Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A conspicuous feature of Costa Rican skies are the almost ever-present vultures. We saw three of the four species recorded in the country, with Turkey Vulture and Black Vulture proving incredibly common. The Turkey Vultures were typically low in the sky and often over forest. This is because Turkey Vultures use scent to detect their carrion food. The Black Vultures were more common over open areas and often at high altitude, as would be expected of a scavenger that uses sight to locate food.

The larger Black Vulture will force Turkey Vultures away from carrion if there isn't enough to go around (c) Richard Brown

Turkey Vultures were abundant virtually everywhere we went (c) Giselle Eagle

The only King Vulture we saw during our trip. Whereas the species above are migratory, this species is a resident of tropical lowland forest (c) Richard Brown

There is some debate as to how the King Vulture locates carrion. This individual was very high and was probably on the look out for other vultures showing signs of having detected a meal. But some studies have recorded King Vultures finding carrion in forested areas without the aid of other vultures, perhaps indicative of some olfactory capabilities. 

It is uncertain where the name King Vulture originates but two theories predominate. Excluding the two condors, King Vultures are the largest New World vultures and will displace the smaller vultures from a carcass; they are thus King of the Castle. But the name perhaps originates in Mayan legend where the bird was a king who served as a mediator between humans and the gods.

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