AskDefine | Define vulture

Dictionary Definition



1 any of various large diurnal birds of prey having naked heads and weak claws and feeding chiefly on carrion
2 someone who attacks in search of booty [syn: marauder, predator, piranha]

User Contributed Dictionary




  • /ˈvʌlʧə/


  1. Any of several carrion-eating birds of the families Accipitridae and Cathartidae.
  2. (Colloquial) A person who profits from the suffering of others.
    Within ten minutes of the accident, the vultures appeared and were organizing lawsuits.


Extensive Definition

Vultures are scavenging birds, feeding mostly on the carcasses of dead animals. Vultures are found on every continent except Antarctica and Oceania.
A particular characteristic of many vultures is a bald head, devoid of feathers. This is likely because a feathered head would become spattered with blood and other fluids, and thus be difficult to keep clean.
A group of vultures is occasionally called a venue, and when circling in the air a group of vultures is called a kettle. The word Geier (taken from the German language) does not have a precise meaning in ornithology, and it is occasionally used to refer to a vulture in English, as in some poetry.


Vultures are classified into two groups: Old World vultures and New World vultures. The similarities between the two different groups are due to convergent evolution.

Old World vultures

The Old World vultures found in Africa, Asia, and Europe belong to the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, kites, buzzards, and hawks. Old World vultures find carcasses exclusively by sight.

New World vultures

The New World vultures and condors found in warm and temperate areas of the Americas are not closely related to the superficially similar Accipitridae, but belong in the family Cathartidae, which is quite close to the storks. Several species have a good sense of smell, unusual for raptors, and are able to smell the dead they focus upon from great heights.


Vultures seldom attack healthy animals, but may kill the wounded or sick. Vast numbers have been seen upon battlefields. They gorge themselves when prey is abundant, till their crop bulges, and sit, sleepy or half torpid, to digest their food. They do not carry food to their young in their claws, but disgorge it from the crop. These birds are of great value as scavengers, especially in hot regions. Botulinum toxin, the toxin that causes botulism, does not affect them, and they can eat rotten flesh containing anthrax and cholera bacteria. When a vulture's dinner has too thick of hide for his beak to open, he waits for a larger scavenger to eat first.

Threat due to diclofenac poisoning

Diclofenac poisoning has caused the vulture population in India and Pakistan to decline by up to 95% in the past decade, and two or three of the species of vulture in South Asia are nearing extinction.

In culture

Ancient Egypt

In Southern Africa, the name for a Nubian vulture is synonymous with the term applied to lovers, because these vultures are always seen in pairs, mother and child remaining closely bonded together. Pairing, bonding, protecting, and loving are essential attributes associated along with the vulture's size and its ability to soar high in the sky.
The Egyptians considered the vulture to be an excellent mother, and the wide wingspan was seen as all-encompassing and providing a protective cover to her infants. The white Egyptian vulture was the animal picked to represent Nekhbet, the mother goddess and protective patron of southern, Upper Egypt. The vulture hieroglyph A was the uniliteral sign used for the glottal sound (3) including words such as mother, prosperous, grandmother, and ruler

Contemporary concepts

Although the vulture plays an important natural role, in the Western world, the image of the vulture is quite negative, with 'vulture' used as a metaphor for those who prey on the weak or dying, with associated negative connotations of cowardice and selfishness.


  • Ferguson-Lees, Christie, Franklin, Mead and Burton Raptors of the World ISBN 0713680261
  • Grimmett, Inskipp and Inskipp, Birds of India ISBN 0-691-04910-6
  • Hilty, Birds of Venezuela, ISBN 0-7136-6418-5
  • Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey and Warwick Tarboton, SASOL Birds of Southern Africa (Struik 2002) ISBN 1-86872-721-1
  • NSAID effects on vultures (BBC website)
  • "India's Vultures Fall Prey to a Drug in the Cattle They Feed On", New York Times, Amelia Gentleman, March 28, 2006.
vulture in Amharic: አሞራ
vulture in Asturian: Utre
vulture in Bulgarian: Лешояд
vulture in Catalan: Voltor
vulture in Danish: Grib (fugl)
vulture in German: Altweltgeier
vulture in Spanish: Buitre
vulture in French: Vautour (oiseau)
vulture in Indonesian: Hering
vulture in Ido: Vulturo
vulture in Kalaallisut: Nattoraliusaq
vulture in Swahili (macrolanguage): Tumbusi
vulture in Latin: Vultur
vulture in Hungarian: Keselyű
vulture in Japanese: ハゲワシ
vulture in Marathi: गिधाड
vulture in Norwegian: Gribb (fugl)
vulture in Polish: Sępy
vulture in Portuguese: Abutre
vulture in Simple English: Vulture
vulture in Finnish: Korppikotkat
vulture in Swedish: Gamar
vulture in Vietnamese: Kền kền
vulture in Turkish: Akbaba (kuş)
vulture in Contenese: 禿鷲
vulture in Chinese: 禿鷲

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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