feathers, with their Velcro-like system, require regular preening after every
There are 10 primary remiges, or flight feathers (attached
to the hands and fingers), which are used for propulsion. Each wing can measure
up to 70 cm.
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Born to fly!
Vultures are particularly remarkable for their exceptional gliding skills:
they are truly equipped for flight. In summer they make heavy use of rising
thermal currents which form as the sun heats the ground.
Dynamic uplift currents require wind, and are more common in winter and inter-season
days. When wind encounters a landscape feature, it is forced over the top,
creating a rising air current in front of the cliff and well above the ridge.
Vultures take off into the wind, jumping off the edge and flapping their wings
a few times to accelerate, then start gliding and put on speed.
Circular gliding flight within a bubble (or column) of rising hot air. Vultures'
rounded wings have a large surface area (1 m²). The spacing between
the primary remiges (flight feathers) enables them to fly slowly and make
Flapping (approx. 2.5 flaps per second) consumes around 30 times
more energy than gliding. Vultures flap their wings in bursts of 3 to 5 flaps,
separated by glides. They only use this technique in poor aerological conditions
or if they need to accelerate rapidly (take-off, fleeing).
Leaving rising air currents:
To reach their target, vultures leave the rising air with a downward glide.
For every 100 metres of altitude lost they can cover between 1,200 and 1,500
metres (i.e. a lift/drag ratio of 12 to 15). They adjust their speed by varying
their wing geometry or deliberately lowering their legs.
As vultures approach the cliff, they allow themselves to stall then put on
speed, with their wings deployed in a W-shape and their legs retracted, to
fly through the turbulence close to the landscape while they dive towards
the landing point. They retain enough momentum to pull out of the dive at
the last minute, then finally brake hard and reverse flap with their body