Vultures Use Power Lines to Expand Range

ENVIRONMENT

Cape vultures in southern Africa are using expanding networks of pylons and power lines to extend their range, say scientists. The power lines also put the birds at risk for collision with overhead wires. (BBC)

Use our resources to learn all about Cape vultures.

Cape vultures, like this one flying over its native grounds in Gauteng, South Africa, are listed as a vulnerable species. This means they are not quite endangered, but still face threats such as habitat loss, poisoning, and electrocution. Photograph by NJR ZA, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Cape vultures, like this one flying over its native grounds in Gauteng, South Africa, are listed as a vulnerable species. This means they are not quite endangered, but still face threats such as habitat loss, poisoning, and electrocution.
Photograph by NJR ZA, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Discussion Ideas

  • Look at the gorgeous photo of a Cape vulture above. Now look at our “bald and beautiful” image of a California condor. Do you think condors and vultures are related species? Why?
    • You bet they are! Cape vultures and California condors, separated by an ocean (the Atlantic) and two continents (the Americas) actually look a lot alike! Condors are a type of vulture—a large bird that mostly feeds on carrion, or dead animals. Their similar physical characteristics serve the same purposes.
      • Both birds have bald heads—no feathers! When they eat, the birds often insert their entire heads into the belly of a carcass, which is full of harmful bacteria. The birds’ lack of feathers keeps bacteria and rotting, decomposing flesh from sticking to their heads.
      • Both birds have big, strong beaks. They need to be, in order to tear through the leathery skin and tough bones of the carcasses they eat.
  • Watch our terrific Wild Chronicles video on Cape vultures. The video explains one of the chief threats to the vulture population mentioned in the BBC article: poisoning. Why are Cape vultures being poisoned in such large numbers?
    • It’s accidental and illegal. Farmers are lacing the carcasses of some animals with poison in order to eliminate jackals, not vultures. Jackals not only eat carcasses, but actively hunt livestock. This threatens farmers’ economic livelihood. Vultures, which usually pose no real threat to livestock, are accidentally poisoned when they consume the carrion.
  • The BBC article says southern Africa’s expanding system of power lines is bringing “mixed fortunes” (both positive and negative consequences) to the region’s Cape vulture population. What is a positive consequence of the power-line network? What is a negative consequence?
    • Positive: The birds are expanding their species range by using the pylons (towers) of power lines as roosting and perching stops. Researchers discovered that the vultures are flying 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) a day.
    • Negative: The electric power lines have put more vultures at risk for electrocution if they wobble, fall, or otherwise collide with two wires.

EPA, come back, we miss you!

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