Vultures ensure cleanliness in nature because they eat carrion, i.e. dead animals. Their bald heads and bare necks make these mighty birds of prey unmistakable.


What do vultures look like?

Vultures are a group of large to very large birds of prey that feed mainly on carrion. It is typical that in almost all species the head and neck area are free of feathers. They have a powerful beak and strong claws However, researchers have found that the vultures form two groups that are only slightly related. The Old World Vultures and the New World Vultures. The Old World vultures belong to the hawk-like family and form two subfamilies there. One is that of the Old World vultures (Aegypiinae), which include black vultures and griffon vultures.

The second is the subfamily Gypaetinae, the best known of which is the Bearded Vulture and the Egyptian Vulture. These two stand out from the other Old World vultures by their feathered head and neck, for example. Old World vultures can grow to over a meter tall and have a wingspan of up to 290 centimeters. Typical for many of them is a ruff made of feathers, from which the bare neck protrudes.

The second large group of vultures is the New World vultures (Cathartidae). They include the Andean condor, which can grow to around 120 centimeters in size and have a wingspan of up to 310 centimeters. This makes it the largest bird of prey and one of the largest flying birds in the world. While Old World vultures can grip with their feet, New World vultures lack the gripping claw, so they cannot, for example, hold onto their prey with the claws of their feet.

Where do vultures live?

Old World vultures are found in Europe, Africa, and Asia. New World vultures, as their name suggests, are at home in the New World, i.e. in America. There they occur in South and Central America and in the USA. Old World vultures live mainly in open landscapes such as steppes and semi-deserts, but also in the mountains. Although New World vultures also inhabit open landscapes, they also live in forests and scrubland. The turkey vulture, for example, inhabits both deserts and forests.

Some species, such as the black vulture, used to be found only in wetlands. Today they also live in cities and look for waste in the garbage.

What types of vultures are there?

Old World vultures include well-known species such as the Griffon Vulture, the Pygmy Vulture, and the Black Vulture. The bearded vulture and Egyptian vulture belong to the Gypaetinae subfamily. There are only seven species of New World vultures. The most famous is the mighty Andean condor. Other known species are black vultures, turkey vultures, and king vultures

How old do vultures get?

Vultures can get pretty old. Griffon vultures are known to live for about 40 years, some animals even much longer. The Andean condor can live up to 65 years.


How do vultures live?

Old World and New World vultures have an important job: they are the health police in nature. Because they are predominantly scavengers, they clean up the carcasses of dead animals, preventing the spread of pathogens.

Old World vultures can smell good, but they can see even better and discover the carcasses from a height of three kilometers. New World vultures have an even better sense of smell than Old World vultures and, with their finely tuned nose, can even detect carrion from a great height that is hidden under trees or bushes.

There is a division of labor among vultures when it comes to removing carrion: the largest species such as griffon vultures or condors come first. They use threatening gestures to determine which of them is allowed to eat first, and the hungriest animals prevail. It also makes sense that the largest vultures eat first: only they have enough strength to tear open the skin of dead animals with their beaks.

Some species of vultures mainly eat muscle meat, others guts. Bearded vultures like bones best. To get the marrow, they fly up in the air with a bone and drop it onto rocks from a height of up to 80 meters. There the bone breaks and the vultures eat the nutritious bone marrow. All vultures are excellent fliers. They can glide for hours and also cover great distances. While some Old World vultures are gregarious and live in colonies, New World vultures tend to be solitary.

How do vultures reproduce?

Old World vultures build massive nests on trees or ledges in which to lay their eggs and raise their young. New World vultures, on the other hand, do not build nests. They simply lay their eggs on rocks, in burrows, or in hollow tree stumps.


What do vultures eat?

Both Old World vultures and New World vultures are predominantly scavengers. If they don’t find enough carrion, some species like the black vulture in summer, but also hunt animals like rabbits, lizards, or lambs. New World vultures also sometimes kill small animals.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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