Vulture, the common name of the carrioneating, diurnal birds of prey, of the family vulturidoe (Vigors). This family included all the naked-headed, carrion-eating raptores of both hemispheres; the vultures of the new world are now placed in the family cathartidce, and those of the old world, coming nearer the ftdconidoe, in the family vulturinoe, excluding the lammergeyer and the Egyptian vulture; the two families, though similar in habits, are very different in anatomical structure, especially in the conformation of the feet. The characters of the families are thus given by Baird. Brewer, and Ridgway: cathartidce - nostrils horizontal, perforate; a well developed web between the inner and middle toes, at the base; vulturinoe - nostrils vertical, not perforate; no trace of web between inner and middle toes. The bill is elongated, sometimes slender, never so strong as in the falconidoe, straight in the basal portion, and suddenly hooked but not toothed at the tip; eyes on the level of the head, or without prominent superior bony ridge; wings long and pointed; tarsi short, stout, bare of feathers, and covered with scales; toes moderate, the hind one short and rather elevated, and all with strong, blunt claws; in the typical forms the head and neck are bare, or clothed only with a woolly down.
They are cowardly and filthy, feeding on carrion, gorging themselves to inactivity, and emitting a disgusting odor and a fetid secretion from the nostrils. As soon as an animal is dead, and sometimes before death, the body, in warm climates, is surrounded by these birds, which suddenly appear, coming from all quarters, where one was not visible before. They are invaluable in tropical regions for devouring animal substances, whose speedy decomposition would otherwise engender pestilential diseases. They use the beak rather than the claws in tearing and seizing their food; their gait is awkward, and the wings are so long that they hold them half extended when walking; their voracity is extreme; they are the only gregarious birds of prey. - The group of bearded vultures (gypaëtince), coming nearest the eagles in appearance and habits, has been sufficiently noticed under Lammergeyer, the largest of European birds. The vulturinoe are principally confined to the warm regions of the old world; a few prey upon small living animals, but most feed upon carrion, which they detect by the sense of sight at great distances; they are good fliers, soaring to a great elevation and sailing in large circles; the nest is on the ground, amid inaccessible rocks, and sometimes in trees; the eggs are two to four.
In the genus vultur (Linn.) the bill is large, elevated, and arched; third and fourth quills longest; shafts of tail feathers strong and projecting beyond webs; claws slightly curved and sharp, and with the bill more like those of the ordinary birds of prey; head with scattered down, and hind head generally with a transverse crest of thicker down, and ruff of neck advancing toward it. The flight is slow but elevated; the nest is very slightly made, and the young are fed with the regurgitated food of the pardnts. The griffon or tawny vulture (gypsfulius, Sav.) is 3½ ft. long and 8½ ft. in alar extent, of a brownish gray approaching fawn, the down of the head and neck cinereous white, and the collar mixed white and brown; quills and tail brown; the bill is large and swollen at the sides. It is widely extended among mountainous regions, frequenting the Alps, Pyrenees, and Caucasus in summer, going south in winter; the nest is sometimes made in lofty trees. The Egyptian vulture, sometimes called Pharaoh's chicken (neophron percnopterus, Sav.), and by some regarded as belonging to a distinct subfamily, is about 2£ ft. long, with a very long and slender bill, the third quill the longest, tail moderate and wedge-shaped, and tarsi plumed below the knees; the adult male is white with black quills, the female and young brown.
It is held in high esteem by the Egyptians for its services in devouring the filth of their cities and the decaying matters brought down by the Nile; it is often represented on their monuments. It eometimes devours small living animals. It follows caravans, consuming everything that dies.
Griffon (Gyps fulvus).
California Vulture (Pseudogryphus Californianus).
Carrion Crow (Catharista atrata).
From Africa they come to the Pyrenees and Alps. Among the American vultures or cathartidce, the condor and the turkey buzzard have been described under those titles; the king vulture has been noticed under the former. The California vulture (pseudogryphus Californianus, Shaw) is the largest rapacious bird of North America, being over 4 ft. long and about 10 ft. in extent of wings; it is shining black above, duller below, with secondaries grayish, white band on wings, bill yellowish white, and head and bare neck orangfe yellow and red; it is found west of the Kocky mountains, especially in the vicinity of rivers, and is inferior in size only to the condor, which it resembles in habits. The black vulture or carrion crow (catharista atrata, Bartr.) is 23 in. long and 4½ ft. in alar extent; the color is deep black, with a bluish gloss on the back and wings; shafts of quills white; head and naked part of neck with warts and a few hair-like feathers, and bluish black; bill dark, yellowish at the end. It is found in the southern states and Central and South America, gregarious, associating with the turkey buzzards, and with them performing the office of scavengers, even in the streets of populous cities.
It is common in Chili and Peru, and in the latter Tschudi speaks of it as sitting in incredible numbers on the walls of the streets and on the roofs of houses, in the midday heat, asleep with the head under the wings.