Today is International Vulture Awareness Day!
While some species populations, like the King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) pictured here, are doing well, other species populations, like the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)and the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) are less secure. These massive birds are nature’s waste management experts, cleaning areas of dead and rotting carcasses. Their bodies are specially adapted for this task with their bare heads and strong beaks.
California condors are one of the best known survival stories in conservation biology. These spectacular birds, with wingspans of up to 10 feet, can soar as high as 15,000 feet! In the 1970s, the population dwindled to only 2 or 3 dozen birds, and then dropped to only 10 birds in 1987. Since the birds don’t reach sexual maturity until 6 to 8 years of age, and then they breed slowly, recovery of the species was difficult at best. Through the persistent work of endangered species biologists, reintroduction of the birds began in 1992 and now 127 individuals live in the wild. The Andean condor population is doing better than its California cousin, with a few thousand individuals found in the wild. Like the California condor, it’s a slow breeder and a vital link in the food chain (info from National Geographic). It’s probably the vulture with which you’re most familiar, because it’s the one that looks like it has a white, fur collar around its neck.
So get out there and celebrate Vulture Awareness Day – without scavengers our world would be A LOT messier!
Want to learn more about the role of vultures in humans’ lives? Check out this fascinating NPR story about India’s vanishing vultures and India’s Parsis. (photo from www.npr.org, showing a Parsi Tower of Silence, circa 1955, near Mumbai, India). Scientific American blog network recently reported there’s some good news for India’s vultures, thanks to a new ban on diclofenac, a painkiller used on cattle and buffalo. This drug can kill vultures when they eat the carcasses of animals treated with the drug. For more info, check out the full article.