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Irish scientists find vultures to be a very crafty bunch

New research shows that vultures really live up to their reputation for scavenging.

WHY DO SOMETHING for yourself when you can just wait for someone else to do it and then take advantage of their hard work?

That seems to be the thinking that vultures are using when it comes to finding food.

New research by Irish scientists has shown that vultures wait for eagles, with their razor-sharp eyesight, to attack carcuses before the johnny-come-latelys of the sky follow them in to mooch off of the find.

The study took place in Kenya and looked at the Tawny and Steppe eagles, as well as two species of vulture, to establish the relationship between their habits of consumption.

CoverPic TCD TCD

It was also found that vultures take advantage of eagles’ superior food preparation. Eagles have strong beaks, which allow them to rip open carcasses, something the vulture cannot do.

Researchers were looking at the behaviour of the birds in relation to economic game-theory models trying to establish whether they worked cooperatively or competitively when it came to acquiring food.

Because the locations of carcasses are unpredictable, a system of social cues between the two species was seen to be in place, acting as an indication of the placement of food on the ground.

The scavenging vultures are unique in that they are the only vertebrates that feed only on dead prey.

Speaking about the findings, Phd researcher and co-author of the new paper Adam Kane, said:

We filmed interactions between eagles and vultures feeding at animal carcasses and our videos confirmed that eagles use their keen eyesight to find carcasses first, while the vultures simply ‘scrounge’ this information by following them to the carcasses.

It is thought that this new information will allow conservationists a better understanding of the animals and give them better insight on how to help maintain their numbers.

Warning – this video contains content that some readers may find disturbing. 

Video / YouTube

Assistant professor of Zoology at Trinity College Dublin supervised the research. On the findings he said:

Our study shows, as is often the case in the tangled web of ecology, that it is important to consider other species when trying to conserve vultures.

The role of vultures is an important one as they contribute to the recycling of dead and decaying biomass. In recent years vultures have become an endangered species.

Read: A ‘crazy crow’ is tormenting the people of a Co Louth village

Also: Greedy food-stealing squirrel is thwarted by pole covered in Vaseline

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