Facts About the Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture
Old World Vultures fall under the family Accipitridae which consists of eagles, buzzards, kites and hawks. Like New World Vultures, they are scavenging birds relying on carcasses of dead animals as main source of food. The only distinction between these two classes of vultures is in the keen sense of smell of the latter which the former seemed to lack. This article is intended to expound on the Bearded Vulture, the strange eater of the dead which doesn’t feast on dead flesh alone but what’s beneath and often disregarded, the bones.
1. The Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) is the only member of the genus Gypaetus. It prefers to thrive and stay at mountainous areas of Southern Europe, Africa, India and Tibet particularly along ledges and rock outcrops to nest and lay eggs.
2. It was first described by Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist Carl Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758 as Vultur barbatus.
3. The Lammergeier is unlike other vultures with a bald head. Adults usually have buff-yellow body and feathered head (white colored for adults and black plumage for juveniles). The distinction of black, moustache-like, fine black feathers growing below its beak earned it its alternative name (Bearded Vulture).
4. The term Lammergeier is of German origin which means “lamb vulture”. This magnificent bird had been noted for its exceptional ability to crush bones of dead animals. This bone crushing ability is achieved by clutching bone pieces by its talons and bringing it at altitude above a rocky terrain where the bones are dropped to be crushed on the rocky surface exposing the bone marrow. The bird’s old name “Ossifrage” thus refers to its bone-crushing ability.
5. Stuff of legend tells of Greek playwright Aeschylus who was told to have been killed in 455 or 456 BC when an eagle mistook his bald head as a stone protruding on the ground to which it had dropped a tortoise from altitude to be broken to pieces. The “eagle” was thought to be a Lammergeier was thought to be extinct.
6. A huge bird at 95-125 cm (37-49 in) long with a wingspan of 275-308 cm (108-121 in / 10 ft), the Lammergeier is quite distinct from other vultures when in flight. It has an average weight of 4.5-7.5 kg (9.9-17 lb).
7. Its meal consists of 90 % bone marrow where it had been observed to swallow whole bones up to size of a lamb’s femur. Bone sizes larger than what it could swallow are usually taken above at altitude to be dropped and broken on the rocky ground at manageable size. The Lammergeier’s digestive system has the most concentrated stomach acid that quickly dissolves large bone pieces.
8. While it is a bird of prey with a nasty reputation, the Lammergeier’s range remained threatened within its European habitat. Its large range across Asia and Africa however provides a substantial balance assuring its survival as a species allowing it to be listed as “least concern” by the ICUN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and BirdLife International.
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