Common names: Bearded Vulture, Lammergeier
Binomial classification: Gypaetus barbatus
Conservation status: Least Concern
Distribution: Mountainous regions throughout Europe and much of Asia and Africa.
Habitat: Mountains; any area with plentiful cliffs, precipices, crags, canyons, and gorges. Desolate areas with low populations seem to be preferred.
Description: Unlike most species of vulture, the Lammergeier does not have a bald head. Adult birds are dark grey and whitish in colour, with a wingspan of 2.31-2.83 metres (7.6-9.3 feet). The rusty colouring of the head, breast, and leg feathers is actually cosmetic, caused by dust-bathing or consumption of mineral-rich water.
Behaviour: Lammergeiers are usually silent, with the exception of shrill whistles made during breeding displays and falcon-like calls made around the nest.
They are scavengers, feeding on dead animals, but they almost invariably discard the flesh in favour of the bone marrow. They are the only living bird species to feed on bone marrow, hence their old name of Ossifrage (“bone breaker”). They can swallow whole or crack bones up to the size of a lamb femur, and have a digestive system specifically adapted to dissolving bone. Bones too large to be swallowed or cracked are dropped from heights of up to 150 metres, sometimes repeatedly, until the nutritious marrow is exposed. This is a learned skill, and mastery can take up to seven years of practice by juvenile birds.
Territorial and breeding displays between pairs of Lammergeiers are often spectacular, involving displays of talons and tumbling and spiralling while in solo flights. Often, they will lock talons and fall through the air while joined together. Nests are large heaps of sticks up to 2.5 metres in diameter, usually constructed in caves and on rocky outcrops.