It’s International Vulture Awareness Day! The only vulture that really frequents my neck of the wood is the Turkey Vulture, so, let me explain you a thing.
Turkey vultures like to eat carcasses that have rotted to the point where they’re no longer attractive to other large scavengers, like foxes, coyotes, or raccoons. This is the point when the carcass is absolutely filled with pathogens. The longer that carcass sits there and rots, the more time it has to spread diseases out into the environment, including Clostridium botulinum. For those not familiar, C. botulinum is the reason you never, ever, ever want to eat food from a can that’s bulging or otherwise compromised. The bacterium itself wouldn’t be that bad, except it produces botulinum toxin, the most potent toxin known to man that’s not ionizing radiation. The LD50 is 1 nanongram.
That’s one of the many reasons that animals like coyotes, raccoons, opossums, and other vertebrate scavengers want nothing to do with an overly-rotted corpse. You know who doesn’t give a shit about botulism, though?
The Turkey Vulture.
Not only does C. botulinum not make Turkey Vultures sick, it somehow lives in harmony with their immune systems. Other pathogens like anthrax, E. coli, and swine flu are promptly nuked by the bird’s incredibly powerful stomach acid.
Basically, Turkey Vultures and their kin are out there taking disease-ridden corpses that could spread deadly illnesses to humans and other animals, and converting them into sterile fertilizer.
So, the next time you see one of these guys circling a thermal, or sun-worshiping in a tree, you don’t necessarily have to make yourself say he’s handsome, but, at least show a little respect, because they deserve it.
“You’re welcome, naked ape-things.”
Fun fact! Turkey vultures are not true vultures, but buzzards! They are not related to old world vultures at all, but in a lovely example of convergent evolution, perform the same ecological role.
And they are majestic fucking birds.
Vultures are something else.
The California Condor, the bird with the largest wingspan? It’s a vulture.
At the other end of the scale kites, red and black, fill the vulture niche in parts of Europe – and have actually been reintroduced to major cities such as London because people realized that having something around that eats dead rats is, you know, a good idea. Red kites are 24 to 28 inches long (and a lot prettier than the larger vultures – close up anyway. I think they’re all pretty seen soaring from a distance).
Vultures are an important part of the cycle of life – and have been used as undertakers by humans in the past (In Tibet and parts of north America).
The lammergeier, another vulture, likes to eat bones. As in, 80 percent of their diet is bones. So, after everyone else has eaten, they come in, break up the skeleton and chow down. And they dye their feathers red. They’re the only bird known to do that.