It’s A Tough Life Out There

We independently evaluate all recommended products and services. If you click on links we provide, we may receive compensation.

I’m sure you have seen many television nature specials which were “red in tooth and claw” as nature is sometimes described. Perhaps you have personally seen a hawk or falcon pursue and snatch its prey. My most visit memory is that of watching a mature Golden Eagle pursue and carry off, a jackrabbit from a dry winter rice field. It was pretty harrowing.

On another side of this coin are vultures who mainly pursue dead and dying animals, picking their bones clean. The predators, whether preying on the healthy or the decaying, are rarely subject to predation themselves. I mean, who kills hawks or vultures for food? Oh, I suppose the occasional coyote, wolf, or mountain lion does, but the birds have a distinct advantage that allows them to readily escape, their wings.

Nature, as is its wont, sometimes surprises us. Look at the photos below. Not good quality, but pretty amazing. A Montana rancher was out checking his cattle when he came across the carcass of a deer that was killed by a cougar. Picking the scraps of meat off the bones was a lone Turkey Vulture.

Black Vultures and deer

Then (hum the theme from Jaws here) the eagle attacks the Turkey Vulture and kills it. If that wasn’t shocking enough, the eagle proceeds to eat the vulture! I’ve googled this phenomenon and there are references to eagles and vultures competing, I have not found anything like what I describe here. Maybe someone has but I haven’t discovered any instances.

We know that a vulture is pretty immune to whatever nasty microrganisms lurk in the bodies of their rotting prey.  But what about the animals that might prey on a vulture? Researchers in one study “found that vultures are laden with flesh-degrading Fusobacteria and poisonous Clostridia. As bacteria decompose a dead body, they excrete toxic chemicals that make the carcass a perilous meal for most animals.” So who knows what after effects the eagle suffered after eating the vulture.

Thanks to Bob Eckhardt of Eagle Rock Ranch, Montana, for the photos.

5 thoughts on “It’s A Tough Life Out There”

  1. I never imagined an eagle making a meal out a vulture. Since eagles often scavenge (at least Baldies), I wonder if the proventricular stomach has an exceptionally low pH in eagles as well as vultures, not for digestion but sterilization

  2. People often ask us if vultures will eat another dead vulture. Do you have any information on that?

    This was an awesome and unusual interaction. Thanks for sharing it.

    1. I don’t see any reason a vulture wouldn’t eat another dead vulture. I haven’t found proof of this but if you check Google Scholar for vulture cannibalism, there are several examples.

  3. Pingback: The Predation-Hunger Tradeoff – Ornithology - Specialpets

  4. Pingback: The Predation-Starvation Tradeoff – Ornithology

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.