Impurest's Guide to Animals #163 - Palm Nut Vulture

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ImpurestCheese

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Edited By ImpurestCheese

February becomes March, and the winter weather still fails to vacate the British Isles. As winter fails to leave our shores we fondly remember last week’s issue featuring the Glass Catfish. This week we meet a bird of prey with a seemingly unique portion of its diet, hope you guys enjoy. _________________________________________________________________

Issue #163 – Palm-Nut Vulture

[1]
[1]

Kingdom – Animalia

Phylum – Chordata

Class – Aves

Order – Acciptiriformes

Family – Acciptitridae

Genus – Gypohierax

Species – angolensis

Related Species - The Palm Nut Vulture is the only member of the genus Gypohierax

Range

[2]
[2]

Not your average Culture Vulture

The Palm Nut Vulture is among the smallest of the old world vultures, with a body length of 60cm and a wingspan of 150cm. This species of vulture has white plumages with the exception of the dark feathers on the tips of the wing. Unlike the majority of other vulture species, the Palm Nut Vulture’s head is completely feathered save for a dark red patch of skin around the eyes. Like the rest of its kin, the Palm Nut Vulture has no feathers on its feet, a feature shared by other birds of prey that feed on carrion or catch fish and other aquatic animals. The Palm Nut Vulture is a powerful filer, and flies predominantly via powered flight, then by soaring on thermal updrafts like larger vultures.

[3]
[3]

Unlike many other birds of prey the Palm Nut Vulture is an omnivore, with around half of its diet consisting of the fruit of the oil palm (Elaeis sp), and can even feed on this resource when hanging upside down from a branch. The remainder of its diet consists of bats, fish and crabs, something that accounts for the bird’s alternate name, the Vulturine Fish Eagle (2). This species only occasionally can be found feeding on carrion when food is scarce, and is often the last species of vulture to gain access to a corpse due to its small size.

Palm Nut Vultures display to their mates in a synchronised flight by rolling and diving from to show off their strength and speed. The pair of vultures then create a large scruffy nest in the boughs of a tree before laying a single egg, something that both the parents incubate until it hatches (3). After three months the vulture chick fledges, and then leaves the nest to find its own food, becoming sexually mature after four years, where their brown feathers become the white plumage of the adults.

CSI Ecology: The Case of the Dead Vulture

[4]
[4]

The ‘Victim’

The Victim is an adult female Lappet-Faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) found a few meters away from the body of a dead African Elephant (Loxodonta africana). There are no visible wounds on the vulture, and while fairly old, she seems to have been in good health prior to her death, showing no signs of disease, and pristine plumage albeit a little bloody presumably from feeding on the elephant.

It should be noted that the elephant itself appears to have been killed by poachers due to the sawn off tusks, gunshot to the head and the pair of poison tipped arrows shot into its flank.

The ‘Crime Scene’

The body of the dead African Elephant takes up much of the glade in the scrubby savannah where the two animals died. The body of the elephant is not yet badly decomposed, and has been here for a few days. Signs of at least two vehicles including spilled fuel and tyre tracks are visible, showing signs that humans, possibly poachers, have been in the area. The only other significant feature is an acacia tree that has been damaged, possibly by the elephant as it tried to flee from its killers.

‘Witnesses’

As with any corpse left in the African Savanah there are signs of multiple scavengers having visited the body of the elephant. Tracks indicate that lions (Panthera leo) jackals, hyenas, marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer) and monitor lizards have all been in the area, and bite wounds correlating to all said species are evident on the elephant. In addition the sky overhead features vultures circling over the body, with the birds waiting patiently for you to leave.

In addition to these predators it should be noted that humans in the form of poachers, have been in the area. As well as these signs the shed skin of a green mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps) was found near the broken acacia tree, suggesting that the snake may have been taking refuge inside before it was uprooted.

Suspects

After much detective work we’ve narrowed down the cause of the vulture’s death to one (or more) of the following causes;

a) The poison on the arrows that killed the elephant contaminated the body, killing the vulture when it fed on the body.

b) The vulture died after its stomach burst from overfeeding on the body of the elephant.

c) The vulture came across the green mamba after it finished feeding and was bitten on the leg, quickly succumbing to the serpent’s venom.

d) The vulture accidently drunk from the pool of spilled petrol and was poisoned by the chemicals found in the fuel.

e) The vulture was old, after feeding she fell asleep and died peacefully

f) The poachers deliberately poisoned the corpse of the elephant with insecticide to kill vultures, due to the birds presence potentially alerting park rangers.

The answer to this question will be supplied next week.

Bibliography

1 -www.arkive.org

2 - Mikula, P.; Morelli, F.; Lučan, R. K.; Jones, D. N.; Tryjanowski, P. (2016). "Bats as prey of diurnal birds: a global perspective".Mammal Review

3 - Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World. Christopher Helm, London

Picture References

1 - http://www.hbw.com/sites/default/files/styles/ibc_2k/public/ibc/p/Palm-nut_Vulture_perched.jpg?itok=KCuz4Xsf

2 - http://www.planetofbirds.com/Master/ACCIPITRIFORMES/Accipitridae/maps/Palm-nut%20Vulture.jpg

3 - http://cdn2.arkive.org/media/98/98DC4890-C832-4F22-A0F3-95012F15F5D0/Presentation.Large/Female-palm-nut-vulture-with-palm-fruit.jpg

4 - http://d2qtpn53ex22nh.cloudfront.net/uploads/gallery/lappet-faced-vulture_gallery_1_1.jpg

Well this is a mystery to be sure. Next week things become a little clearer as we hunt down a familiar riparian predator. But until then make sure to critic, comment and suggest future issues as well as making sure you check past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary

Many Thanks

Impurest Cheese

Want more IGTA? For a tougher, altogether meaner looking vulture, click here to see the lordly Lammergeyer. Or to see an eagle with a taste for small children, click here to meet the awesome African Crowned Eagle.

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IceDemonKing

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Cool, i'll be back to read this

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amazing_webhead

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a vulture that looks like a hawk

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dshipp17

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Very interesting that it's the only member of Gypohierax; could explain the reason that's it's the only omnivore of this group of birds.

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ImpurestCheese

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@amazing_webhead: Yep, kind of looks that way

@dshipp17: It might just be the reason, it's kind of on its own in the vulture sub family, no one seems to be closely related to it.

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CaptainMarvel4Ever

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Super cool, you ever read Beak of the Finch?

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Toratorn

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A non-bald vulture that's not a total predator/scavenger... Well that's weird, like that species of spiders that are herbivorous.

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ImpurestCheese

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@captainmarvel4ever: I have, it was required reading for the evolutionary biology module at Uni. Also thanks for the comment

@toratorn: A few vultures aren't bald, but they are all still scavengers/predators that specalise in cracking open eggs, bones and tortoises. And yes it is like Bagheera kiplingi in the fact that it's the odd man of it's family.

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deactivated-5b5405244e89c

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What a Nutty bird : P

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ImpurestCheese

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@bella_blackstar: They are indeed, albeit the smart kind of nutty. Unlike other species of raptor they tame easily and can be taught to recognise specific shapes and colours, things most raptors have a hard time doung.

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Pipxeroth

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Is f) something that like, actually happens? Because that's really clever (and horrible)

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CaptainMarvel4Ever

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@impurestcheese: Cool, guess that means I'm at least reading the stuff I should

I was just thinking about the part where it talks about how a bird's beak is it's whole life, and how the one function it serves defines it

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@bella_blackstar: Thanks ☺

@pipxeroth: Does it sound like something caperble of being done by humans?

@captainmarvel4ever: For the Galapagos Finches it is. Nature is red in tooth and claw, never giving it's creatures a second chance. You either adapt or perish.

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IceDemonKing

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That bird looks messed up and don't ever say "culture vulture" again it's just plain odd

but jokes aside great blog

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#16  Edited By ImpurestCheese

@jaycool2: What's wrong with loving the arts?

Thanks for the comment

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IceDemonKing

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@impurestcheese: because i said so, and i am your god. So bow to me mortal

*cue evil laugh*

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Green_Tea

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Great post as usual Cheese?

Any other birds that you're fascinated by?

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deactivated-5985fc66e80f9

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Interesting post. I learned quite a bit. Thank you for the good read. :)

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ImpurestCheese

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@jaycool2: Nope not buying it.

@solid_snake97: Thanks, it's most birds to be honest although the Greater Roadrunner, Pied Wagtail and European Magpie are my favourites.

@midnightseraph: No problem thanks for the comment.

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@impurestcheese: What do i need to do to prove it too you? I can do almost anything since i'm a god.

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ImpurestCheese

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@jaycool2: I'm a scientist, there really is nothing you can do.

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IceDemonKing

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@impurestcheese: Really? Alright then mortal listen now and listen well.

"Pay heed. For 9 days hence you shall be smite by a bolt of lightning so great it shall trump any bolt of lightning ever seen on this planet before."

Jokes aside, you're a scientist? what's your field? Is it biology?

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ImpurestCheese

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@jaycool2: I have an ScD in Ecology among other things.

Also having been stabbed, envenomated by an Indian Cobra and a Giant Centipede, survived Septercimia and now have my cancer in remission I'm willing to take that 'bolt of lightning'.

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IceDemonKing

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@impurestcheese: Oh... Well that degree seems pretty cool...

And may I say that you are very tough to have taken all of that.

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Anna_Karenina

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Another amazing post, Impurest! You got me really curious about the vulture's death.

Btw... I don't know why, but I always thought vultures were members of the Falconiformes order. Aves were never my thing, though. I only know them superficially.

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ImpurestCheese

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@jaycool2: It all comes from being an ecologist.

@anna_karenina: The vultute's death is based on a real harrowing find. As for the taxonomic identification, that's not too hard to see why anyone would think that, especially considering the New World Vultures

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deactivated-5d2b83d5a0d79

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@impurestcheese: How much do you know about animals? I have a question for you. (Trying to jog my memory about a bird I saw a while back)

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FicOPedia

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laflux

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Very interesting :)

Completely stumped on the mystery btw :)

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ImpurestCheese

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@farkam: It comes down to a lot of reaserch coupled with what I learnt from uni and my job as an ecologist.

@ficopedia: @laflux: Worry not the answer will be revealed soon. Thanks for the comment(s) both of you

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#32  Edited By HeroUp2112

Very cool article on an unusual animal. Just so i can't say later "Ah! That's exactly what i THOUGHT it was!" I'm choosing d.

Most of them are semi likely except (I think).

  • a. and f. are unlikely because the different poisons would likely have affected the other predators/scavengers (particularly the other vultures).
  • e. Is certainly possible, though my GUESS is that the description of the vulture leads us to believe the the bird is healthy and unexpected to be dead of any cause that can be seen externally...I assume...including age.
  • c. I think is unlikely because the description of the dead vulture also doesn't include any description of any other blood or damage (to include bite marks) other than "a little blood presumably from feeding on the elephant". if this was left indistinct to leave room for snake bite evidence, then please disregard this.
  • IF these are correct only b. and d. are left. Pretty much only my gut is making me choose d. I think there is enough evidence to suggest both, though my gut tells me that a vulture would know when to stop before it killed myself...unless there's some factor I just don't know about that would make this not the case. :)
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XLR87T3

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Does it hunt at all?

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ImpurestCheese

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@heroup2112: Nice analysis of the options, thanks for the comment

@xlr87t3: It hunts fish and catches bats on the wing

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Amendment50

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@impurestcheese said:

Also having been stabbed, envenomated by an Indian Cobra and a Giant Centipede, survived Septercimia and now have my cancer in remission I'm willing to take that 'bolt of lightning'.

O_o damn man you are metal as hell

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mysticmedivh

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Looks cool.

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ImpurestCheese

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@amendment50: Ha thanks, I blame years of cross country in the highlands, women's rugby and free diving for my physical resistance.

Well that and having the higher pain tolerance that comes from being a redhead.

@mysticmedivh: Cool thanks for the comment

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@farkam: It comes down to a lot of reaserch coupled with what I learnt from uni and my job as an ecologist.

@ficopedia: @laflux: Worry not the answer will be revealed soon. Thanks for the comment(s) both of you

I'll drop you a PM.

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deactivated-097092725

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Very interesting animal, particularly its colouring. Unique framing around the eyes, as well.

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@ms-lola: The eye framing is probably an evolutionary call back to its scavenging ancestors, some of the other non scavenging vultures have it as well