Cristen Conger, Staff Writer

HowStuffWorks 2009

Author’s Note: Why is it a bad idea to scare a vulture?

In all honesty, I wasn't thrilled with the prospect of writing about vulture vomit. The feathered flesh-eaters aren't exactly the cutest winged creatures in the sky, and their dietary habits are somewhat stomach-turning. But learning about vultures' upchuck defense mechanism proved to be a surprisingly fun experience since I ran across a wagonload of fascinating facts that altered my negative perception regarding the birds of prey. First, vultures' taste for rotting flesh serves an important purpose of preventing the spread of diseases and bacteria. They aren't alone in their tendencies to puke on threatening passersby, either; stately herons, gulls and terns also rely on the vomit defense. And without their extremely acidic stomachs, vultures wouldn't meet the employee qualifications for working as Mother Nature's much-needed garbage collectors.

Sources

  • "California Condor." Peregrine Fund. (Oct. 7, 2008) http://www.peregrinefund.org/Explore_Raptors/vultures/cacondor.html
  • Deng, Robert. "Black-naped Tern: Defense Vomiting." Bird Ecology Study Group. April 23, 2008. (Oct. 7, 2008) http://besgroup.talfrynature.com/2008/04/23/black-naped-tern-defense-vomiting/
  • Gross, Liza. "Switching Drugs for Livestock May Help Save Critically Endangered Asian Vultures." PLoS Biology. Vol. 4. No. 3. March 2006. (Oct. 9, 2008) http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1351926
  • Houston, D.C. and Cooper, J.E. "The Digestive Tract of the Whiteback Griffon Vulture and Its Role In Disease Transmission Among Wild Ungulates." Journal of Wildlife Diseases. Vol. 11. July 1975. (Oct. 7, 2008) http://www.jwildlifedis.org/cgi/reprint/11/3/306.pdf
  • Morrison, Dan. "Many Asian Vultures Close to Extinction, Survey Finds." National Geographic News. May 1, 2008. (Oct. 7, 2008) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/05/080501-vultures-extinct.html
  • Saggese, Miguel D. et al. "First Detection of Bacillus anthracis in Feces in Free-ranging Raptors from Central Argentina." Journal of Wildlife Diseases. Vol. 43, No. 1. 2007. (Oct. 7, 2008) http://www.jwildlifedis.org/cgi/content/full/43/1/136
  • "Vultures." Peregrine Fund. (Oct. 7, 2008) http://www.peregrinefund.org/Explore_Raptors/vultures/vultmain.html