Vultures are scavengers. There are two groups: New World and Old World Vultures. New World is referred to as the Americas and Old World is Asia, Europe and Africa. Both of these groups exhibit the same characteristics for a scavenging lifestyle. Two unrelated groups evolving the same characteristics for a similar lifestyle is known as: Convergent Evolution.
Both groups of vultures have evolved to have no or few feathers around the head and neck area. This adaptation means that the feathers do not get covered in blood when feeding inside a carcass.
New World Vultures
There are 5 species of vulture and 2 Condors, but with recent DNA work this group is more closely related to Storks (Ciiconiformes) than other birds of prey. Some of these species of vulture have a very good sense of smell, especially the Turkey Vulture. This species is known to find rotting meat even in heavily wooded areas. The King Vulture has also been shown to have a good sense of smell and the sense is limited in the other 3 species of New World Vulture (Black Vulture, Lesser Yellow-headed, and Greater Yellow-headed Vultures). These 3 other species are usually found in more open areas while the King and Turkey Vultures are associated with the forests.
The Californian Condor was facing extinction in the 1980’s and so the controversial decision was made to capture all the free-living birds and bring them into captivity (last remaining wild bird was captured in 1987). Fortunately the gamble paid off and the birds bred very well and releases were started in 1992. Some of the released birds have now started breeding in the wild – so hopefully this species is saved for the near future but it will take many years for a self-sustaining population to be established.
Old Word Vultures
There are 15 species of Old World Vultures are found in Africa, Europe and Asia. The largest species of Vulture is the European Black (or Cinereous Vulture) followed closely by the Lammergeier (or Bearded Vulture). The most common genus in this group is Gyps or Griffon Vultures with seven species originating from Africa, Europe and Asia. This includes the Ruppell’s Griffon and the Cape Vulture. Some of the Griffon Vulture species in India have declined in recent years. See our section on Worldwide Raptor Conservation for further information.
Other species of diurnal raptors have powerful feet to catch and hold their prey, whereas the vultures have evolved to have an extremely powerful beaks and lost the extreme grip in their feet. Hooded Vulture
There are two species of smaller vulture in the Old World: Egyptian Vulture and Hooded Vulture. These birds tend to hang back at carcasses and pick up very small scraps dropped by the larger vultures. The Egyptian Vulture specialises in eating eggs, for larger eggs they have learnt to use a rock to crack it, and therefore they can eat the contents.
One species of vulture that is omnivorous is the Palm-Nut Vulture. This species feeds on ripe palm-nuts as well as carrion.