VULTURES AND AIRPLANES SHARE THE SKIES?
condors are one of the worlds most endangered birds. They are
also one of the largest. The wing span of these magnificent scavengers
is more than 9 feet. Over 400 live in the wild today. Only 27 were known
to be alive in 1987.
Holland, who worked in the USFWS California Condor Recovery Program
as an intern, knows more about condors than anyone else I know. Now
at the University of Georgias Savannah River Ecology Lab, she
conducts graduate research on the condors eastern counterparts,
aka buzzards, are natures sanitation engineers. As carnivorous
scavengers, they forage on dead animals.
play a critical role in contributing to health safety by reducing the
spread of some animal diseases, including rabies and anthrax.
clean up the landscape by eating, hence removing, what would otherwise
become rotting carcasses. The eastern United States is home to two species.
have bald heads, which allows them to tear meat from a carcass without
fouling feathers around the mouth or head. However, the two differ in
species, the turkey vulture, has an extensive geographic range, from
southern Canada to the tip of South America. Turkey vultures are one
of the few birds with an excellent sense of smell, a useful trait for
an animal interested in homing in on blood or other smells of death.
vulture can locate a dead deer even when it is hidden under dense forest
native species, the black vulture, ranges from the southern United States
to South America. They have no sense of smell, so when a black vulture
is found scavenging a carcass in the woods, chances are it followed
turkey vultures to the site.
research focuses on the movement patterns and ecology of these two southeastern
vultures. One reason to study vulture movements is because of potential
conflicts with humans, including safety and economic impacts on the
numbers and populations of vultures are increasing throughout the Southeast,
and because vultures commonly roost and forage near areas associated
with people, interactions between humans and vultures are likely.
landfills and cell towers are sites that may attract vultures. These
birds will not attack you. But if a turkey vulture with a 5-foot wing
span takes off from the side of the road and accidentally flies into
your windshield, it is a lose-lose situation.
encounter with a vulture on a highway can be extremely dangerous. Amanda
is investigating even more far-reaching safety hazards.
to her, Black and turkey vultures are major causes of bird-strikes
... and are ranked the second and fourth most hazardous species to civil
aircraft due to the extent of damages they cause when involved in bird-strikes.
has already trapped 295 vultures and marked them with individual identification
numbers that are visible on their wings.
determine movement patterns, she has 16 tracking devices that record
the exact location of particular birds as frequently as once a minute.
also be testing the effectiveness of a specially designed loudspeaker
device as a nonlethal method to discourage vultures from inhabiting
airfields and other areas where they could pose a safety hazard to humans.
American vultures in the Southeast are doing well enough to cause air
traffic concerns, Amanda notes that more than 60 percent of vulture
species are currently threatened with extinction globally. In
India, vultures are ecologically extinct. Populations have plummeted
so drastically that they no longer provide measurable ecosystem services.
not trivial. Higher numbers of rats and feral dogs scavenge [on]
carcasses when vultures are absent. Human health concerns have worsened
and rabies cases have skyrocketed in India.
study is an ideal mix of basic ecology with application to real-world
problems. Perhaps her burgeoning knowledge base on American vultures
will be applicable to some of the worlds species in decline.
you have an environmental question or comment, email