How do vultures feed their babies?

Vultures don’t have the strongest legs and feet and they are big heavy birds.  They couldn’t carry meat back to their nests for their chicks held in their talons like eagles do, so how do they feed them?

Clever crops

Vultures like other birds have a crop, the crop is a pouch near the throat and it is a part of their digestive tract, which serves as a storage compartment.  The crop is used to hold extra food, when the tummy is full, a bit like how your mom carries food home in shopping bags for the family.

Yolks aside!

Chicks in the wild hatch from the egg over a number of days (yes it’s a really long time), while they are working to get out of the egg, it is the yolk that feeds them.  The chicks have a yolk sac which sits outside their bodies that they are attached to.  By the time that they are fully hatched, the yolk sac has been fully absorbed into their body.  Once they finally leave the shell they are hungry and need to be fed.  Cape vulture adults have been seen to “drool” into the chick’s mouths within their first day of leaving the shell.  It is thought that this is just saliva (it needs more research) – we think that it is probably good for hydration and possibly other minerals that help the chick do well in their huge change to living in the big wide world.  Although we think that the saliva helps the chicks, they also need solid food immediately after hatching.

Food is eaten at the carcass by the parent bird and is then carried home for the chick in their crop, once back at the nest the food that is held in the crop is “unpacked” (rather like your mom putting her shopping away) and the chick feeds.

Dem Bones

Vultures are heavy birds on relatively thin short legs, their bones need to be really strong for them to stay healthy, fit and to survive.  To do this, they need enough calcium and vitamin D in their diets.  Vultures get calcium from bone chips and fragments from the carcasses that they feed on; to start with these chips are in the regurgitated food that the parents feed their chick. Once the chicks are older, the parents will often give them larger bone chips separately to their food; adult vultures have been seen to pick up large bone chips out of the nest and “offer” them to the chicks.  Vitamin D is absorbed through the skin from the sun and is used along with calcium in the body to help develop good strong bones.

Flying the Nest

To “fledge” means- “(of a young bird) develop wing feathers that are large enough for flight.”

Cape vulture chicks start to fledge when they are around 4 and a half months old (140 days), like us though, they do need to test their wings.  Some vultures are more confident and outgoing and will leave their parents earlier than those chicks that are a little more nervous of the big world that waits for them.

Like us when we leave home, young fledglings have to learn how to find food and to cope with getting their share at a carcass when there are so many vultures competing for food.  Mostly the young fledglings will have their adventures but still return to the nest ledge where their parents will still feed them, this can happen for a few months until eventually the parents get fed up with their chick and start to kick the chick out of the nest, this also happens because the parents have to get ready for the next egg and chick that they will have.

VulPro has a very busy time in November and December because this is when we end up rescuing lots of young fledglings who have gotten themselves into trouble because of their inexperience and the fact that they often don’t get enough food.   A vulture that doesn’t get enough to eat starts to burn their fat reserves to survive, when these reserves are finished they start to metabolise their muscle in order to survive, this leaves them too weak to fly and compete for food and ultimately leads to their death. VulPro collects the fledglings and we help them get stronger in our “nursery enclosure”.  Here they learn to compete for food in a slightly easier environment.  Once the fledglings have the necessary skills and strength to survive, VulPro tags and releases them back to the wild.

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