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Recent entries


Versatile Hunter

The Importance of Vultures

Tue, April 24, 2018

I remember seeing turkey vultures in southern Missouri on our annual trip to Bull Shoals Lake as a boy but I just don’t recall them ever being this far north until I was much older.  From what I can research, they’ve only been noted north of Marion, IL the past 100 years and north of Peoria the past 50 years.  My family and I love seeing them soar along the bluff behind our house and sitting in dead trees with their wings out early in the morning which is apparently their way of warming themselves up. We have two species of vultures in Illinois—the turkey vulture (most common) and the black vulture.  The turkey vulture is often seen either soaring or sitting along the road picking on some carrion (dead animals).  They are called turkey vultures because when they’re sitting on the ground they sure look like a turkey, especially from a distance.  What I’ve learned about them over the years is fascinating and I recently read a good reminder of their interesting lives which I’ll republish here from the Swamp School’s e-newsletter:

Vultures, many things may come to mind upon hearing this word. You may think of someone particularly unpleasant, someone who takes but never gives. Perhaps an image of a particularly ugly looking bird sitting on the side of the road, towering over roadkill comes to mind. Whatever the image, when you hear the term “vultures,” you might want to hold it in higher regard than you used to.

What is a vulture? Most people recognize this bird from while driving, seeing them on roadsides feasting on the carcasses of dead animals, but there is much more to a vulture. “Vulture” is actually a pretty general term, referring to a great many species of birds of prey that eat decomposing animals. Turkey vultures, black vultures, and California condors are just a few species of vultures that may be seen throughout the United States. Additionally, vultures have somewhat of a bad reputation. Not only do they eat dead, rotting animals, but they also have some pretty strange personal habits you may not be aware of. One of these habits is to vomit when feeling threatened and another is to urinate on themselves in order to clean themselves. Due to this bad reputation, vultures tend to be coined “vermin” or “pests.” Just type the word “vulture” into Google, and numerous sites will pop up concerned with how to get rid of vultures. Now, vultures may nest in inconvenient areas and cause damage, but the small amount of harm they may cause is more than offset by the greater good they bring to local environments.Vultures recycle many important nutrients into the environment. An ecosystem without vultures would be like a city without waste removal services. (Picture this in your mind.) Vultures do their work for the ecosystem very efficiently. They consume the meat of dead animals very quickly, which reduces the risk of large colonies of insects gathering around dead bodies. Give them a niche and they’ll take a mile! In doing so, vultures limit the risk of disease in ecosystems by keeping insect populations in check. Not only is this beneficial to us as humans, but also to the agricultural industry, since vultures also help prevent livestock from getting sick.

Although, this is not how everyone sees vultures. In Kenya, vultures are threatened due to livestock farmers poisoning the dead carcasses of the animals that predators have killed. When vultures feast on these carcasses, they also consume the poison, and this has led to the elimination of the Cinereous vulture in Africa, as well as the endangerment of more than seven other species of native African vultures. As noted above, the lack of carrion elimination has caused problems for ecosystems all over Africa. Darcy Ogada, assistant director of Africa programs at the Peregrine Fund, says African vultures “are the most threatened avian functional group in the world.” Species such as Egyptian vultures are nearly extinct.

When most people think of some of the important, endangered animals struggling to survive, they don’t often think of vultures. But vultures play a crucial role in our world and, in many places, are in danger of being eliminated. It is more important than ever to recognize not only how fascinating these birds are, from their strange behaviors to their monogamous mating patterns, but also how important they are to our world. Atticus Finch argued that it was a sin to kill a mockingbird, but perhaps it is an even greater sin to kill a vulture.

Royte, Elizabeth. “Vultures are Revolting. Here’s Why We Need to Save Them.” National Geographic. National Geographic. January 2016. Web. March 27, 2018.



Interesting piece! I too am a fan of the vultures. We have really been seeing an uptick in the numbers of black vultures in southern IL. Consequently we are also seeing some of the issues with black vultures and loss of calves and problems for cattle operations emerge.

Posted by G on April 26

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