Be Your Own Birder

Happy International Vulture Awareness Day!

Today is a day all birders, and non-birders too, should be celebrating – Happy International Vulture Awareness Day! This is a day to raise awareness about how unique, amazing, and essential vultures are in our environment, and to promote more effective vulture conservation throughout the world. But why should we?

Black Vulture

Black Vulture – Photo by Bettina Arrigoni

Vultures are subject to a lot of misconceptions, and they’re not well understood even by many birders. It’s important to get the correct information about these birds, in order to protect them appropriately and keep them from being unjustly persecuted.

  • But vultures are dirty!
    Actually, vultures are no dirtier than any other bird. Even the prettiest songbirds are often infested with feather mites or lice, and can carry a wide range of bacteria and parasites, some of which are harmful to humans. Vultures, on the other hand, with their longer bare legs and bare heads and necks, can even carry less bacteria because they have fewer feathers to become infected.
  • Vultures only eat icky things we don’t want around anyway.
    Where would those “icky things” go if vultures didn’t eat them? These birds serve a valuable purpose as nature’s clean up crew by consuming rotting carcasses that would otherwise harbor disease that would endanger other wildlife, including the two-legged mammals called humans. Because vultures take care of the mess, however, disease doesn’t have a chance to spread.
  • Vultures don’t come to my bird feeders, so why should I care?
    It’s highly doubtful that any flamingos, penguins, or puffins would come to bird feeders either, yet those birds aren’t reviled the way vultures are, simply because of appearance and perceptions. Vultures deserve just as much respect and admiration as any other birds, no matter what they look like or the role they fill in nature.
  • Vultures will hurt pets and livestock.
    Patently untrue. While some raptors may attack small pets (great horned owls are especially guilty of this), vultures do not attack living prey. Their talons are very blunt and weak compared to hunting birds, and they don’t have the strength to kill any prey. In terms of livestock, this myth often comes about because vultures may circle in on afterbirth when a herd animal is born, but they aren’t interested in the live animals.
  • Vultures fight over carcasses, and that isn’t very nice.
    All birds fight over their food sources. Rufous hummingbirds will chase and even attack other hummingbirds near a nectar feeder, jays will use fake hawk calls to scare other birds away from feeding, and pine siskins will lunge and attack any bird near to them while they’re munching seed. This is just a bird’s way of protecting its food and getting enough to eat, and certainly not something to condemn the bird for doing.
  • Vultures are big birds that nothing can hurt anyway.
    Yes, vultures are larger species, but they’re at grave risk from a number of threats. Contaminated carcasses (either from lead shot or toxic veterinary compounds) can poison vultures, and these birds are often electrocuted when their large wingspans clip power lines. When they feed on roadways they’re often hit by vehicles, and they’re often persecuted by livestock farmers because the birds are unjustly hated.

Really, there’s nothing so wrong with vultures! They’re unique and impressive birds that have amazing adaptations, and they perform valuable ecological services that help us all. Understanding vultures better is the first step to protecting them – spread the word about how great vultures are today, and everyday!

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