Friday, February 27, 2015

Do Vultures Really Eat Only Dead Prey?

Know the stereotype about a flock of vultures circling overhead, waiting for potential prey to die? They then approach the dead prey, feasting as they pick it apart. Can it be true that they don't kill a prey, but wait until it dies?

Nature shows have televised birds of prey, such as eagles and owls, targeting live prey and grabbing them with their talons. View an eagle swooping and snagging a fish. View a great gray owl "sniping" a vole, detecting and snatching it from under snow.

Well, I wasn't sure about vultures/buzzards being patient enough to wait for prey to die before they eat them. However, poking around google yields some interesting contrast between vultures and buzzards. From Is There a Difference Between a Vulture and a Buzzard?:
Buteos are true birds of prey. Unlike vultures, they have feathered heads and they hunt for and kill live prey, although they can and will eat carrion if it's available. … if you want to use the proper terminology, use the word "vulture" when talking about a scavenging bird with a sharp beak and a (usually) bald head, and "buzzard" when you're talking about a bird from the Buteo genus, such as the Common Buzzard.
From Difference Between Buzzards & Vultures:
New World vultures have very weak feet, which is fine for them since they don’t use them to grasp prey. They have a keen sense of smell. ... buzzard hawks and Old World vultures have strong feet to grasp prey and a weak sense of smell.

Vultures everywhere are known for eating carrion, otherwise known as dead animals. ... Buzzard hawks are birds of prey, eating small animals, insects and carrion.
I decided to look up "carrion". The definition sounds more specific than just dead meat—"dead and putrefying flesh". Ew! Putrefy means "to render putrid; cause to rot or decay with an offensive odor". Hooboy! Big difference between carnivore (essentially, flesh eater) and carrion eater!

Lots of cartoon images are available where one vulture says to its branch buddy, Patience my ass! I'm going to kill something!". I noted that most of the images use the more casual "gonna" in place of "going to". (I created my own vulture-pair image by using the YouTube video "Simple Art Style - How to draw a Vulture" as my guide.)

The pictures are from and, respectively. Thanks to Steven Schwartaman for permission to use them. Please visit and subscribe to his Portraits of Wildflowers blog for daily nature pictures and great commentary—way more than just wildflowers!

My takeaway from the vultures/buzzard research is that vultures dine on already dead meat, and buzzards hunt. Hmm, a wordplay term that contributes to muddying the contrast—vulture capitalist, a derogatory term for venture capitalist. In poking around at definitions for vulture capitalist, the similarity in characteristics seem to be that the prey is dying, and the vultures are waiting.

Update: March 30, 2015
Recently have received and found further info about vultures killing and eating prey, rather than waiting for prey to die.


Anonymous said...

Nicely done! I didn't know that buzzards and vultures were not synonymous.

whilldtkwriter said...

Thx! Sorry so late replying. Needed to change settings for comments so I myself could again comment. I did post an update in March (at article end, with links) about vultures going after live prey.

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