Food searching in griffon vultures

Authors

  • D. C. HOUSTON

    1. Edward Grey Institute, Zoology Department, Oxford and Serengeti Research Institute, Tanzania National Parks
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    • *Department of Forestry & Natural Resources, University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Serengeti Research Institute publication number 134


Summary

Observations are presented on food searching in griffon vultures. To locate food directly, griffon vultures do not use a sense of smell but rely on vision. However, most birds locate carcasses indirectly—by watching the activities of neighbouring birds. The method of food searching is described and the number of birds which arrive at a carcass is shown to depend on the amount of food that is available. Birds do not hold feeding ranges, but travel widely during food searching, one bird travelling 180 km in 6 days. The density of searching birds varies greatly according to the density of ungulates in an area, birds being most numerous over high ungulate concentrations. The altitude at which birds search also varies, birds flying at higher altitudes over areas of low ungulate density and at lower altitudes over ungulate concentrations. These variations in searching density and height are shown to affect the efficiency of food searching. Carcasses are located rapidly and the food consumed quickly in high ungulate density areas, while in low ungulate density conditions carcasses can take a long time to be located. It is concluded that griffon vultures are more likely to find food and are better able to compete with mammalian competitors by searching over migratory ungulate herds than over areas containing resident ungulate species. Their adaptations for gliding flight enable these birds to follow these migratory ungulates throughout the year.

Ancillary