Vulture Appreciation

Vultures are disgusting creatures that have naked heads and eat dead things. At least, this is what most people believe, including myself before I started working at the Wildlife Center during my rehabilitation externship.  At the Center, I learned more about vultures and how they help society and I earned a deep appreciation for their role in the environment. I also had the opportunity to work one-on-one with these interesting creatures and found that they are not the gross death eaters that I thought they were.

Vultures are essential for our ecosystem to survive; they are responsible for helping dead animals decompose. By eating the dead animals, digesting them and then excreting the remains in their feces, vultures greatly increase the rate at which things decompose. This not only takes rotting carcasses out of the environment faster but also returns the nutrients of the bodies back to the environment faster than regular decomposition. The nutrients can then be used to help plants grow, and decreasing the number of dead animals can help reduce the instances of disease.

While working at the Center, I had the opportunity to see and work with several vultures that came into the hospital. When I asked why they had naked legs and heads, I learned that this is to keep them from getting diseases. Because these parts of their body are the ones that mainly come in contact with the dead carcasses, it is important for the vultures not to have feathers that bacteria can cling to. I was also informed that vultures would pee on their own legs in order to sanitize them after they had touched a dead animal. This opened my eyes as I never considered the “ugly” appearance of these birds served a purpose.

Working closely with these birds and being able to learn more about them really gave me a new-found appreciation for all that they do. By handling them, I was able to see that they are not all that different from the raptors that I have always found interesting. These birds are a very important part of our lives that most people do not understand or want to see, but without them, we would be surrounded by death, decay, and diseases. I hope that in the future I am able to work more with these birds and teach others about their wonderful qualities.

--Rachel
WCV Class of 2017