The Bearded Vulture - King of The Mountain
Photographs and words by Crowpix Media
The Bearded Vulture is a critically endangered scavenger bird. An isolated Bearded Vulture population is restricted to the Maloti-Drakensberg area in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, and Lesotho. There is also a recovered population of the Bearded Vulture in Southern Europe and Northern Africa.
With a wingspan of up to 2.9 meters, the adult bird can weigh as much as 6 kilograms. The Bearded Vulture is a large and impressive-looking bird with unique characteristics.
The main threats facing the Bearded Vulture are persecution for use in traditional medicine, unintentional poisoning from eating predator bait, and collisions with powerlines are the most significant risks threatening the population.
Their head, neck, chest, and most of their body grow progressively white when they are four years old and have previously undergone 1-2 moultings. That is, if they did not colour themselves due to their extensive bathing in iron oxide-containing bodies of water, which causes their feathers to turn rusty orange over time. The cause for the coloration of the feathers from white to orange remains a mystery.
I went to the Vulture Hide with bones provided by the rangers at Giants Castle main camp after paying the fee for a day's use of the hide. I was hoping that the Bearded Vulture would be present and the giant bird would land and feed on the presented bones. The road to the site demanded a 4 x 4 vehicle, but the hide was only 5 kilometers from the main camp reception.
I arrived at the Vulture hide at 8:00 AM, and around 9:00 AM, the first adult Bearded Vulture flew into the skies before me (pictured above). I set up my camera and began taking photos of the Bearded Vulture in flight. It was a thrilling sight to see the glorious bird gliding through the air above me.
A little while later, a young Bearded Vulture appeared in the sky, scouting out the ground where the animal bones lay. You can tell the young Vultures by the colour of their feathers. The young ones do not have the oxidated rust-orange feathers yet. The rust-coloured feathers are indicative of adult Bearded Vultures.
A young Bearded Vulture carries darker plumage, and after about four years, white feathers develop and then later the oxidated rust-orange feathers.
It was winter when I took these photos. Winter is when the Bearded Vulture sightings are best as the weather conditions tend to be less rainy. The birds prefer leaving their cliff nests when the weather conditions are favorable, i.e., with little to no wind, rain, or other adverse weather conditions.
The weather conditions on the day were perfect for photography - a photographer's dream. As a result of the great weather, plenty of animals were active around the hide, including Crows, Jackals, and another critically endangered vulture, the Cape Vulture.
The birds fooled around in the air, and the Crows played games with the Vultures, challenging the larger species.
At times, the flight paths of the young Bearded Vultures fell in line with the adult birds, and the family of vultures soared harmoniously, always intent on feeding on the bones I had strewn on the mountain below.
Unfortunately, it was not to be my day and none of the three Bearded Vultures who showed up on the day chose to land and feed on the bones. Bearded Vultures have developed a feeding technique that involves grabbing the larger bones in their claws, flying up to 100 meters in the air, and then dropping the bone so that it breaks into smaller, edible pieces.
By around 15:00 that afternoon, all the Bearded Vultures had disappeared, and I decided to pack up for the day. The outing was a great success, and I was satisfied with the display the Vultures and the other smaller animals had put on.
Project Vulture in South Africa is executing a plan to rehabilitate and conserve the Maloti-Drakensberg Bearded Vultures and you can view the Vultures in their nests with a "nest cam."
If you want to contribute to the conservation of the Bearded Vulture then you can volunteer at Wildlife Act.