Birds of the World

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  Vultures - North Beach
 
 
 

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Cathartiformes - New World Vultures
 
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Cathartiformes
Family: Cathartidae
 
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All vultures
 
Images:   
Black Vulture
 
  Order Cathartiformes - New World Vultures
Order Ciconiiformes - Wading Birds?
Order Accipitriformes - Diurnal Birds of Prey?
  The New World Vultures have traditionally be placed with the Order Falconiformes but Sibley and Ahlquist (1990) argued (based on their DNA-DNA hyrbidization studnes) that they are a sister group to the storks and should be placed in the Order Ciconiiformes. Sibley and Monroe, 1990, place them in the same family, the Family Ciconiidae.
    More recent genetic evidence questions this inference and Clements (2007) and the AOU has returned them to the Falconiformes with a note that they may be misplaced in this group. Recent study and an emerging consensus suggests affinities with the "accipitrid" birds or prey. New World vultures might be placed, therefore, in a new Order Accipitriformes (including other diurnal birds of prey except for falcons and caracaras who would remain alone in the existing Order Falconiformes.
   The simplest solution may be to place that vultures in a new order, the Order Cathartiformes located somewhere between the Ciconiiformes and diurnal birds of prey.
 
  Family Cathartidae - Vultures and Condors
Wiki     ToL    EoL
EXAMPLE
  7 species, 5 genera. New World vultures or condors characterize the New World and are found in tropical and temperate areas in forests, grasslands, prairie, deserts, and mountains. Higher latitude populations are migratory.
   They have a heavy, rounded, and hooked bill. Wing spans range from 63 -126 inches (roughly 5 - 10 feet) with condors being the largest. They are proficient soarers. Sexes are similar. The head and neck are bare (and may be brightly colored), an adaptation to carrion feeding. Bills are powerful and hooked. The tongue is large and fleshy with tooth-like projections along its lateral margin. Their palate is desmognathous and the anterior palatine vacuity is large. The nares are holorhinal, elongated longitudinally, and perforate - there is a large olfactory chamber with no trace of an internasal septum. They have large crop which they can gorge when they find food. The California Condor, Gymnogyps californianus, has an air sac which is inflated during courtship display. Their wings are long and broad, adapted for soaring and are diastaxic. Their sternum is deeply keeled and entire (no notches). The pectoralis major is divided into two parts. The index digit of the wing has an external claw. Individuals often soar and several may rest in groups.
   The pelvic muscle formula is AXY+ or XY+. There are two carotids, a gall bladder, and a well developed crop. The sternum is entire (not notched). The stomach is not a gizzard. Their plantar tendons are Type V. Contour feathers lack aftershafts. There are no intrinsic syringeal muscles. Their toes are long but the feet are weak (not "raptorial"). The hallux is relatively small, elevated, and non-functional. There is a distinct web between the basal phalanges of the inner and middle toes. Northern species have a protracted annual molt of their flight feathers. Some vultures take 6 years to become adult.
   Vultures hunt solitarily but cluster around food sources (Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura, and Greater and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, C. melambrotus, C. burrovianus) have a keen sense of smell which they use to locate decaying dead prey. All vultures also "key" upon another individual descending to feed far in the distance and will investigate and join in the feast.   
   Turkey Vultures are immune to all known bacteria and may feed on freshly killed organisms or their composted remains - even dry skin and bones. Turkey Vultures do not attack living prey although Black Vultures may (nestlings, baby turtles, bird eggs, or even fruit).
   Vultures are seen soaring in our skies year round. Both of our species may spread their wings to catch the sun. Note, however, that the feathers are composed on non-living keratin and their warming may only surround the bird with a warmer thermal envelope - they are not "drying" their wings like cormorants and anhingas. Our vultures hunt prey solitarily but some are highly gregarious and all species will feed in mixed flocks. They also take advantage of tips and human garbage.
   Vultures also practice "urohydrosis" - they urinate on their legs when it is warm and the evaporation of water cools their bodies. Several other birds (including storks) may do this... This tends to color the legs white.
   More northern populations of vultures are migratory, moving to northern South America in winter. Residents of Hinkley, OH, celebrate their return in the spring!
   Vultures are monogamous. Breeding is seasonal (some larger vultures breed every other year) There is no nest - they lay their eggs on the ground in dense thickets, inside logs, in caves, or in abandoned buildings. One or two eggs are laid and both parents incubate for 38-60 days. After hatching, parents return to the nest only to feed young (they are fed by regurgitation). Fledging takes 70 days to 6 months and the young may stay with their parents for a month or longer. Nest predation may be retarded by the "evil" smell of the young. Vultures first breed at 3-8 years of age.

   New World Vultures have been placed with raptorial birds (Order Falconiformes - eagles, hawks, falcons, etc.) in the past but their classification has been enigmatic. Sibley and Ahlquist (1990) place them as a subfamily with the storks (Family Ciconiidae). It is interesting that storks also practice urohydrosis (above).
   The American Ornithologists' Union placed vultures in the Ciconiiformes next to storks but have now moved them back as the lead family in the Falconiformes. The Tree of Life places them in the Accipitriformes. The Encyclopedia of Life places them in the Ciconiiformes.
   The best solution may be to place them in a separate order, the Order Cathartiformes. Recent evidence may lead to placing them in a new order, the Accipitriformes along with other dirunal birds of prey (except for the falcons which remain in the Falconiformes).

   Note that it is inappropriate to call our vultures "buzzards." There are several Old World species derived from diurnal birds of prey (buteos) that are specialized to feed on carrion (also with bare heads and necks to avoid soiling while feeding - a convergent adaptation) - they more appropriately use this name.
 
 
All Vultures:

   Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus
- southern US and Mexico south to eastern and western South America.
   Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura - North America south to Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands.
   Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Cathartes burrovianus - southern Mexico south to Argentina and Brazil (east of the Andes).
   Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Cathartes melambrotus - Guineas and southern Venezuela to Bolivia and northern Brazil.
   California Condor, Gymnogyps californianus - formerly southern California. 132 birds in 1998, 381 birds 192 in the wild) in 2010.
   Andean Condor, Vultur gryphus - Andes and coasts of Colombia to Tierra del Fuego.
   King Vulture, Sarcoramphus papa - southern Mexico to northern Argentina and Brazil.
       
 
Black Vulture
Black Vulture settling on egg.
Coastal islands off Patagonia, Chile
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  Banner - Turkey Vultures (and American Crows). North Beach. Attracted by large dead fish.