The African Vulture is the only bird on our planet that can rise to a height of more than 11,000 meters. Why would an African vulture climb so high? It’s just that at such a height, with the help of natural air currents, birds have the opportunity to fly long distances with a minimum of effort.
Origin of the species and description
The African Vulture belongs to the family «Hawks«, genus «Vultures«. Its second name is Ruppel’s vulture (Gyps rueppellii). The species was named after the German zoologist Eduard Rüppel. Vulture is very common in the northern and eastern parts of the African continent. The location of birds in a particular region mainly depends on the number of herds of ungulates.
Video: African Vulture
The African Vulture is a very large bird of prey. Its body length reaches 1.1 meters, wingspan — 2.7 meters, and weight 4-5 kg. In its appearance, it is very similar to the vulture, so its second name is Rüppell’s vulture (Gyps rueppellii). The bird has the same small head, covered with light down, the same hook-shaped elongated beak with gray wax, the same long neck, bordered by a collar of feathers, and the same short tail.
The plumage of the vulture on top of the body has a dark brown color, and below it is lighter with a red tint. The tail and tail feathers on the wings and tail are very dark, almost black. The eyes are small, with a yellow-brown iris. The legs of the bird are short, rather strong, dark gray in color, with sharp long claws. Males do not differ from females in appearance. Juveniles have a slightly lighter plumage color.
Fun fact: Ruppel vultures are considered the best flyers. In horizontal flight, birds can fly at a speed of 65 km per hour, and in vertical (dive) — 120 km per hour.
Appearance and Features
C the appearance of the African vulture is clear – it is very similar to the vulture, especially since the species belongs to the genus & # 171; Vultures & # 187;. Let’s talk about something else now. The African vulture is able to fly and soar at a very high altitude, where not only is there practically no oxygen, it is also wildly cold – up to -50C. How does it not freeze at all at such and such a temperature?
It turns out the bird is very well insulated. The body of the neck is covered with a very dense layer of down, which works like the warmest down jacket. Outside, the layer of fluff is covered with the so-called contour feathers, which give the body of the bird streamlining and aerodynamic properties.
The neck skeleton, as a result of millions of years of evolution, has undergone remarkable «tuning» and perfectly adapted to flying at high altitudes. As it turned out, for its impressive dimensions (body length & # 8212; 1.1 m, wingspan & # 8212; 2.7 m), the bird weighs quite modestly – only some 5 kg. And all because the main bones of the vulture’s skeleton are «air», that is, they have a hollow structure.
How does a bird breathe at such a height? Everything is simple. The vulture’s respiratory system is well adapted to low oxygen levels. In the body of a bird there are many air sacs that are connected to the lungs and bones. The vulture breathes unidirectionally, that is, it only inhales with lungs, and exhales with the whole body.
Where does the African Vulture live?
The African Vulture is a resident of the mountain slopes, plains, forests, savannas and semi-deserts of northern and eastern Africa. Often found on the southern outskirts of the Sahara. The bird leads an exclusively sedentary lifestyle, that is, it does not make any seasonal migrations. Within their habitat, Ruppel’s vultures can migrate following herds of ungulates, which are almost their main source of food.
The main places of residence and nesting of the African vulture are dry areas, as well as uplands with a good overview of the surroundings and steep cliffs. From there, it is much easier for them to rise into the air than from the ground. In mountainous areas, these birds can be found at an altitude of up to 3500 meters, but during the flight they can rise three times higher – up to 11,000 meters.
An interesting fact: In 1973, an unusual case was recorded – a collision of an African vulture with an airliner flying to Abidjan (West Africa) at a speed of 800 km/h at an altitude of 11277 m. The bird accidentally hit the engine, which eventually led to its serious breakdown. Fortunately, thanks to the coordinated actions of the pilots and luck, of course, the liner managed to land successfully at the nearest airport and none of the passengers were injured, and the vulture, of course, died.
For In order to take off from a flat surface, the African vulture needs a long acceleration. For this reason, vultures prefer to live on hills, cliffs, rock ledges, from where it is possible to take off only after a couple of flaps of wings.
What does the African vulture eat?
The African vulture, like its other relatives, is a scavenger, that is, it eats the corpses of animals. In the search for food, Ruppel’s vultures are helped by exceptionally sharp eyesight. As a rule, the whole flock is engaged in the search for suitable food, each time performing this action as a ritual. Began a flock of vultures rises high into the sky and is distributed one by one throughout the controlled territory, looking for prey for a long time. The first bird that sees the prey rushes at it, thereby giving a signal to the rest of the participants in the «hunt». If there are a lot of vultures and little food, then they can fight for it.
Vultures are very hardy, so they are not at all afraid of hunger and can eat irregularly. If there is enough food, then the birds will eat up for the future, due to their anatomical features – a voluminous goiter and a capacious stomach.
Rueppel’s vulture menu:
- predatory mammals (lions, tigers, hyenas );
- hoofed animals (elephants, antelopes, mountain sheep, goats, llamas);
- large reptiles (crocodiles)
- bird and turtle eggs;
Sips eat very quickly. For example, a flock of ten adult birds can gnaw the corpse of an antelope to the very bones in half an hour. If a wounded or sick animal, even a small one, comes across on the way of birds, the vultures do not touch it, but patiently wait until it dies a natural death. During the meal, each member of the flock performs its role: large birds tear the thick skin of the animal’s corpse, while others tear the rest of its parts. At the same time, the leader of the pack is always kindly provided with the tidbit.
Interesting fact: By thrusting its head deep into the carcass of the animal, the vulture does not get dirty at all, thanks to the feather neck collar.
Character and lifestyle features
All types of vultures have a restrained and calm character. Rare conflicts between individuals in flocks occur only when sharing prey, and then if there is very little food, and there are a lot of birds. Vultures are completely indifferent to other species: they do not attack them and, one might even say, do not notice them. Also, vultures are very clean: after a hearty meal, they are very fond of swimming in ponds or cleaning their plumage for a long time with their beak. , which neutralizes all toxins.
Despite the large torso at first glance, the vultures are quite dexterous and mobile. During the flight, they prefer to soar on ascending air currents, retracting their neck and lowering their heads, carefully examining the surroundings for prey. Thus, birds save strength and energy. They search for food only during the day, and sleep at night. Vultures do not transfer prey from place to place and eat it only where it was found.
Sexually mature individuals of vultures are prone to monogamy, that is, they create «marital» couples only once, fanatically faithful to their soul mate all their lives. If suddenly one of the «spouses» dies, then often the other may remain alone for the rest of his life, which is not to the benefit of the population.
An interesting fact: the life expectancy of African vultures — 40-50 years old.
Social structure and reproduction
African vultures usually breed once a year. They reach sexual maturity at the age of 5-7 years. The mating season for birds begins in February or March. At this time, a pair of vultures keeps together and flying, performs synchronized movements, as if demonstrating their love and devotion. Before the mating process, the male flaunts in front of the female, spreading the feathers of the tail and wings.
The vultures build their nest in hard-to-reach places:
- on hills;
- on rock ledges;
- on cliffs.
To build nests, they use thick and thin dry branches, as well as dried grass. The nest is rather large in size — 1.5-2.5 m wide and 0.7 m high. Once a nest is built, a couple can use it for several years.
An interesting fact: African vultures, like their relatives, are natural orderlies. Eating the corpses of animals, they gnaw the bones so diligently that there is nothing left on them where pathogenic bacteria could multiply.
After mating, the female lays 1-2 eggs in the nest, which are white with brown spots. Both partners take turns incubating the masonry: while one is looking for food, the second warms the eggs. Incubation can last up to 57 days.
Chicks can hatch both at the same time, and with a difference of 1-2 days. They are covered with dense white down, which becomes reddish after a month. Parents are also engaged in rearing the offspring in turn, burping food and taking care of the young in this way up to 4-5 months of age. After another 3 months, the chicks leave the nest, becoming completely independent and independent from their parents.
Natural enemies of African vultures
Vultures prefer to nest in groups of up to two dozen pairs, building nests in rock ledges, in crevices or on other hard-to-reach heights. For this reason, birds have practically no natural enemies. However, occasionally large predatory mammals of the cat family (pumas, cheetahs, panthers) can destroy their nests, eating eggs or barely hatched chicks. Of course, vultures are always on the alert and do their best to protect their home and offspring, but under certain circumstances they do not always succeed.
Interesting fact: During thick fog or rain, vultures prefer not to fly and try to wait out the bad weather, hiding in their nests.
Sometimes in the struggle for the best piece, especially if there is little food and a lot of birds, Rüppel’s vultures often arrange fights and can seriously injure each other. The natural enemies of the vultures also include their food competitors, who also feed on carrion – spotted hyenas, jackals, and other large birds of prey. Defending themselves from the latter, the vultures make a sharp flapping of their wings, thus inflicting very tangible blows on their offenders. You have to fight with hyenas and jackals, using not only large wings, but also a strong, sharp beak for protection. decorated their clothes and utensils.
Population and species status
Despite on the fairly wide distribution of African vultures throughout their habitat, in the last couple of decades, under the influence of environmental factors, their number began to decrease. And it’s not just about human intervention in nature, but also about new sanitary standards, which involve the widespread disposal of the corpses of dead animals.
These norms were adopted with the best of intentions to improve the sanitary condition and the epidemiological situation throughout the continent, but in reality it turns out that this is not entirely true. Since African vultures are scavengers, this means only one thing for them: a constant lack of food, the consequence of which is a decrease in their numbers.
While the birds in search of food began to massively move to the territory of the reserves, although this now creates additional problems, since in some way it violates the balance that has been established over the years. What will come of this – time will tell. Another reason for the decrease in the number of vultures is the mass capture of birds by local residents for religious rituals. It is because of this, and not because of a lack of food, that the number of birds has decreased by almost 70%.
According to experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, vultures are often found killed without paws and heads. The thing is that local healers make muti from them – the most popular drug for all diseases. In addition, you can easily buy other bird organs in African markets, supposedly able to cure diseases and bring good luck.
Another threat to the survival of vultures in Africa is the availability of various poisons. They are inexpensive, sold freely and used very indiscriminately. So far, no one has been prosecuted for poisoning or killing the vulture, as the poisoning of predators is one of the oldest traditions of the indigenous African peoples.
Conservation of the African vultures
In the early 2000s, the International Union for Conservation of Nature decided to assign the African vulture species the status of endangered. Today, the Rüppell vulture population is approximately 270 thousand individuals.
In order to somehow protect the animals and birds of Africa from poisons and pesticides, in 2009 the American company FMC & # 8212; The manufacturer of the poisonous drug furadan, the most popular in African countries, launched a campaign for the return of already delivered batches in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. The reason for this was a resonant story about mass poisoning of animals with pesticides, shown in one of the news releases of the CBS TV channel (USA).
The threat from people is also exacerbated by the breeding characteristics of Rueppel’s vultures. After all, they reach the ability to reproduce rather late — at the age of 5-7 years, and offspring are bred only once a year, or even twice. At the same time, the mortality rate of chicks in the first year of life is very high and amounts to approximately 90%. According to the most optimistic forecasts of ornithologists, if we do not start taking radical measures to preserve the population of the species, in the next 50 years the number of African vultures in their habitats may decrease very significantly – by no less than 97%.
African vulture – a typical scavenger, and not a predator, as is commonly believed out of ignorance. They usually look out for their prey for a very long time – literally for hours gliding in the sky on rising air currents. These birds, unlike European and Asian vultures, do not use their sense of smell in search of food, but their sharp eyesight.