Do Vultures Migrate?
Some Do, Some Don't. It's Awesome

Do all vultures migrate? To explore the truth behind this statement, read ahead.

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Iñigo Navarro

October 10, 2021


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What’s This Post About?

Vultures are large bird species that are found in the tropics and subtropics. Vulture species have sprung up rapidly throughout the years. They are now classified as new-world vultures and old-world vultures. These birds are widespread and are known to stay with their partner all year round.

These large birds might seem aggressive, but they are very sociable. They roost in large flocks and maintain their social bonds successfully as long as they live. Black vultures nest in dark cavities such as hollow trees, thickets, caves, and empty buildings.

Most vulture species are non-migratory. The northern population of vultures migrates while the southern vultures don’t. If a vulture finds itself at a good food source around stable climate, it will stay in the same region throughout the year.

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What Are New World Vultures and Old-World Vultures?

The difference between the two types of vultures and their migration patterns.

The new world vultures and the old world vultures differ in physical appearance and strength. All of the new-world vultures and a few old ones have developed a condition that leads to bald heads. This condition prevents the feathers from getting dirty when the birds dip their heads in blood-filled flesh.

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Old world vultures have strong feet, while new ones have weak feet that do not support when they try to grasp something. When foraging on meat, these birds segment themselves according to beak strength and body size.

The old-world vultures are known to nest in trees or cliffs by building large stick bases for themselves. They lay only one egg at a time. In contrast, new world vultures prefer laying eggs in empty cavities, cliffs, and trees.

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The small species that belong to the new world lay and incubate two eggs for a month, while the larger ones tend to lay one egg and set it for approximately two months.

INTERESTING FACT

Small vultures wait to feed on scraps left behind by large species. Similarly, the big vultures also make way for competitors like jackals, coyotes, and hyenas.

Old World Vultures

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Various old-world vultures have distinct traits that differentiate them from each other. Common old-world vultures are:

  • Black Vultures.
  • Lammergeier.
  • Egyptian Vulture.
  • Common Griffon.
  • Lappet-faced Vulture.
  • Palm-nut Vulture.
  • Red-headed Vulture.
  • White-headed Vulture.

The black vultures are one of the giant flying birds alive. It is 3.3 feet long and weighs 27.5 pounds. They are dark black with broad wings and a wingspan of 8.9 feet. Their tails are slightly wedged, and they are commonly found in Southern Europe, Central Steppes, and Asia Minor.

Egyptian Vultures are small vultures about 24 inches long. They are white with black flight feathers. They have a naked face and are found in Northern and Eastern Africa, Middle East, Afghanistan, Southern Europe, and India.

Common griffons are also known as the Eurasian griffon. They are gray with a reddish-brown and white streak below. They are mainly found in Spanish Highlands, Northwest Africa, Southern Russian, and the Balkans.

FUN FACT

Vultures have bare heads and necks so that when they feed on carcasses, parasites, and blood, the bacteria cannot grow into their feathers and cause infections.

New World Vultures

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The new-world vultures are slightly different from the old-world ones in terms of physical features, habitat, and behavior. A few examples of the new world vultures are:

  • Turkey Vulture.
  • Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus).
  • King Vulture.

The turkey vultures are one of the most common new world vultures. They are small blackish-brown birds with redheads. They have a strong sense of smell through which they find carcasses easily to forage on.

Black vultures, sometimes known as black buzzards, are found abundantly in tropics and subtropics. This bird is 24 inches long with a chunky body and a short tail. The bird is dark black with short black wings and a bare blackhead.

The king vulture is a beautiful, colorful vulture species. The head and neck of these birds are a mixture of red, yellow, and blue shades. They have white eyes with a red ring around them. These birds are 31 inches long with a wingspan of 2 meters and a gray neck fringe. These birds range from Southern Mexico to Argentina.

INTERESTING FACT

The new world vultures do not possess a voicebox (syrinx). This is why they are silent birds with no songs. They can only grunt, hiss, or clack their bills.

Do Vultures Migrate?

Distinguishing between the migratory and non-migratory species.

Most vultures that are residents of the Northern range migrate Southwards for winters. At the same time, those already in the Southern fields stay there all year long. Some vultures are classified as nomadic; they travel in search of food and shelter, while others migrate according to seasons.

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There are 23 species of vultures in the world. Every species is different from the other with its unique feeding patterns, behavior, and habitat.

Vultures can be classified into three types:

  • Sedentary: black vulture of the American black vulture.
  • Nomadic: Eurasian black vulture.
  • Migratory: Turkey vulture.

FUN FACT

Turkey vultures have an extraordinary sense of smell. They can smell meat from a distance of 1 mile. These birds are known to have the strongest olfactory systems.

Sedentary Vultures

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Most vulture species are sedentary; this means that they stay in one place for a long time. They spend their life defending and maintaining a territory of their own. When baby vultures leave the nest, they travel and look for a safe shelter.

Species like American black vultures, African cape vultures, and griffon vulture are sedentary. For example, Griffon vultures are sedentary in cold areas if they feel that the food supply is sufficient and steady.

All three of these vulture species do not migrate from a place if they think that the region is safe, clean, has excellent food sources, and is pleasant to live in.

INTERESTING FACT

A group of perched vultures is called a 'wake'. They mourn together with their heads hung downwards.  

Nomadic Vultures

Some vultures are nomadic. When required, they travel long distances and migrate further to regions that consist of good weather conditions, secure breeding grounds, and ample food.

In many vulture species, young vultures are like temporary nomads until they grow into adults and establish their territories like Sedentary vultures.

However, this is not always the case. For example, some vultures find their habitat unpleasant. They may fear predators entering their habitat, which is a massive threat to them which is why they might turn into nomads and migrate elsewhere in search of food and safety.

FUN FACT

Vultures have weak legs but strong bills. So if a carcass is too hard for them to rip open, they wait for a predator to tear the flesh before they feed on it.

Migratory Vultures

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Vultures migrate for survival. The Eurasian black vulture is migratory species. They breed in Mongolia but migrate to South Korea in winters. Griffon vultures are sedentary vultures; however, a large group of griffon vultures migrates to North Africa in winters from France and Spain.

The Turkey Vulture is the only migratory species. Thousands of turkey vultures migrate during the spring and autumn seasons, searching for food and good weather conditions.

INTERESTING FACT

Vultures pee on their legs to reduce the heat on their feet.

Why Do Vultures Migrate?

The reasons behind the migration of vultures.

Vultures can be migratory or non-migratory birds. They migrate to avoid the harsh winter weather and to proceed with the mating process. The migration distance depends on the individual vulture species and the requirements they are looking to fulfill via migration.

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Most vultures stay in one place throughout the year, while others change locations depending on the environment they currently live in.

Vultures that live in mild temperatures do not migrate, while those in the Northern regions move from one place to another in search of warmth and pleasant weather conditions.

It is a common belief that vultures migrate south during the winters to:

  • Inhabit warmer temperatures.
  • Look for food availability.
  • To roost.
  • In search of comfortable breeding grounds.

Do Turkey Vultures Migrate?

All about the migration process of turkey vultures.

Turkey vultures are skilled fliers; they drift and glide effortlessly during their migration journey. Turkey Vultures migrate in an annual cycle that starts from Southern Canada and moves towards Southernmost South America. In short, from Northern regions to Southern. 

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INTERESTING FACT

The turkey vultures are accused of carrying livestock diseases: hog cholera and anthrax, on their feet and are perceived as a threat for farmers. 

Migration Plan

The Turkey vultures that reside in Northern and Western North America start preparing for migration in August. The flocks begin migrations in early September in groups of up to 400 birds. Other vulture species also join these flocks throughout the journey. The migrating vultures then return in spring.

Flight Periods

Vultures do not fly during the early morning period, and they aim to settle on their roosts before sunsets. Their flight depends on the rising, warm air pockets that make their journey easier. Vultures require thermals to fly at a high altitude.

These birds avoid flying early in the day as thermals begin to form only when the sun has risen properly.

Fasting

Turkey vultures do not eat when they start planning their flight. Instead, they rely on fat reserves as they want to stay light. This helps them travel 200 miles per day. As a result, they tend to avoid food searches or eating decaying carrion while migrating unless nothing else is to scavenge.  

How Do Vultures Find Their Way Back?

Mind maps or locators? How do these birds return home?

Vultures, like all other birds, use navigational techniques embedded in their minds. They use landmarks as a guide to food, water, shelter, stops, and location.

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These birds set down landmarks and ques of places that they might revisit while taking short breaks on their way back. Environmental landmarks include the following:

  • Lakes.
  •  Mountains.
  • Streams.
  • Coastlines.
  • Trees.
  • Boulders.

This navigation process is quite similar to those of humans. Human beings also use landmarks or structures such as bridges, highways, etc., as guidance.

The juvenile vultures follow their parents. Research has stated that bird species have a magnetic sense that helps them understand the southern and northern topography.

FUN FACT

The Andean condor, a type of vulture, has the largest recorded wingspan of 10 to 11 feet. This is the biggest wingspan of any bird in the world.

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Keep Reading!

This post discussed the different vulture species and their migratory patterns. The new world and old-world vultures might be different, but they all love to feed on the carcasses of dead animals.

Vultures might look dangerous, but they are pretty harmless. They do not intend to attack any human being and may use vomit as a defense mechanism to protect themselves.

If you are interested in reading more about vultures, read this blog post next to learn what do vultures eat in thorough detail.

What Do Vultures Eat? It's Disgusting! But It Works for Them

The vulture's eating patterns are different from other birds. To explore what they like and what they dislike, read ahead.

Iñigo Navarro Picture

By Iñigo Navarro

Bird Watching USA

My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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Iñigo Navarro Picture

Iñigo Navarro

Bird Watching USA

My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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