Vulture Life – Observations on their Behaviour

Learning about vulture life! How about sitting with vultures, watching them going about their business and also take a few shots with the camera? No problem at all. So I went to see a number of vultures, mainly Rüppell’s Griffon Vultures and the larger Griffon Vultures. I was curious whether or not it would work, because I came in as a stranger and no-one knew how they would probably react.

Among Vultures …

Equipped with two cameras I went to see the vultures. Two of the four Rüppell’s Griffon Vultures directly came to me. And those two became my new best friends and never left my site for as long as I was with them. It turned out that those two were most curious on what I was doing and especially my camer gear was most interesting. When pushing them away over a metres distance proved to be only a short-term solution. There was no way convincing them doing something else.

It should be said that one should be careful with large birds of prey. Their long bills can inflict deep wounds even if they only snap after someone. Their long bills are absolutely sharp. At least be careful no to show them any of your fingers, you might regret it. Though basically, vultures are friendly animals and we must not be afraid of them. In most of the Old World they are tasked with processing carcases, carrion and human corpses, espcially on the Indian sub-continent.

Rüppells Griffon Vulture feeding on a dead sheep.
Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture feeding on a carcas

Vulture Food

As was already mentioned vultures live on carcases and carrion. They do not attack or catch living animals. Which is why one can put ducks and geese together with any vulture without anything going to happen. Anything living will not be touched by vultures.

Though vultures are hugely curious animals, they check out everything new and put their heads in holes whenever the occasion arises. I can give you that. If they become intrusive, one can push them away, but not for long. Vultures get in touch with humans even by poking them or by pulling someone’s clothes.

Rüppell's Griffon Vulture with open wings.

Vulture Behaviour, Calls and Threats

How about vulture intra-specific behaviour? Good question. Humans talk to each other but what do vultures do to communicate? According to literature, apparently vultures are mainly silent. If any they utter calls when feeding on carcases or during fights at the carcases. Their calls are mainly hisses and grunts. Indeed, grunts are very much human-like and we all know about that; apart from the fact that we do not understand what the vulture wants to tell us.

Vulture communicate by uttering hisses and grunts and not only during them gathering around carrion. These sounds are their standard way of communcation intra and inter-specifically and also when getting in touch with people. Among each other they hiss and as a result the vulture addressed reacts in one way or another.

Threatening Behaviour

In case hissing is not successful the body is straightened, wings are opened which is a threatening behaviour. If that fails, pecking the other one is to follow. Sometimes threatening is skipped because vulture enjoy starting a fight. In that case they bite each other, even try to get a grip of the opponent by holding the other’s wing with one foot and trying to bite. Usually this is only sort of a rumble with feathers flying but no wounds being inflicted.

In most cases threats are sufficient to convince the other vulture to leave the field. Mass rumbles are not uncommon at carcases, espcecially when there are too many vultures, trying to get their share.

Communicating with Humans

When vultures communicate with us humans, they apply the same rules of engagement. So when I joined them, I was welcomed by them with a series of hisses. And when they tried to collect one of my items they also issued hisses and grunts in my direction. To make a point they also straigthened their body and opened the wings. At no time they were dangerous.

When feeding on the dead sheep one could clearly see the existing pecking order. Griffon Vultures feed first with Rüppell’s Griffons waiting for their turn, thereby remaining on the sidelines. Remarkably, there were no grunts to be heards during feeding, but when engaging with vultures at the carcas. They don’t care about humans present.

Griffon Vulture protecting its food.
A Griffon Vulture protecting its food
Griffon Vulture protecting its food with open wings
Griffon Vulture while feeding
Griffon Vulture feeding
Griffon Vulture feeding on parts of a carcas

In case you are interested in European Vulture Conservation please refer to their site for further information:

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Published by Raymond Loyal Photography

Bird, Nature, Art and Architecture Photographer, Traveller, Blogger.

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