The animal in this article has one of the most remarkable diets of any living creature on the planet. That’s mostly because this scary bird eats food that would be impossible to digest for others.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about bearded vultures, a fascinating bird that has several remarkable characteristics.
1. These birds live in multiple mountainous areas in the world
The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is a type of scavenger that can be found in many mountain ranges of Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Their range is huge, stretching from the Pyrenees and Alps in Europe, to the Himalayas in Northern India and western China, to the Drakensberg of South Africa.
Even though their range is so extensive, their population is extremely sparsely distributed. They are most common in the Ethiopian Highlands in East Africa as it’s estimated that between 1,400 and 2,200 birds breed here.
2. They prefer a particular type of habitat
You won’t find any of these birds in lowlands anywhere in the world because they solely live near mountainous areas. They prefer areas with a lot of canyons and cliffs.
As a true scavenger, these are areas inhabited by their predator friends such as wolves and golden eagles that are capable of killing prey (and leaving some of it behind for them to feast on).
3. These birds are much bigger than they initially appear to be
While these birds don’t appear to be that big, mainly because of the enormous mountains they Iive in, up close they are actually huge.
The birds have an average length of anywhere between 94 and 125 centimeters (37 and 49 inches) with a wingspan of between 2.31 and 2.83 meters (7.6 and 9.3 feet).
The females are slightly larger than the males as well and they weigh anywhere between 5.7 kilos (13 lb) and 6.21 kilos (13.7 lb).
4. This scavenger prefers a particular type of food
While this type of vulture is a scavenger that feasts on the remains of dead animals, they tend to prefer a particular part of the body, the bones!
It’s estimated that between 70 and 90% of the diet of these creatures consists of bone marrow, with most of it being bones of mammals (93%). In case that’s not available, they also feed on the remains of dead birds (6%) and reptiles (1%).
What’s remarkable is that it’s the only bird in the world that specializes in eating bone marrow. This also means that they don’t gather the meat of the carrion but actually dig in to collect the bones, quite amazing.
5. They are classified as “near-threatened” on the IUCN Red List
Even though their range is extensive, it’s so sparsely populated that these birds have received a “near-threatened” status on the IUCN Red List.
The number of mature individuals is estimated to be between 1,300 and 6,700 with the population trend decreasing.
One of the main reasons why they pretty much became extinct in the Alps by the early 20th century is because they were actively hunted for bounties in this region. That’s because it was assumed that they were responsible for killing livestock.
They were reintroduced here in the 1970s and 1980s and a small population still lives there today.
More interesting facts about bearded vultures
6. This species was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 and named “Vultur Barbatus.” This was changed to “Gypaetus barbatus” which means “bearded vulture-eagle.”
They also have alternative names such as the “Ossifrage” and “Lämmergeier.” The German name translates to “Lamb-vulture,” a reference to the belief that they attack lambs.
7. Even though these birds can actually bite through and swallow smaller bones, they have developed a particular technique to get to the marrow of larger bones.
They are capable of carrying bones up to 4 kilos (8.8 lb) (nearly their own weight) and up to 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) in diameter.
After collecting bones of this size they carry them to a height of 50 to 150 meters (160 and 490 feet) and drop them on the rocks below. If they can’t get to bone marrow yet they simply repeat this process.
8. In case of scarcity of dead animals in the area they are also known to prey on livestock. Perhaps the most remarkable victim of these birds of prey is tortoises.
As you probably guessed, the way they kill the poor tortoises they catch is similar to the way they crack open bones. They fly them to a certain height and drop them on the rocks below to crack open their shells.
The name “Ossifrage” is a reference to this behavior as it translates to “bone-breaker,” a technique that can take up to 7 years for young birds to learn.
9. Even though most of these birds are quite solitary in nature, partners do form lifelong monogamous bonds and raise the chicks together.
The nests of these birds consist of large piles of sticks that are usually put together on the face of a cliff, ledges, or in caves. The female lays 1 to 2 eggs and the incubation period lasts between 53 to 60 days.
10. Even though the chicks leave the nest for the first time in their lives after about 100 to 130 days, they pretty much remain dependent on their parents for the first two years of their lives.
11. Juvenile birds are dark and adult birds have yellowish bodies, black wings, and a white head and neck. Perhaps the most distinctive feature among vultures is that they don’t have a bald heads.
They also have a relatively small head which is in contrast with their powerful neck that is feathered, hence the name, bearded vulture.
12. The average lifespan of these birds in the wild is 21.4 years. Individuals living in captivity live much longer and have been recorded to live up to 45 years.