Apr 23, 2011

The Egg-cracking Egyptian Vulture

Meet the Egyptian vulture, also known as "Pharaoh's Chicken": the bird with a Ph.D. in egg-eating.

Photo by Ron Saldino

Egyptian vultures are best known for their technique of throwing or dropping stones on eggs to crack them, placing them among the few bird species to make use of tools.

Photo by Flikr user Foto Martien

In addition to eating the eggs of ostriches and other large birds, Egyptian vultures also favor carrion, insects, decaying vegetable matter, and the feces of humans and other mammals.

Photo by John Wurth

In answer to the pressing question of whether the use of stones is an instinctive behavior or a technique acquired from watching other vultures, authors Thouless, Fanshawe, and Bertram reported the following in the International Journal of Avian Science:

There was no evidence of cultural transmission for stone-throwing through copying experienced birds. A naïve captive-reared bird threw stones once an Ostrich egg had been linked with a food reward. The origins of aimed stone-throwing are probably related to the unaimed throwing of small eggs, since the actions are similar, and all tested birds strongly preferred to throw rounded or egg-like stones, rather than jagged ones, at Ostrich eggs.

Photo by Linda Schueller

Photo source: Wildlife Extra

This video shows the Egyptian vulture plying its egg-opening technique (though this is only part of the multi-act drama that unfolds).

This post is dedicated to reader OMBF's nose, whose size has drawn comparisons to a beak.

1 comment:

Comment1 said...

They also look quite a lot like mad and possibly evil scientists. Cool!