Details for World of Wonder 6/10

By Laurie Triefeldt

SUNDAY, JUNE 9, 2019


Exploring the realms of history, science, nature and technology



These large birds have often been
depicted as symbols of death and destruction.
Despite this misunderstanding, vultures play
a vital role in keeping the environment clean.

There are two species of these
New World vultures: the Andean
and the California condor. They are
the largest flying land birds in the
Western Hemisphere.
California condors are the largest
flying land birds in North America.
Length: Up to 4.4 feet (134 cm)

King vulture

Eurasian griffon

This vulture is mostly found in
the tropical lowland forests of
southern Mexico and into northern Argentina. King vultures
were often seen in Mayan
folklore and medicine.

This powerful bird launches itself off high
cliffs and can soar for hours.
Length: Up to 4.39 feet (105 cm)

Weight: Up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg)
Wingspan: 7 feet (2 m)

Wingspan: 9 feet (277 cm)

The king vulture tucks its
brightly colored head low when
perched, making it more difficult to spot. It is non-migratory
and usually lives alone or in
small groups. This bird lacks a
voice box, but does make
low croaking sounds in
courtship and billsnapping noises
if threatened.

Length: Up to 4.4 feet (134 cm)
Weight: Up to 33 pounds (12.3 kg)
Wingspan: 10.6 feet (323 cm)

All in the family

Wingspan: 9 feet (280 cm)

Length: Up to 32 inches (81 cm)

Weight: Up to 26 pounds (9.7 kg)
The Andean condor has the
second-largest wingspan among
all living flying birds. (The wandering albatross has the largest

Weight: Up to 29 pounds (10.8 kg)

Length: Up to 32 inches (81 cm)
Weight: 5.3 pounds (2.41 kg)
Wingspan: Up to 72 inches (183 cm)

Interesting facts
• Most vultures are bald or have
very few feathers on their heads.
This helps keep the bird clean
and disease-free when feeding
on rotten carcasses.
• Vultures regurgitate to feed their

There are two families of vultures.
New World vultures are found
in North and South America. Old
World vultures are native to Europe, Africa and Asia.

• Some species will gather in
roosts that number in the
hundreds, or even thousands.
• Vultures usually have one mate a
year. Both male and female share
parenting responsibilities.

New World vultures
There are seven species of New
World vultures: black, greater
yellow-headed, king, lesser yellowheaded and turkey vultures, and
the Andean and California condors.

A nasty reputation

New World vultures have a special nostril hole in their beak and a
small, elevated hind toe. Most of
these birds have a good sense of
smell. They do not build nests, preferring to lay eggs on the ground or
in rock and tree cavities.

The modern stereotype of vultures depicts
them as harbingers of death and destruction. They are considered repulsive, and
the word “vulture” is sometimes used in a
derogatory manner to describe a person
whoʼs selfish and greedy. But vultures
have not always been so maligned.

Old World vultures

Many Old World vultures build stick
nests. Most have keen eyesight
and can spot a carcass up to 4
miles (1.6 km) away.

This vulture has adapted to a
variety of habitats, and its range
extends across most of the United
States into Central and South
They are found in open areas such
as roadsides, suburbs, farm fields
and countryside. They can be
seen alone or in small groups and
have been known to roost in larger

Vultures are scavengers or carrion
eaters, which means they eat dead

There are 15 species of Old World
vultures: African white-backed,
Asian white-backed, Cape, Cinereous, Egyptian, Eurasian griffon, Himalayan griffon, hooded,
lappet-faced, long-billed, palm-nut,
red-headed, Rüppell’s and whiteheaded.

Turkey vulture

In ancient Egypt, the vulture was
associated with Mut or Nekhbet
(the mother and queen of the gods).

Dangers in the wild
Vultures have few predators because they
are covered with bacteria that would make
most animals sick. But other scavengers
will compete for a catcass and may get aggressive with the vulture in order to get their
share of a meal. Vultures often gorge themselves, often to the point of being unable
to fly, which could make them vulnerable.
If threatened, they regurgitate the meal to
lighten the load and fly off.

In Greek and Assyrian mythology, the vulture is a descendant of the griffin, guardian
of the mysteries of life and death.
In many Native American cultures, the vulture was and is an important tribal symbol
that represents the cleansing of the spirit
and the strength to accept difficulty.
In southern Africa, because the lappetfaced vulture is always observed in pairs, it
is associated with protection, bonding
and love.

• Bearded vultures have stomach
acid that is more caustic than
battery acid, to help them digest
• When a vulture is upset, its head
turns red.
• A band of 100 African whitebacked vultures can strip a
110-pound (50 kg) carcass in
about three minutes.
• New World vultures are mostly
silent because they do not have
a voice box (syrinx), but they can
hiss and grunt.
• Scientists estimate that vultures
can digest food with 100 times
the microbial toxins that a human
could tolerate.
• A group of vultures is called a
flock, a venue, a volt or a committee. A group of vultures feeding is
called a wake. A group of vultures
flying is known as a kettle.
• About half of the 23 species are
considered threatened, endangered or critically endangered.

SOURCES: World Book Encyclopedia, World Book Inc.;;;;

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Distributed by Andrews McMeel Syndication


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