Turkey Vulture

Black Vulture

King Vulture

Greater and Lesser Yellow Headed Vultures

California Condor

Andean Condor

Old World Vultures:

Griffon Vulture

White Rumped Vulture

Rüppell’s vulture

Indian Vulture

Slender Billed Vulture

Himalayan Vulture

Cape Vulture

Lammergeier/Bearded Vulture

Palm Nut Vulture

Egyptian Vulture

Cinereous Vulture

Hooded Vulture

Lappet Faced Vulture

Red Headed Vulture

White Headed Vulture

How Can Vultures Eat Rotten Roadkill And Survive?

You might wonder why 48 million Americans get food poisoning every year, yet there are some animals that seem to be immune from even the nastiest germs.

We’re talking here about vultures, which feast on rotting flesh that is chockablock with bacteria that would be deadly to human beings. In fact, vultures have a strong preference for that kind of food.

“The real question is how can they actually stand eating things like this,” says Lars H. Hansen, a professor of molecular microbial ecology at Aarhus University in Denmark.

He turned to Michael Roggenbuck at the University of Copenhagen because he studies communities of intestinal bacteria.

Roggenbuck was working on his Ph.D. at the time. He set to work examining the guts of 50 turkey vultures and black vultures that had been trapped and killed near Nashville.

He expected to see a huge variety of bacteria in the gut, as you’d find inside human intestines. Instead, he found an ecosystem dominated by two species of bacteria, both well-known poisons: fusobacteria, which can cause blood infections; and Clostridium, which produces deadly botulism toxins.

So why didn’t the vultures get sick from a gut full of nasty germs? “There are several possibilities,” Roggenbuck says.

They could have developed immunity to these toxins as they evolved to eat their everyday diet. Also, other disease-causing germs are likely killed in the stomach, before they even get into the intestine, Hansen suggests. He says vulture stomach acid is 10 to 100 times stronger than human stomach acid, “so it seems like the stomach itself is a very harsh environment.”

“Another hypothesis could be that they’re actually using the bacteria in the stomach as some sort of probiotics,” Hansen says. By having a gut full of a few tolerable species of bacteria, it’s possible that those would crowd out other deadly microbes.

Hansen, Roggenbuck and their colleagues published their results Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

6

The whole set, together. Six vultures. Six proud, lovely carrion eaters. Doing this set made me learn a few things about the birds I never knew, and made me love them even more. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series! It was fun.


Prints and other items such as shirts, totes, etc can be found here at my Society 6 page.

5

“I wish dragons were real!”

Mate. Have you SEEN a bird. Tell me this thing isn’t a dragon.

This is an African white-backed vulture at the Hawk Conservancy in Andover. This one’s fully grown but still thinks he’s a baby, and he performed feed me feed me behaviour all through being photographed. It would probably have been adorable coming from a fluffy chick with stubbywings, but was a bit scary coming from something with a 3m wingspan going WAARK WAARK. He sounded really cross! 

7

Give My Body to the Birds: The Practice of Sky Burial

Sky burial isn’t a burial at all, of anything. It’s the act of leaving a corpse exposed to the elements, often in an elevated location, and only a few different cultures do it, for different reasons and in different ways. 

The concept’s been on my radar for a few years thanks to happening upon the Vajrāyana Buddhist bya gtor practice primarily found in Tibet —and less so in China and Mongolia. It can be shocking to see — ex-human beings being dispassionately dragged up a mountain, chopped up, and thrown to a venue of waiting vultures. 

But then I started to think (and read) about it.

Read the complete history of sky burial on Atlas Obscura…