Thanks to their association with death, carrion and other unpleasantries, vultures get a bad reputation. Their penchant for perching aloft on dead trees doesn’t help this image either. Why do they do this? Thornybush has the answers and it’s not for effect.
Vultures serve a vital function by cleaning up the bush after predators. They don’t have a choice; they aren’t equipped for anything else. Except for the lappet-faced vulture, which can catch and eat small animals and birds, they are unable to hunt their own prey.
Their feet are only good for walking and they aren’t the most acrobatic flyers either. Their beaks are designed for tearing flesh, not grasping it like a fish eagle or other birds of prey.
So, what does this have to do with perching in dead trees? For starters, lions and other predators are not enthusiastic about sharing their hard-earned meals. With little defence against these predators, except a not-to-fleet-footed retreat, vultures need to stay out of the way until these much larger animals have had their fill. A dead tree is an ideal vantage point from which to view the proceedings in safety.
Dead tree branches are a lot more stable than the flexible boughs of green trees. This enables the vultures to perch more easily with their flat, chicken-like feet. With no leaves to obstruct their view, it’s also easier to see from a distance when the coast is clear.
Vultures have an average wingspan of about 2 metres. With all this flight gear to fold up, branches and twigs are a problem when landing in a tree. It is much easier for vultures to swoop down onto the bare branches of a dead tree than negotiate foliage as they come in for landing.
You hardly ever come across one vulture sitting in a tree waiting for their turn at the kill. Just as we look for swirling vultures overhead to indicate a kill site during a game drive, vultures watch each other for signs of their next meal. It only takes one vulture to start their slow spiral to attract all the others in the area.
A dead tree is a fine grandstand for all these birds-in waiting and can accommodate far more of them than a living one can.
Since their food source is going nowhere, and adult birds have no natural predators, they have no reason to conceal their presence and can rest up in dead trees in between meals too.
On your next game drive, keep a sharp look out for these beacons on the landscape, they could provide clues as to where the big cats and wild dogs are.
The first step towards these sightings is always booking your accommodation with Thornybush. Get in touch today and we’ll get you on track.