"Three things are beyond me; four I cannot fathom: How a Vulture makes its way over the sky..."
(Proverbs 30: 18-19)
The Griffon Vulture, the Bearded Vulture, the Lappet-faced Vulture and the Egyptian Vulture are all scavengers which have been making their mark on the Israeli landscape since biblical times. The Vulture is mentioned 28 times in the Bible and it served as an ancient symbol of royalty both in Mesopotamia and in Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs. Anyone who has seen flocks of vultures soaring along the top of a cliff in the Golan Heights, the Judean Desert or the Negev Desert cannot help but be impressed by their strength and beauty. Maimonides was known as "The Great Vulture" and for good reason.
These birds played an exceedingly important role as "nature's orderlies" within the food chain, preventing the spread of disease and plague, thus ancient peoples treated them with great respect.
Unfortunately, an array of causes, such as accelerated development and the destruction of wild habitats, intensive pesticide use, electrocution, low-flying helicopters, mountain climbers, direct hunting and decreasing wildlife and sheep herds throughout Israel have reduced their numbers and even led to the extinction of some of these four species. The Lappet-faced Vulture and the Bearded Vulture have become completely extinct as a nesting species in Israel, only a few dozen pairs of Egyptian Vultures continue to nest in Israel and of the 1,000 pairs of Griffon Vultures that nested here prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, only 35 nesting pairs remain in 2013.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Israel Electric Corporation and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel have partnered to try to rehabilitate Israel's Vulture and scavenger population through basic monitoring and research as well as by constructing feeding stations, preventing power line electrocutions, establishing small reproductive groups and furthering widespread educational activities in schools and among the general public.
The Griffon Vulture lives in flocks and feeds on carcasses that it is able to spot while in flight, as it flies great distances of up to 250 kilometers a day. It nests in high cliffs, living in monogamous pairs throughout its lifetime, and the female lays one single egg per year. The Griffon Vulture lives for 40 years and more. Its long featherless neck enables it to reach and eat the internal organs of the carcass while feeding.
(Torgos tracheliotus negevensis)
The Lappet-faced Vulture's wingspan can reach up to 3 meters. Some 30 pairs used to nest in the Arava and Southern Negev regions of Israel. This bird's massive beak allows it to pierce the thick skin of a camel and it is the first to reach a carcass thanks to its keen eyesight, which is ten times sharper than human eyesight. A unique sub-species, which differs from the population that nests in Africa.
The Egyptian Vulture has a distinct appearance, with its black and white coloring, diamond-shaped tail and yellow face. Its tweezers-like beak is narrow and thin, enabling it to get to areas that the Lappet-faced Vulture and the Griffon Vulture are unable to reach. Its wingspan is approximately half that of the Griffon Vulture. This species nests in nooks and crannies on the cliff face in both desert and Mediterranean areas.
The Bearded Vulture feeds on the Lappet-faced Vulture and Griffon Vultures' leftovers - the bones. Once it locates and grabs a bone, it flies high up in the air and drops it onto the rocks below in order to crack it open. It feeds on the bone fragments and marrow and has an impressive swallowing capacity (it can swallow a bone that is 30 centimeters long!). The Bearded Vulture has long bristles at the base of its beak and an extraordinary ability to fly along the soaring cliffs. Its tail resembles a stake and its narrow wings are reminiscent of a large Peregrine Falcon.
Prof. Yossi Leshem
Tel Aviv University and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel