Vultures are one of the most misunderstood creatures on our planet. There seems to be a negative association with them for many reasons, but in actuality vultures are extremely important to the existence and survival of other animals, and they play a huge role in maintaining the cycle of life. Although their name has been used to describe someone trying to take advantage of others, in the wild, vultures don’t harm living creatures. This is hard to say about any other animal. On occasion, vultures go after wounded or dying animals, but for the most part, they eat dead or decaying animals, also known as carrion. Sources of carrion can be road kill, animals that have died from natural causes, hunting discards and predator kills. Without vultures, disease would spread and many habitats would be affected.
Because of a vulture’s job in the cycle of life, they are actually designed to be able to eat certain things from which other animals would normally get sick and die. Even though a dead animal starts to decay and the spread of disease is possible, the stomach acids in a vulture are a lot stronger and more corrosive allowing it to digest bacteria that would normally harm other animals. Vultures have many ways of maintaining their health during feeding time. One is they urinate on their legs. They do this for two reasons. One is to cool themselves off on hot days, but also because the urine helps to disinfect the bacteria and kill off parasites they have picked up after walking through carcasses. Another feature vultures have are bald heads. The purpose for this adaptation is to mitigate the unsanitary conditions they incur after sticking their heads into the dead animals while feeding.
A common myth surrounding vultures is that they fly in the sky, circling around dead animals. This is not true. Vultures do simulate the above behavior but it is because they are actually looking for dead animals, not because they have already found one. Vultures have very strong senses of smell and excellent eyesight to spot dead animals and if they find one, they don’t waste their time flying over it. There are 23 different vultures species in the world that are divided into two groups, New World and Old World. Although both of these groups are considered vultures, they aren’t closely related and are only considered together because they fall into a similar ecological sector. Unfortunately, 14 of the 23 species are endangered. Sadly, one of the main reasons for their extinction are accidental poisonings. A lot of farmers poison their animal carcasses thinking it will prevent predators from killing their livestock, but in actuality is has impacted the vulture population tremendously. Given the important role vultures have in our environment, one can only hope they survive to continue their life’s work.