This is ‘one of Andre Botha’s vultures’. André works for the Endangered Wildlife Trust as the manager of the Birds of Prey Working Group in South Africa. Most of his work is in the field, or as we say in Africa, in the bush.
I took these photos during our holiday in the Kruger National Park last year July. It’s an immature Hooded Vulture. It was tagged by André Botha’s team in February 2007.
There are not many Hooded Vultures in Kruger National Park, so this was quite a rare sighting. Hooded Vultures are loners, sometimes found in pairs. According to one of my many Kruger field guides, Hooded Vultures will follow wild dog and hyena packs to get to a kill as early as possible. Hooded vultures are relatively small, so they get pushed away by other vulture species.
Besides the Hooded Vulture you might also see White-backed Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, White-headed Vulture and the Cape Vulture in Kruger. That totals 5 out of 9 vultures that occur in Southern Africa. The other four are Ruppels Griffon, Bearded vulture, Palmnut vulture and Egyptian vulture, the last being classified as regionally extinct in South Africa.
Vultures spend most of their time in the air, soaring high on the thermals looking for food. Or on the ground, eating the food after they’ve found it. When they spot a kill, they will descend and sit in nearby trees and wait until it is their turn.
Different species of birds have different roles at a kill. The Bateleur, an eagle, is often first at a kill because of its excellent vision and low-altitude flying. Bateleurs have strong beaks and can break open carcasses (if the lions or hyenas haven’t already done that).
The Hooded Vulture moves in as fast as possible. Being small it is limited to the first (before everyone arrives) and the last pickings. The Lappet-faced vulture, the largest of the bunch usually waits to see if it is safe to tuck in, so if the Hooded isn’t attacked by lions still wanting a bite, it will move in and take over. The White-backed vulture will fight the Lappet-faced for meat. They are a bit smaller, but far outnumber the Lappet-faced Vulture.
Then the Marabou storks might come along, chase everyone away and eat their share. Looking at a Marabou stork it is easy to understand the New World Vultures’ relationship to storks.
In the end, the smallest of scraps are left for the starlings, they get to eat the tidbits. All these birds are part of the clean up team, but the vultures need our attention because many of them are becoming endangered or as in the case of the Egyptian vulture, regionally extinct. That is why International Vulture Awareness Day is so important.