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Baby Vultures

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1. Keeping the Vulture Egg Warm is the Responsibility of Both Parents

Baby vultures, also known as vulture chicks or fledglings, are young members of the vulture family, which belongs to the order Accipitriformes. Vultures usually lay one or two eggs in a nest built in trees, cliffs, or caves, depending on the species. 

The eggs have a rough, chalky texture and are often brown or cream-colored. Both parents share the responsibility of incubating the eggs, which takes around 30 to 60 days. During this time, the parents take turns keeping the eggs warm and protected from predators.



2. Vulture Chicks Have an Egg Tooth

As the end of the incubation period approaches, the vulture chicks begin to break through the eggshell. This process, called pipping, involves the chick using its egg tooth, a small, sharp projection on its beak, to crack the shell. The process can take several hours to a couple of days, depending on the species and the strength of the chick. The egg tooth disappears a few days after hatching.



3. Baby Vultures Cling to Life with Their Parents' Vomit

Once the chicks have successfully hatched, they emerge covered in soft down feathers. At this stage, they are completely dependent on their parents for food and protection. The parents regurgitate partially digested food, which the chicks consume to gain the necessary nutrients for growth and development. The fledging process, which is when the chicks leave the nest and start flying, occurs at around three to four months of age.



4. Vision is Limited in Baby Vultures

Vulture chicks are born with poor eyesight when they first hatch. In the early stages of their life, vulture chicks rely more on their sense of touch and hearing to interact with their parents and navigate their surroundings. Once they reach adulthood, vultures have excellent eyesight, which is crucial for their survival as scavengers. They can spot carcasses from miles away, even while soaring at high altitudes.



5. Baby Vultures are Prone to Socializing

Vulture chicks often share a nest with their siblings, which can result in both cooperation and competition. Sibling interaction can involve preening and cuddling for warmth, but also fighting for food and dominance within the nest. 

Once vulture chicks become independent, they often join a community of other vultures. These communities, or roosts, provide safety in numbers and opportunities for social interaction. Vultures within a community may share information about food sources, engage in communal roosting, and participate in group soaring to conserve energy.



6. Baby Vultures Prepare to Fly: Branching

As vulture chicks grow, they begin to develop feathers, which replace their downy covering. This process, called fledging, involves the growth of flight feathers on their wings and tail, as well as contour feathers on their body. The development of feathers is essential for insulation, camouflage, and eventually, flight.

As the vulture chicks gain strength and develop their flight muscles, they begin to explore their surroundings and practice flying. This stage, called branching, involves the chicks hopping and flapping their wings on branches near the nest.



7. Baby Vultures are Indispensable for Ecosystem and Human Health

By consuming dead animals, vultures help prevent the spread of diseases, such as anthrax and botulism, which can affect both wildlife and human populations.

As vultures consume carcasses, they break down the organic matter and return essential nutrients to the ecosystem, promoting the growth of plants and supporting other wildlife.

By feeding on carcasses, vultures help limit the food sources available to other scavengers, such as rats and feral dogs, which can carry diseases and pose threats to human populations.



8. Hunters Targeting Baby Vultures

Vulture chicks are vulnerable to a range of predators, both in the nest and while they are learning to fly. Birds of prey, such as eagles and hawks, may target vulture chicks in the nest or while they are branching. Mammals, including raccoons, foxes, and feral cats, may climb trees or cliffs to reach vulture nests and prey on the chicks. Snakes, which can also climb trees and access nests, may consume vulture eggs or small chicks.



9. 15 Unknown facts about Baby Vultures

When vultures reach sexual maturity, usually between the ages of three and six, they begin to search for a mate. Vultures are monogamous, forming lifelong bonds with their partners. 

Vulture chicks receive maternal antibodies through the egg yolk, which provides them with some passive immunity during their early life.

Although baby vultures are born with downy feathers covering their bodies, their heads remain mostly bald. This adaptation helps adult vultures keep their heads clean when feeding on carcasses, and the baldness gradually develops as the chicks grow.

Most vulture species lay only one or two eggs per breeding season, which means that baby vultures generally have few or no siblings.

Vultures are known for their relatively long lifespans, with some species living up to 30 years or more in the wild. Baby vultures that survive their vulnerable early life have a good chance of living a long and productive life as adult scavengers.

Baby vultures engage in a behavior called allopreening, where they groom each other's feathers. This activity not only helps maintain their plumage but also strengthens social bonds among the chicks and their parents.

Baby vultures have a unique way of regulating their body temperature. They can extend their wings and orient themselves towards the sun to warm up or seek shade and pant to cool down when temperatures are high.

Vulture parents sometimes store food in their crops (a pouch in their throat) before regurgitating it for their chicks. This allows them to bring more food back to the nest and ensure that their offspring have enough to eat.

Vulture chicks are known to keep their nests relatively clean by defecating over the edge of the nest or on the ground below. This behavior helps reduce the risk of disease and parasite infestations in the nest.

Baby vultures sometimes fall from their nests while learning to fly or due to disturbances. If they survive the fall, their parents will often continue to feed and care for them on the ground until they can fly back up to the nest.

Although not widely known, baby vultures engage in play behavior, such as mock fights and aerial acrobatics. These activities help them develop their motor skills and prepare for life as adult scavengers.

In some cultures, baby vultures are considered symbols of renewal and transformation, due to their role in cleaning up carcasses and recycling nutrients in the ecosystem. This has led to efforts by some communities to protect and conserve vulture populations.

Avian influenza infection can cause respiratory issues, lethargy, and even death in vulture chicks.

Newcastle disease is a highly contagious viral infection that can lead to respiratory and neurological symptoms, as well as high mortality rates in baby vultures.

Trichomoniasis is a parasitic infection that affects the digestive system, causing lesions in the mouth and throat, which can make it difficult for vulture chicks to eat and breathe.




Sources:

BirdLife International (2022). "Vulture: Overview, All About Birds". Retrieved from: https://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/vulture-crisis
Houston, D. C. (2020). "The Biology of the Vulture". Ibis: The International Journal of Avian Science, Volume 162, Issue 1.
Mundy, P., Butchart, D., Ledger, J., & Piper, S. (2018). "The Vultures of Africa". Academic Press.
Krüger, O. (2021). "The Role of Vultures in the Ecosystem". Journal of Raptor Research, Volume 55, Issue 2.
Ogada, D., Shaw, P., Beyers, R. L., Buij, R., Murn, C., Thiollay, J. M., ... & Sinclair, A. R. (2023). "Another Continental Vulture Crisis: Africa's Vultures Collapsing toward Extinction". Conservation Letters.