When it comes to birds, there is quite possibly not one more misunderstood than the vulture. Our opinions of them come from watching cartoons as children, where the vulture is either a gaffawing imbecile or an evil minion, and continues to adulthood when we cringe as we watch them ripping pieces of rotting flesh from roadkill and circling ominously in the sky. However vultures are not out to get us and the services they provide to the environment are crucial. I will even go so far to say that by the end of this post, I just might be able to convince you that vultures can be beautiful.
The silhouette of a vulture soaring through the sky is one that is easily recognized. But just what are they doing up there? Most would say that when a vulture is circling, it means that a dead or dying animal lies below. Although vultures may have impressive wingspans, they are actually weak fliers. Remember those wavy, blurry lines that come off of your barbecue grill at the Fourth of July? Much like the heat rising from your grill or hot pavement, vultures rely on heat rising from the earth for their transportation. They ride these columns of warm air to gain altitude, and then glide to the next column. A pretty smart and effortless way to get around if you ask me!
Vultures may not be circling awaiting your demise, but they do like their carrion. Vultures and other scavengers play a crucial role in the environment as nature’s janitors, cleaning the forest floor and our roadsides of the carcasses of dead animals, making the world a lot cleaner and better-smelling place. And that characteristic bald vulture head? The better to keep clean with, my dear! Lacking feathers ensures that blood and entrails have less to stick to when a vulture feeds inside the body of a dead animal.
Being bald (the vultures that is, not me), you may just think I’m crazy when I say that vultures can be beautiful. Now I’ll admit that the turkey vulture does have a rather homely appearance. However, there’s just something about the black vulture that I find incredibly cute. Maybe it’s those dark brown eyes or the comical way they bound along on the ground, but I am especially fond of black vultures. I know, you’re still wondering how a vulture can be beautiful. To you I offer this challenge: look at the face of the king vulture:
The orange, yellow, and purple skin coupled with those striking white eyes certainly makes me think of the word “beautiful.”
While vultures may get a bad reputation, it is certainly not one that is deserved. Vultures are graceful, play a vital role in their ecosystems, and yes, are beautiful too. For those of you who live and visit Tampa, Florida, stop by the Lowry Park Zoo and visit my buddy Smedley, the black vulture at the bird of prey theatre. Tell him The Nature Geek sent you!