The vulture, a very useful scavenger for nature


Because it covets with appetite the death of an animal, the vulture suffers from poor reputation. However, by actively participating in the disposal of corpses, these scavengers avoid the spread of diseases and in this regard provide an essential role in the ecosystem. Zoom on a knacker natural.

Two large families of vultures

The term vulture refers to raptors necrophagous diurnal. It comes from the Latin vellere “to tear, to tear”. The 23 species of vultures form a polyphyletic group, i.e. they are morphologically alike but from different ancestors. These birds belong to the order Accipitriforme found in two families distinct:

  • The Accipitridae from the Old World include eagles, harriers, hawks and vultures, among others;
  • The Cathartidae of New World include condors, vultures and sarcoramphs in particular.

Four species of vultures in France

Cathartids live all over the continent American where they frequent a wide variety of environments, from the highest mountains to lowland forests and deserts. Accipitridae are found on all continents except in Antarctica. They evolve in the tundra, grasslands, deserts, coasts, forests, mountainous areas, farmland to urban areas. In France, four species of vultures are identified:

  • Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus);
  • The monk vulture (AEgypius monachus);
  • Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus);
  • The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).

Anatomy adapted to his diet

Specialized in the consumption of corpses, this scavenger has anatomical characteristics adapted to its eating habits:

  • His beak is hooked and with sharp edges to cut into the flesh;
  • Her head and his neck naked cover a fine down which gets little dirt during the butchering of the carcasses;
  • His greenhouses sharp allow you to easily tear the toughest pieces;
  • His system digestive acid promotes the elimination of bacteria and the assimilation of rotten meat without damage.

Inverted dimorphism in the vulture

Accipitridae display plumage allowing them to to melt in their environment: brown, black or gray with some streaks. The lower parts are generally paler than the upper parts. Cathartidae display dark or blackish feathers with sometimes some reflections blue-green on top. Both families have large wings adapted to the glide. Using thermal currents to gain height, vultures can spend hours in the air without flapping their wings. Accipitridae and Cathartidae are characterized by inverted dimorphism: females are greater than males. Without a common lineage, all of them developed similar behaviors.

Vultures dedicate their loyalty

The vultures reach the maturity sexual between 4 and 6 years. Their couple, faithful for life, always reproduce on the same nesting site. Their population is made vulnerable by the laying of a alone egg per breeding season. The chick – which usually takes two days to emerge from its shell – is brooded by its mother for the first few weeks. Its feeding is done via the regurgitation food partially digested by the male. After three weeks the food becomes more and more consistent with the addition of pieces of skin and bones. If it takes fifteen days to acquire the basics offlight, the juvenile can stay with its parents until one year, time to learn how to find food and refine your gliding technique.

Food: collective prospecting

Vultures feed exclusively on animal carcasses. Cathartids use their smell developed to spot them (a rare occurrence in birds) while the Old World species spot prey thanks to their view piercing. Birds hunt by flying high in the sky to spot corpses or dying animals. Prospecting in a network, vultures keep a contact visual with the other members of the colony. Alerted by the commotion of little scavengers (corvids, raptors), they dive quickly to participate in the feast.

Vultures, organized scavengers

Vultures eat ungulate corpses savages (wild boars, mouflons, chamois, roe deer, ibex, deer …) and especially animals ofbreeding (sheep, sheep, cows…). In Europe (France included), they thus remain fairly dependent on original food resources. domesticated. Several species are specialized in the consumption of part of the carcass:

  • The snipers (griffon vulture and all species of the gyps genus) explore natural orifices to consume soft tissues: muscles and viscera, liver and lungs;
  • The tears (monk vulture) are fond of tougher parts such as skin, tendons and cartilages. Their beak is more powerful and sharp.
  • The peckers (Egyptian vulture) glean small pieces of meat, skins and bones;
  • The breakers of bones (vulture) break the bone dropping them from a height and then swallowing them.

The major ecological role of the vulture

Vultures feed almost exclusively on corpses of animals that could not disappear without them. Their action thus helps to prevent the transmission of diseases epidemics for herds and contamination of waters. Near villages, they prevent the stench of rotting bodies and dispose of household refuse. Qualifiednatural renderers, these birds of prey provide many services to the environment but also to breeders who thus reduce their use of rendering industrial.

Vultures: protected species

In Europe, the first half of the XXe century saw theextinction of almost all vulture populations due to poaching. Historically, these birds naturally colonized all the French mountain ranges. In the 1980s, reintroduction were launched favoring the reappearance of four species on the hexagon (griffon vultures, monk, Egyptian vulture and vulture). These now benefit from several statuses of protection at national, European and global level. Their longevity in the wild is on average 35 years.

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