Old World vultures are not closely related to the superficially similar New World vultures and condors, and do not share that group's good sense of smell. The similarities between the two groups of vultures are due to convergent evolution rather than a close relationship. They were widespread in both the Old World and North America, during the Neogene. Old World vultures are probably a polyphyletic group within Accipitridae, with Palm-nut Vulture, Egyptian Vulture and Lammergeier separate from the others.
Both Old World and New World vultures are scavenging birds, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals. Old World vultures find carcasses exclusively by sight. A particular characteristic of many vultures is a bald head, devoid of feathers; if vultures had head feathers, they would become spattered with blood and other fluids when the vultures ate flesh from carcasses, and thus would be difficult to keep clean.
- Red-headed Vulture, Sarcogyps calvus
- White-headed Vulture, Trigonoceps occipitalis
- Cinereous Vulture, Aegypius monachus
- Lappet-faced Vulture, Torgos tracheliotus
- Hooded Vulture, Necrosyrtes monachus
- Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus
- White-rumped Vulture, Gyps bengalensis
- Rüppell's Vulture, Gyps rueppellii
- Indian Vulture, Gyps indicus
- Slender-billed Vulture, Gyps tenuirostris
- Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis
- White-backed Vulture, Gyps africanus
- Cape Griffon, Gyps coprotheres
Threat due to diclofenac poisoning
Diclofenac poisoning has caused the vulture population in India and Pakistan to decline by up to 95% in the past decade, and two or three of the species of vulture in South Asia are nearing extinction. This has been caused by the practice of medicating working farm animals with diclofenac, which is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) with anti-inflammatory and pain killing actions. Diclofenac administration keeps animals that are ill or in pain working on the land for longer, but, if the ill animals die, their carcasses contain diclofenac. Farmers leave the dead animals out in the open, relying on vultures to tidy up. Diclofenac present in carcass flesh is eaten by vultures, which are sensitive to diclofenac, and they suffer kidney failure, visceral gout, and death as a result of diclofenac poisoning.
The decline in vultures has led to hygiene problems in India as carcasses of dead animals now tend to rot, or be eaten by rats or wild dogs, rather than be tidied up by vultures. Rabies among these other scavengers is a major health threat. India has one of the world's highest incidences of rabies.
The decline in vultures causes particular problems for certain communities, such as the Parsi, who practice sky burials, where the human dead are put on the top of a Tower of Silence and are eaten by vultures, leaving only dry bones.
Meloxicam (another NSAID) has been found to be harmless to vultures and should prove an acceptable alternative to diclofenac. The Government of India banned diclofenac, but over a year later, in 2007, it continued to be sold and is still a problem in other parts of the world.
The Egyptians considered the vulture to be an excellent mother, and the wide wingspan was seen as all-encompassing and providing a protective cover to her infants. The white Egyptian vulture was the animal picked to represent Nekhbet, the mother goddess and protective patron of southern, Upper Egypt. The vulture hieroglyph <hiero>A</hiero> was the Egyptian sign used for the sound (3) including words such as mother, prosperous, grandmother, and ruler.
In the Hindu epic Ramayana, there appear two demi-gods who had the form of vultures, Jatayu (Sanskrit: जटायू, jatāyū) and his brother Sampaati, with whom are associated stories of courage and self-sacrifice.
When young, the two used to compete as to who could fly higher. On one such instance Jatayu flew so high that he was about to get seared by sun's flames. Sampaati saved his brother by spreading his own wings and thus shielding Jatayu from the hot flames. In the process, Sampaati himself got injured and lost his wings. As a result Sampaati lived wingless for the rest of his life.
When Jatayu was old, he witnessed the beautiful Sita, wife of the god Rama, being kidnapped by Ravana. Jatayu tried to save her but was defeated and mortally wounded. When he lay dying he was still able to tell Rama and his brother Lakshmana in which direction Sita was being taken, facilitating her eventual rescue.
In the Tibetan practice of sky burial, vultures and other birds eat human corpses.
Although the vulture plays an important natural role, in the Western world, the image of the vulture is quite negative, with 'vulture' used as a metaphor for those who prey on the weak or dying, with associated negative connotations of cowardice and selfishness.
A project named "Vulture Restaurant" is underway in Nepal in an effort to conserve the dwindling number of vultures. The "restaurant" is an open grassy area where naturally dying, sick, and old cows are fed to the vultures.
- ^ Lerner & Mindell 2005.
- ^ a b c "Painkillers turned bird killers". New Scientist (2577): p7. 2006-11-14.
- ^ Di Quinzio & McCarthy 2008.
- ^ Haviland, Charles (2008-07-31). "Nepal's 'restaurant' for vultures". BBC News. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- ^ A vulture restaurant in South AfricaThis link is dead.
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- doi: 10.1503/cmaj.071443
- Ferguson-Lees, James; Christie, David A. (2001). Raptors of the World. Illustrated by Kim Franklin, David Mead, and Philip Burton. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-618-12762-7. Retrieved 2011-05-26.
- Grimmett, Richard; Inskipp, Carol; Inskipp, Tim (1999). Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Illustrated by Clive Byers et al. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-04910-6. OCLC 43578307.
- doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2005.04.010
- Sinclair, Ian; Hockey, Phil; Tarboton, Warwick (2002). SASOL Birds of Southern Africa. Illustrated by Peter Hayman & Norman Arlott (3rd ed.). Capetown: Struik. ISBN 978-1-86872-721-6.
- "Bird groups hopeful on vultures". London: BBC News. 2006-02-06. Retrieved 2011-05-29.
- Gentleman, Amelia (2006-03-28). "India's Vultures Fall Prey to a Drug in the Cattle They Feed On". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/28/international/asia/28vultures.html. Retrieved 2011-05-29.
- Nair, Preetu (2009-05-09). "Rare breed of vulture spotted in Goa after eight years". Times Of India. Retrieved 2011-05-29.
- Vulture videos on the Internet Bird Collection
- videos, photographs and resources on Indian birds
- A griffon vulture nest on the Web
|This article is part of Project Bird Taxonomy, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on every order, family and other taxonomic rank related to birds.|
|This article is part of Project Bird Subfamilies, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on each bird subfamily, including made-up families.|