The Elegance of the Vulture

by Ragtimelil

One of the most commonly seen birds in Texas is the vulture. Despised by many, they are a useful and amazing animal and one that performs a necessary service to the environment.

It is a rare day in Texas when you won't see a gracefully soaring large bird in the sky. Vultures patrol the shores, fields, and along the roadside for food. Most of their food is freshly killed, but they have an amazing ability to digest less than fresh meat.

New World vultures are related to birds of prey and not to the Old World vultures. They are an example of convergent evolution, when the same traits evolve independently in unrelated groups

A Committee

VulturesA committee, venue, kettle or volt refers to a group of vultures. A kettle is vultures in flight while a committee, venue or volt is the name given to vultures resting in trees. I passed a group of vultures feeding on a dead rabbit this morning and just learned that what I saw was called, aptly, a wake. One bird seemed to be helping himself while another stood ready to grab what he could. Several more rested in trees waiting to see if there would be any left when these two were done.

There are three species of New World vultures in North America. The two found in Texas and over most of the country are the turkey vulture, whose range extends into southern Canada and the black vulture who is found in the south and eastern part of the US. The California condor is found only in the western part of North America.

Vulture Facts

 Vultures have an unusually good sense of smell which is unusual for a bird. They have been known to small a dead animal up to a mile away. The lack of feathers on their heads helps to keep them clean and cool. They are generally silent but can make grunts and hissing sounds.

Vultures can often be seen roosting with wings outspread, especially in the morning. This posture is called the"horaltic pose." They are thought to be collecting warmth from the sun and drying wet wings as an energy saving mechanism.

The Black Vulture

vultures in flight

The black vulture can have a wing-span of five feet and has patches of white on the underside of the wings. They prefer to hunt in groups unlike the turkey vulture who is generally solitary except when roosting Vultures don’t generally attack prey but black vultures may attack the weak and the sick. Cattle ranchers blame them for attacks on newborn calves.

The Turkey Vulture

The turkey vulture, sometimes incorrectly called a buzzard, has a six-foot wing span which allows it to soar with little need to flap their wings. They are a sleek black bird with a red head and a white beak. Unlike the black vulture, they rarely if ever, kill their prey despite the claims of ranchers who often see them in the company of the more aggressive black vultures. Their diet may also include mussels, shrimp, grasshoppers, mayflies, rotten pumpkins, palm fruit, grapes, juniper berries among other things.






What They Do For Us

Vultures in treesVultures serve a good purpose in keeping the landscape free of dead animals, especially in the hotter parts of the world. They have strong stomach acid that allows them to eat meat that is infected with Botulinum toxin, hog cholera, and anthrax bacteria that would be lethal to other scavengers.

Despite claims that vultures carry diseases, their droppings are bacteria free due to the strong stomach acid. The birds actually sterilize the environment by eating contaminated meat. Their droppings will, however, kill grass and plants that it may fall on.


 The New World Vultures are able to vomit when threatened Some claim the birds can project vomit as a defense but it has been shown that it is more likely a case of the birds attempting to lighten their load to be better able to take off in flight.

While they are not endangered, they are protected. Life without these great birds would be a messy one at best.

Vultures Soaring

Updated: 10/22/2012, Ragtimelil
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Soaring Comments

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Ragtimelil on 02/11/2013

They are a common sight down here. They do a great job cleaning up. I didn't realize until I started researching that they actually disinfect. Hard to believe but true.

AngelaJohnson on 02/11/2013

I lived in San Antonio for many years and vultures often sit on the light posts waiting for road kill.

Ragtimelil on 10/23/2012

Thank you. I always thought they were drying there wings. I would see them doing that on a really damp morning. I didn't know it had a name until I read about it.

Ragtimelil on 10/23/2012

The term buzzard is incorrect for our vultures. It came about from someone just arriving here and using that term. Just to confuse things...

Ragtimelil on 10/23/2012

That's the only time I would ever call them cute. Ha

Roohi on 10/23/2012

I always wondered about the 'horaltic pose'. Never thought there was a specific reason to it though. Now I know. Thanks for sharing.

JohnTannahill on 10/23/2012

I've sometimes wondered why they are called buzzards when, here in the UK, a buzzard is a specific bird of prey. We don't have vultures here. Oddly enough, we have buzzards and they do a similar job.

Sheri_Oz on 10/23/2012

Vultures are so cute when they're stuffed toys.

Ragtimelil on 10/22/2012

Why thank you. I don't know what that says about committees....ha

Digby_Adams on 10/22/2012

I love the fact that a group of vultures could be called a committee. The part about the vulture wake is really interesting as well. Great Wizzle. I'm going to go recommend this in the forum if someon else hasn't already!

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