bovines triggered a surge of deaths in vultures, as they cannot metabolize this analgesic. This prompted the government to ban veterinary use of the medication. 

In many African countries where cattle are farmed, farmers have a habit of leaving poisoned meat for predators such as lions, and other carnivores who occasionally hunt from their herds. 

A lot of times, they resort to lacing this meat with pesticides such as carbofuran which one ingested by vultures (or any other animals) has lethal effects.

How can people help protect vultures?

People can help protect vultures by helping to raise awareness of their hardships and their environmental importance, and by donating to groups that focus their efforts on conservation.

Granted, some people are in more active positions to boost efforts (such as farmers and regulatory agency employees), but we can all generate buzz around the topic by letting others know just how important they are for the health of many environments. 

If you live in a region where vultures can be found and have been known to scavenge dead animals, avoid disposing of animals in an unsafe way. 

This includes tossing out animals that received medication before their expiration and giving proper burial or incineration to your deceased pets, livestock, and other types of animals. 

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we have addressed the query: “what do vultures eat?” Also, we have explored what vultures are, where they’re distributed, what their role in the environment is, and what actions people can take to protect these important birds.

References

https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/role-scavengers-carcass-crunching

https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/birds/vultures/#:~:text=All%20vultures%20feed%20on%20carrion,lizards%2C%20smaller%20birds%20and%20rodents.

https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/condor/v079n04/p0413-p0416.pdf

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/vultures-saved-poisoning-kenya

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