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Vultures are strictly necrophagous, in that they do not hunt live animals, but only eat carrion. They pick on the carcasses from both wild and domesticated animals. They are capable of fasting for several weeks when necessary. In Europe they are tightly dependent on breeding activities.
Vultures can detect a corpse with amazing speed, even when almost completely hidden in vegetation. They spread across their habitat, always circling in sight of one another, keeping a close eye on the ground and the behaviour of crows, magpies and other carrion-eaters.
If one of them notices anything of interest going on below, it will fly down to investigate, while the rest pass on the message and follow suit.
In this way several dozen vultures can quickly converge on one carcass.
Built for the hunt
They have exceptional visual acuity, and can spot a carcass from a height of over 3000 metres. They can detect extremely slow and very fast movement which would go unnoticed by human eyes, and also detect polarised light, which changes in orientation depending on the position of the sun, and ultraviolet light.
Their powerful beaks, curved at the tip and with sharp mandibles, can pierce, cut and dismember hides and flesh, scrape skins clean and break up carcasses. The tongue has curved edges like a woodworker's gouge, and sharp rear-facing denticles which are particularly effective at taking in food quickly.
Vultures' necks are flexible and long (50 cm) enough to stick their head right into carcasses. A ruff of feathers prevents dirt spreading to the rest of the body.
Talons and claws:
Vultures' fingers are incapable of grabbing prey, but can hold food down on the ground or be used to attack another bird or fend off an intruder. The talons have a rounded tip with no sharp edges, unlike birds of prey. The legs are used for walking rather than capturing prey, or can act as air brakes during flight.