How Do Vultures Find Dead Stuff?

black bird
Photo by Lucas Pezeta on

A vulture is a bird of prey that scavenges on the corpse. There are 23 extant species of vulture. Old World vultures include 16 living species native to Africa, Europe, and Asia; New World vultures are restricted to South and North America and consist of around seven known species, all relating to the Cathartidae family.

A unique characteristic of many vultures is a noticeable bald head devoid of any visible feathers. Vultures have been seen to hunch their bodies, tuck in their bald heads in the cold, spread their wings, and extend their necks in the heat. They have also been seen urinating on themselves as a means of adequately cooling their bodies.

Vultures can be observed throughout much of the United States and South and Central America. They can often be seen circling effortlessly and endlessly and easily identifiable by their striking heads and huge wingspans.

Vultures are of fabulous value as scavengers, particularly in hot regions. Vulture acid inside its stomach is particularly corrosive (pH=1.0), allowing them to carefully digest putrid carcasses contaminated with botulinum toxin, anthrax, and hog cholera bacteria that would be lethal to other scavengers and eliminate these bacteria from the ecosystem.

How do Vultures Find Food?

Researchers demonstrated long ago that Vultures could smell. In 1938 CE, research conducted under close supervision discovered that by adding a strong-smelling organic chemical called mercaptan into gas lines, they could readily find leaks by watching vulture activity above the pipelines. Some mercaptans smell like eggs or rotting cabbage. They and related chemicals are discharged as carcasses decompose. To us, mercaptans are horrible, but for vultures, they are connected with fine dining.

In a 1986 CE study in Panama, Vultures discovered 71 of 74 chicken carcasses within seventy-two hours. There was no time difference between finding unconcealed and concealed corpses, and the only carcasses the vultures apparently had trouble finding were the freshest ones. Even though the older carcasses emitted a more pungent odor, the vultures showed a clear preference for eating fresher corpses.

This proves that Vultures seem to have reliance on their sense of smell for finding food. However, this is not enough.

Other vultures, like the Black Vulture, count on their vision to find food, often finding carrion by watching where other vultures go. They’ve sharp eyes, and the bald featherless head gives them a more significant point of view. They’re known to circle around dead corpses and wat it after confirming the sight with the smell.

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