You’ve seen them at the side of the road, a crowd of scary-looking black birds eating a poor animal who didn’t safely make it across the highway. These black birds are vultures, of course, and though they are amazing in what they do for us, they are often misunderstood.
Vultures are unique birds. They are scavengers and play an important role in the food web. Because of their role as nature’s garbage disposers, they are a key component to maintaining healthy ecosystems. Why should we care? Well, human beings depend on healthy ecosystems to do a lot of things. Things like purifying the air so we can breathe properly, sequester carbon for climate regulation, cycle nutrients, so we have access to clean drinking water, and pollinate our crops, so we don’t go hungry.
Vultures, nature's cleanup crew, do the dirty work of cleaning up after death and helping to keep ecosystems healthy as they act as natural carcass recyclers. They eat dead animals, break down this organic material, and recycle it into the ecosystem as nutrients. Vultures can eat rotting meat that would make most other animals sick, and their digestive systems are adapted to kill harmful germs.
What would happen if vultures went extinct? According to biologists, the loss of vultures can allow other scavengers to flourish. These other scavengers could bring bacteria and viruses from carcasses into human cities.
Vultures have no incentive to attack humans, and they lack the physical attributes that could pose a threat. The most you might see is a vulture spew projectile vomit to defend himself against a human, but that is about the extent of their hostile behavior.
How does vomiting help? It lightens their body weight so they can escape more easily into flight. Vomiting also serves as a defense mechanism to deter predators.
Answer: c - A group of vultures in flight is called a kettle.
Answer: b - There are 23 vulture species globally.
c. Black Death
Answer: a - Buzzards is a common name for vultures.
True or False
Answers to the True or False Questions
If you said True to Numbers 2, 3, and 5, you are well on your way to understanding these unique and important creatures.
International Vulture Awareness Day is celebrated on the first Saturday every September. Hundreds of zoos, nature preserves, aviaries, and bird refuges worldwide participate each year with fun and informational activities about vultures to help everyone learn just how interesting and valuable these birds are. Mark your calendar to participate so you can make others aware of these unique and valuable animals.
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