Quick Facts

Vulture Quick Facts 

Here are some quick facts about vultures. How many did you already know?

  • Vultures are incredibly diverse with over 20 species found across the world.
  • Vultures are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
  • Vultures only lay one egg every year or so.
  • A vulture can eat up to 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds) in a single meal (that’s over 10% of their body weight).
  • In Asia, some vultures are almost extinct and have declined by 99% in just 15 years.
  • Vultures have huge ranges with a single individual using all of Kenya, northern Tanzania, and even going into Ethiopia and Sudan.
  • All vultures eat carrion or dead animals for at least part of their diet.
  • Vultures consume up to 70% of all the available meat in East Africa.
  • In ancient Egypt, vultures were used as a symbol of femininity.
  • Some cultures use vultures to dispose of human corpses, leaving bodies out on pillars to be fed upon by the vultures.
  • In Germany, police have trained turkey vultures to help them finding missing people.
  • Because many species of vultures are social, vultures are highly effected by poisoning and environmental contaminants and over a hundred birds can be killed at just one poisoned carcass.
  • In many countries, people have set up vulture restaurants or feeding sites where carcasses can be left out for vultures. These restaurants help to ensure that vultures have enough food and can help them to avoid contaminated carcasses. In South Africa these are even visited by tourists who enjoy watching the vultures feed.
  • Vultures are the ultimate recyclers – able to strip a carcass in just a few hours, they keep our environment clean and disease free.
  • Turkey vultures have the best smell of nearly any animal but African vultures rely solely on eyesight to find carrion.
  • Egyptian vultures eat ostrich eggs and actually use rocks or sticks to crack their thick shells.
Who’s who at the carcass?  

By Corinne Kendall, The Vulture Research Project, The Peregrine Fund

East Africa has one of the most diverse scavenging communities of any ecosystem due to the high availability of carcasses or dead animals. Believe it or not, it is actually scavengers – not predators – that eat the majority of meat available in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem (up to 70% of all carrion). By consuming dead animals, scavengers play a key role in the environment by preventing disease outbreaks and recycling nutrients. Below you will find descriptions of some of the important scavengers of East Africa.

African white-backed vulture 

Is the most common scavenger in Masai Mara. The pirannas of the savannas, these vultures can eat over 1 kg (2 lbs) of meat in just two minutes and feed in huge groups, sometimes of over 100 individuals.

Rüppell’s vulture  

Can be identified by their white streaked feathers and yellow beak. Unlike the other vultures that nest in trees, these birds hatch their chicks in tall cliffs far outside Masai Mara’s borders.

Lappet-faced vulture  

Is one of the biggest vultures and are named for their bald, red heads. These vultures tend to travel in pairs and are dominant over all the other vultures.

White-headed vulture  

Is one of the rarest vultures in Masai Mara, so consider yourself lucky if you see these red-beaked, pale-faced birds. Not quite as large as the Lappet-faced vultures, these birds are known for their shy and solitary nature.

Hooded vulture  

Is one of the smallest vultures and tends to pick around the edge of the carcass. They have a slightly more varied diet than the other vultures, sometimes eating the dung of other animals or feeding at garbage dumps.

Black-backed jackal  

Is a crafty canine, usually travelling in small groups or pairs. What jackals lack in size, they make up for in speed and cunning and they will often rush into a carcass, steal a piece of meat, and run off with it.

Spotted hyena  

Is know for its laugh, but actually makes a variety of noises, including a deep howl, which you might hear during the night when these carnivores are hunting. With some of the greatest jaw strength of any animal, these mammals are able to chew through even the toughest bones, making them formidable scavengers.

Other scavengers  

Although less commonly seen at large carcasses, lots of other animals scavenge, especially Bateleur, Tawny eagles, White-napped ravens, Marabou storks, and even feral dogs.


Did you know? 

Globally vultures are the most endangered group of birds. In Masai Mara, vultures have declined by almost 50% mainly due to poisoning (people put poison on carcasses to kill predators, who have eaten their livestock; unfortunately these poisoning events have killed many vultures). – Vultures have to travel huge distances to find food and can travel over 150 km (100 mi) in a day at speeds greater than 100 km/hr (60 mph). – When you get to a carcass with a lot of animals around, it is difficult to know who found it first. While you might think the vultures are stealing a tasty meal from the predators, it often works the other way around. Because of their high flight, eagles and vultures usually find carcasses first and are then followed in by mammalian scavengers. In fact, vultures get very little of their diet from predator kills and are mainly feeding off animals that have died of disease or hunger.

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