Birds flying on a Wednesday, birds flying on a Monday. What’s even going on these days? Time has no meaning during lock down, where every week feels like a month, every day feel like a second and last year is now Thursday.
My haphazard schedule aside, today we’re going to take a little look at the Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)
But don’t let the name fool you. These Vultures are neither bearded nor are they vultures. They belong to the Order of Raptors, the Accipitriformes, as do all Eagles and Vultures, but they aren’t really closely related to anyone. They’re called “Vultures” because of their tendency to feed on carrion, and they’re called “bearded” not because of any penchant towards the latest hipster facial hair trends, but because unlike normal Vultures they have fully feathered necks.
Because of their misleading common name I prefer their old name, the Ossifrage. This name is far more trustworthy, as it literally translates from Latin into ‘Bone Breaker’, for that, my dear reader, is exactly what these birds do.
They are unique among all animals as their diet consists almost entirely of bone. Marrow is what they crave. But don’t get me wrong, they’ll swallow bones whole. Their powerful stomach acid makes short work of their chosen diet.
If a bone is too big to get down the gullet, they’ll fly it into the sky and drop it onto a rock in an attempt to crack that sucker open and access the sweet sweet marrow hiding within. They’re able to lift bones that weigh up to 4Kg, which is about how much they weigh. So yeah, they’re strong.
They roam Africa, Central Asia and the Alps looking for dead stuff. They tend to follow their smaller Vulture cousins to a kill. Usually they’re the last to show up at the party. They don’t really care for meat and will pass it by, waiting until the other Vultures have picked a corps clean, before stepping in to take the bones. This is why they can have feathered necks, unlike their gross relatives, they’re not getting shoulder deep in viscera.
It’s a much cleaner, more civilised life.