Range:

Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America

Habitat:

Almost all types, as long as there is food available.

What makes a vulture?

They may not be the prettiest birds of prey, but the world would be a smellier place without vultures! All vultures have a wide wingspan, which allows them to soar for long periods of time without flapping so much as a feather while looking for carrion to eat. They all have a sharp, hooked beak for ripping apart meat. Vultures are large compared to other birds. Their bald head and neck serve a useful purpose, allowing vultures to steer clear of infection and tangled feathers when eating decaying meat. A strong immune system allows vultures to eat rotting and possibly infected meat without getting sick.

New World versus Old World

These unusual birds are divided into two groups within the Hawk/Falcon/Eagle family: New World vultures, which are from North, Central, and South America, and Old World vultures, which live in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

New World vultures have nostrils that are long and horizontal, with a space between them. They do not have a voice box, so they cannot make any sound except hisses and grunts. New World vultures don’t build nests; instead, they lay their eggs in holes on high rocky surfaces or in tree cavities. Some examples of New World vultures are turkey vultures, black vultures, king vultures, California condors, and Andean condors.

Old World vultures look like their eagle and hawk relatives. They have large, grasping talons, a voice box to vocalize with, and build nests made of sticks on rocky platforms. These vultures have also been around longer than the New World vultures. They have stronger feet than the New World vultures, which have feet that are not designed for grasping.

The largest Old World vulture is the Himalayan vulture, which has a wingspan of 10 feet (3 meters). Some other examples of Old World vultures are Egyptian vultures, Egyptian griffons, also known as Eurasian griffons, hooded vultures, Indian black vultures, and palm-nut vultures.

Griffon vultures often eat so much that they cannot fly for a while after their meal.
When a vulture is upset, its head turns red, and it looks like it is blushing.
The king vulture is closely related to a huge bird that lived during the Pleistocene epoch, the Merriam’s teratorn.

Both the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park have Andean and California condors. The Safari Park is also home to several Old World vulture species. The king vulture is closely related to a huge bird that lived during the Pleistocene epoch, the Merriam’s teratorn. Its scientific name means “incredible bird monster,” which is fitting because the bird had a wingspan of 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3.7 meters). A life-size statue of this bird can be seen in the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey habitat.

The California condor Gymnogyps californianus, white-rumped vulture Gyps bengalensis, Indian vulture Gyps indicus,/i>, slender-billed vulture ,i>Gyps tenuirostris, and red-headed vulture Sarcogyps calvus are at critical risk. Things that we humans put in our environment seem to be causing rapid declines in vulture populations. For example, in India and other parts of South Asia, huge numbers of vultures died because of an anti-inflammatory drug used by veterinarians and ranchers to help livestock. The vultures ate livestock that had been treated by the drug, became sick, and died.

To conserve these graceful scavengers, breeding programs, education, and awareness programs have been started for endangered vultures by organizations like The Peregrine Fund and Vulture Rescue. San Diego Zoo Global is heavily involved in the California Condor Recovery Program.

There are people out there fighting for these birds, and so can you! Place trash in the right bin, don’t use dangerous chemicals, dispose of harmful substances responsibly, and recycle. These are all ways that you can help wildlife, including those misunderstood vultures.

You can help us bring vulture species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.