Keep Calm and Carrion: 8 Amazing Vultures

Vultures may be ugly birds and their lifestyles are of the “hold your nose” variety but as nature’s clean-up crew they’re definitely leaders of the pack. In honor of International Vulture Awareness Day and in appreciation for their outstanding accomplishments in the field of organic salvage and remediation, we’re proud to present the world’s 8 most amazing vultures!

Bearded Vulture

(images via: Naturephoto-CZ and BirdInfo)

The Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), also known as the Lammergeier (“Lamb Hawk”) or formerly Ossifrage (“bone breaker”) sports a copiously feathered head and neck – for vultures, that is. Bearded Vultures are native to mountainous areas mainly in southeastern Europe and northern Africa east to India and Tibet.

(images via: and LensRent)

The Bearded Vulture derives most of its nutritional sustenance from animal bones and especially bone marrow, which it obtains by either crushing smaller bones with their powerful beaks or dropping larger bones after lifting them high into the air. The birds’ digestive juices are extremely acidic with PH readings approaching 1 – a necessary and effective adaptation to a diet of not just bone marrow but bones themselves.

(image via: Wikipedia)

The time-worn story of a boy and his dog doesn’t always apply to the world’s varied cultures and what rhymes with culture? You got it: vulture! We’re not sure why this Afghan boy is carrying a Bearded Vulture in the above photo but he certainly looks pleased and satisfied with himself. The vulture, not so much.

White-Headed Vulture

(images via: Dreamstime, Arkive, BirdLife Intl. and All Bird)

The White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) is a medium-sized vulture native to Africa. Under pressure by expanding human activity and habitat loss, the White-Headed Vulture’s official conservation status worsened from Least Concern to Vulnerable according to the 2007 IUCN Red List.

(images via: Arkive and Animal Pictures Archive)

The various colors of the White-Headed Vulture’s head and neck contrast with the comparatively dull feathers on the lower parts of its 4kg to 5kg (8.8lbs to 11lbs) body. The White-Headed Vulture features a shock of short platinum blonde feathers atop its head, prompting comparisons to the bad boy of power-pop-punk, Billy Idol.

California Condor

(image via: TrekNature)

The California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is North America’s largest land bird and a triumph of the conservation movement. Since all 22 remaining wild condors were taken into captivity in 1987 as per the California Condor Recovery Plan, their population has increased nearly twenty-fold with approximately 225 birds living in the wild as of May 2012. Though listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN, California Condor populations are gradually expanding and can be found in California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California.

(images via: Rate Every Animal and Arkive)

The wingspan of an adult California Condor can reach an astounding 3.4 meters (about 11 ft), leading to cases where distant condors have been mistaken for small airplanes. The birds are also long-lived with some individuals reaching an estimated age of 60 years.

(image via:

It’s thought that ancient relatives of the California Condor like the formidable Teratornis fed upon the carcasses of now-extinct megafauna such as Giant Sloths and Mastodons. Like their modern descendants, these paleo-condors probably lacked a sense of smell and found carcasses visually using their keen eyesight.

Rüppell’s Vulture

(images via: Gwendolen and Elliott Neep)

Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) is a large vulture native to sub-Saharan Africa and the East African rift valley. Their wings are flecked with white and medium brown in a lacy pattern that can be quite beautiful when the birds are clean. Weighing up to 9kg or 20 lbs., these “typical” vultures have a specialized type of hemoglobin which enables them to fly extremely high yet still maintain a viable level of oxygen in their blood.

(image via: Buaujvf)

While it’s true that “you can’t soar with eagles if you’re surrounded by dodos,” vultures appear to possess certain visual characteristics of each. They sure can soar, however, being the world’s highest flying bird: on November 29th of 1973, a Rüppell’s Vulture was reportedly ingested into an airliner’s jet engine off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire at an altitude of approximately 11,000 meters or 36,100 feet.