Disappearing Vultures are Amazingly Useful

Vultures are generally seen as unpleasant, disgusting birds that eat dead flesh but they do a very useful job.

Vultures are birds which feed off the bodies of dead animals. The very word ‘vulture’ conjures up a picture of disgusting, beady-eyed carrion eaters picking around the carcass of some dead creature, or hovering waiting for their victim to die.


The image of flocks of vultures circling overhead in the desert waiting for their ‘lunch’ to die is one that is show quite often in old western type movies. The captured cowboy will be staked out on the ground and the vultures will be circling around, getting closer and closer to him as he gets nearer death.


These birds have a bad reputation but they have a useful purpose. They rid the world of dead bodies and reprocess the meat. This sounds disgusting but so are dead animal (and human) bodies if left untended. 

Vultures are found in many areas of the world across many terrains and in different climates. They are found in hot desert areas but also in cold mountainous areas.  They are often seen in groups, or ‘venues’, on the ground and in the air in flocks, or ‘kettles’.

The bald heads of these creatures are thought to be important for temperature control in the bird and those sharp, hooked beaks are especially well adapted to tearing flesh.

Vultures can be divided into two main groups: New World and Old World species.  Old World varieties include European, Asian and Africa species. This particular group finds its food mostly by sight, while the New World group, found in the Americas, uses scent as its main method of finding food. They can smell a carcass from very high up in the sky and circle down on it.

Many species of vulture are fast disappearing and this is most prominent in India and Pakistan where their numbers have declined by 95% in the past few years.  The main reason for this is poisoning from a steroidal drug called diclofenac which is used on animals.

The disappearance of these creatures may cause series problem in countries where religious rites entail leaving dead bodies for vultures to consume. The Parsi religion found mostly in Iran and India builds huge towers where the dead are put to rest so that the birds can consume them and take them away.

In northern Indian and Tibet there are areas where the ground is frozen all year round, so it would be impossible to dig graves for burial, so the bodies of humans and animals are laid out for the vultures to east and disposed of that way. This is known as sky burial.

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18 Responses to “Disappearing Vultures are Amazingly Useful”
  1. Mr Ghaz Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 6:51 am

    Excellent! That was fantastic and amazing article about vultures/ science…I LOV it..Well done and thnx for sharing…nice pic too..

  2. clay hurtubise Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 8:43 am

    Nice piece: and to think I take diclofenac! Great pics.

  3. mmblxbx Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Nice artical

  4. Fegger Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 9:21 am

    The “blonde” looks (and probably acts) like my former wife…the resemblence is striking! Very nicely done, as is standard with you!

  5. Gon pincha Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Great article :)
    It was very interesting.

    Yours, Gonzalo

  6. CHAN LEE PENG Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Interesting article. Great read here, thanks.

  7. Evelyn Moore Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Great informative read – they scare me though!

  8. hfj Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Well written piece Louie. I saw a documentary on the sky burial that you mentioned in this piece. It was very facinating as well as your article. During this sky burial ceremony, two men are left behind with hammers to break the bones and skulls of the corpes so that not much is left of the bodies. Well done.

  9. Lex92 Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Wow… I didnt’ know vultures were interesting!

  10. George W Whitehead Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    This brought back memories, I was once married to a vulture! This article is up to your usual excellent standard, Louie.

  11. Judy Sheldon Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Interesting article about vultures. I didn’t know there was so much to learn about them.

  12. Darlene McFarlane Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    We have always had Turkey Vultures here in northern Ontario but they began to migrate further south in the last 10 years. They make an impressive display, sometimes circling for hours.

    This is a very interesting article as per usual.

  13. Daisy Peasblossom Says...

    On April 20, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    We get Turkey Buzzards here, too. Robins don’t mean spring is here, but that big, black bird sailing in the sky does.

  14. Betty Carew Says...

    On April 21, 2009 at 2:29 am

    Great article Louie lots of info here I didn’t know. Never thought there was an endangered species with vultures . Very interesting

  15. R J Evans Says...

    On April 23, 2009 at 4:58 am

    Excellent stuff (blogged it!)

  16. Louie Jerome Says...

    On April 23, 2009 at 5:42 am

    Thanks RJ

  17. catlord Says...

    On April 23, 2009 at 8:42 am

    The DEC in New York has released several dozen mated pairs in a program to repatriate the turkey vultures in the state. It is not uncommon now to see them circling overhead.
    We have turkey vultures in Toronto now, and I know a little backwash of the Humber River about 5-minutes walk from where I live where about a dozen or more roost every night. They might even be nesting down there. I saw a roosting flock of about 30 of them last summer, down by Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Humber River. They looked kinda spooky sitting there in the tree, patiently waiting for something…

  18. Glynis Smy Says...

    On April 24, 2009 at 8:09 am

    We had one rise up beside our car in the Troodos mountains in Cyprus, and amazing moment! Great article.

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