Winged heralds of death and decay, they say, circling the skies in a halo of doom.
When it comes to judging a book by its cover, vultures have it the worst.
They’re nature’s clean-up crew, tidying up the messes that would otherwise fester and rot in the sun. Their stomachs kill diseases from prey that other predators would catch and spread, like rabies. Vultures are efficient and leave nothing to waste, using their sharp pointed beaks to tear apart flesh in seconds. The bare skin on their heads and necks that make them “ugly” to some allow them to clean themselves of blood.
Some vultures are covered in feathers. The Bearded Vulture dyes its feathers with the rusty red soil of its habitat as a sign of status. It is war paint, showing the other vultures that it is powerful and resourceful. The Cinereous vulture more resembles an eagle, with a massive wingspan and dark colouring save the white around its beak and eyes. The King vulture is mostly white, except for its black head and the kaleidoscope of colours on its face.
Vultures are scavengers. They eat the leftovers no one else will, and for this noble vocation they are demonised, seen as bad omens, despised and hunted to near extinction. Vultures do not circle when something is about to die, or lurk in wait to feast on the corpse. They must be careful and stealthy because to begin eating before their time means being torn apart by lions and other predators.
These birds were not always seen as these cowardly harbingers of death and misfortune. In ancient Egypt, it was believed that all vultures were female. They became associated with the mother goddesses Nekhbet, Mut and Isis, and were symbols of femininity and maternal protection. Vultures are social birds, fiercely defending their young. They are resourceful and necessary to the ecosystem, but they continue to be associated with the filth and disease that they work so hard to destroy.
Vultures are my favourite type of bird for all of these reasons. They are beautiful in my eyes, even more so because of the eeriness of their form. They are haunting and they have become emblematic of gothic settings and tales of death, which of course cements my love for them further.
There are many, many more vulture facts I could share with you, but I’ll stop here. I might not have convinced anyone to love vultures as much as I do, but hopefully you’ve learnt something interesting.