Do Vultures Attack Humans? 

Owing to its enormous size and its role as a scavenger, a vulture seems anything but encouraging. Despite such eerie appearances, a vulture is quite a harmless bird. It tends to feed primarily on the dead or almost dead creatures. In fact,

Among raptors, vultures are the least likely to attack any human.

Still, people wonder,

Do Vultures Eat Humans?

Only the dead ones.

You see, vultures are extremely clever birds.

They hover above a dead body for hours, just to ensure that it’s not moving a single inch.

Despite this effort, only a few vultures descend to confirm that their victim is indeed dead. 

Though few species sometimes hunt for small live prey.

However, they prefer weak, sick, or near dead prey. 

Therefore,

It seems highly unlikely that a vulture would even try to eat a healthy human.

Besides, humans are relatively large prey with superior intelligence.

And so, it is a lot harder to catch a live human than any dead animal. 

The only vulture attack reported on a live human was on an Athenian dramatist Aeschylus.

Apparently, a lammergeier dropped a tortoise on Aeschylus’s bald head, mistaking it for a stone.

Thereby, accidentally killing him. 

However, historians suggest that it may have been a fabricated story written by a later comic writer. 

No authentic ‘vulture attacking a live human’ incidents have ever been reported.

Have a read of my article about vultures and if they are dangerous – Are Vultures dangerous?

This implication leads to the question:

Can Vultures Even Eat Live Humans?

Seemingly, they cannot.

No doubt, a vulture can cause significant damage to any human by using its beak.

However, 

Even a group of vultures would rather stare at a human than attack one.  

The precise reason is still unknown.

However, scientists theorize the following explanations:

1. Weak Feet

Nearly all birds of prey use their strong muscular legs to crush their victims.

However, vultures have flat feet with blunt talons. 

Consequently, they can use their feet only to walk or hop around.

And so,

Even if a vulture decides to hunt a live human, it will be unable to grab hold of the victim.

2. Motivation

In the wild, a fresh kill is like an easy treat.

Therefore, most animals steal prey from the already exhausted predators, rather than catching their own food. 

Furthermore, there is only a handful of scavengers around. 

Competition for a fresh kill is far higher than that for a rotting carcass. 

So, vultures don’t really need to go through the trouble of hunting a live animal, much less a human. 

3. Size

Though vultures can eat even the dead elephants.

But, If it comes to hunting, vultures would rather eat a scrawny rat than a near-dead human. 

Perhaps, it’s because humans have exploited vultures for their own survival.

For instance, people going through extreme starvation may pretend to be dead.

And then, grab onto an expectant vulture to eat it. 

4. Shyness

Perhaps, vultures don’t eat live humans or animals because they are simply shy. 

That explains, why vultures stay at least 10 feet away from all other animals. 

Despite all that, vultures are oddly drawn to human societies.

That may be because humans always have a steady stream of rotting food waste. 

Or, perhaps it’s to eat human remains. 

Do Vultures Carry Diseases?

Potentially, they do.

It’s because vultures eat carrion, and the dead bodies are like pots brewing with disease and infectious agents.

Then again, 

Vultures restrict the spread of disease by consuming the rotting carcasses.

And so, vultures act as a biological barrier between us humans and massive disease breakouts.

Besides, vulture bodies have adapted to survive against potential diseases.

Mostly, because of the following

  1. Vultures have exceptionally corrosive stomach juices. And so, they can neutralize all sorts of biological agents like botulism, cholera, anthrax, and even rabies.
  2. Vultures have small faces and bare necks. Therefore, they can easily dip their faces inside a dead body, without getting unnecessary residues attached to them.
  3. Vultures urinate on themselves to kill microbes that accumulate on their legs while walking on the dead bodies. 
  4. Vulture eyes are protected by special membranes to survive acidic gas exposure. 
  5. Vultures have an exceptional immune system to fend off against air-borne infections.

Apart from all this, vultures preen a lot.

Also, 

Vultures tend to take frequent baths, preferably after each meal.

While this helps vultures remain clean.

However, 

Vulture may potentially spread diseases by contaminating water while drinking or bathing.

Even so, without these raptors, the nutrients would become locked up in the mounds of dead bodies.

Also, lethal diseases will spread far more often than they already do. 

For instance, in India, a decline in the vulture population led to about a 30% increase in feral dogs carrying rabies, during the last two decades. 

While you may be concerned for human health. 

Vultures are far more at risk because of humans than vice versa.

In fact, nearly all 23 existing vulture species are either endangered or threatened.

So, A fairer question would be asking,

Do Humans Attack Vultures?

They do, both intentionally or unintentionally.

Earlier, vultures were killed merely because certain societies found them gross. 

This continued until the “Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918” prohibited citizens from caging, harming, or shooting the birds of prey.

Still, human-caused air pollution resulted in calcium erosion from vulture eggshells.

Thereby, resulting in low vulture birth rates.

However, ornithologists agree that:

Most vultures have died because of toxicity from pesticides or veterinary drugs.

For instance, diclofenac is an anti-inflammatory drug given to cattle.

If a vulture eats the carcass of an animal with diclofenac, it usually ends up dying.

Similarly, DDT contamination has caused the deaths of several hundred vultures.

Sometimes animal poachers intentionally inject such drugs inside a dead animal, so that vultures die instead of hovering above the dead body.

This way, they easily evade trackers from catching onto them.

This is most common among elephants.

In 2015, about 450 vultures were found dead near an adulterated elephant carcass. 

Vultures also die from lead poisoning.

This happens when vultures eat an animal killed using a lead bullet.

And so, hunting for mere entertainment has also killed thousands of vultures, indirectly. 

Auto collisions and electrocution accidents have also killed a significant number of vultures.

On top of all that, vulture meat bush markets have also played a significant role in vulture deaths.

Because

Vulture meat is in high demand for necromancy and witchcraft.

Do Vultures Attack Humans

Figure 1: Vulture Attacks on Humans vs. Human Attacks on Vultures.

Though there are several ongoing vulture-conservation plans.

However, the vulture population is still declining. 

We need a coherent effort from the masses, to save the vultures from dying any further.

Related article you may find interesting – Do vultures eat live animals?

Wrapping Up 

Despite their seemingly threatening looks, vultures don’t attack humans or even children for that matter.

However, they do eat human remains.

This essentially restricts the spread of diseases.

However, vultures tend to take frequent baths, and may accidentally contaminate drinking waters.

If you are concerned, know that vultures are far more at risk from human attacks than otherwise.

Related articles you may be interested in

Do vultures attack dogs?

Why do vultures circle? 

Do Vultures Eat Dead Vultures?

If you are wondering do vultures eat human remains then carry on reading

I kept this at the end because it is gruesome

Caution: If you are interested in the details of “How a Vulture Would Eat Human Remains”, only then proceed further.

Otherwise, you don’t need to read this part

Do Vultures Eat Human Remains?

They most certainly do.

This is precisely why vultures wait on the peripheries of a battlefield.

Furthermore, in the Buddhist tradition, vultures play a vital role in sky burials.

On average, a vulture waits about 27 hours before jumping onto a human corpse.

However, vultures have been reported to eat corpses older than a month. 

In another study, vultures ate a pig carcass well after 37 days.

But the delay was associated with constant rains removing the scent of death.

How Do Vultures Eat Human Remains?

Now, a human body has moderately thick skin. And so, the only regions for any soft opening would be either eyes, groin, or anus. Here is how it usually goes,

  1. If there is a laceration or a wound, then vultures would start eating from that opening.
  2. Otherwise, the vultures initiate scavenging from human eyes. Typically, it is followed by tongue ripping and a search for brain grey matter. However,

A human skull is strong enough to resist vultures bites for hours. 

  1. To pick out brains, vultures try to poke through the human neck, ending up consuming the cranial vertebra. 
  2. Sometimes, a vulture would get lucky enough to reach the brain portion, while poking through the nasal cavity.  Otherwise, they will have to wait for it to come out through degradation, or break the mandible.
  3. In the meantime, vultures start looking for some other opening and end up around the anal region. Usually, they try to work up their way to look for connective tissue remains. And so, they end up eating all the vertebra aside from the lumber region.
  4. During this exploratory process, vultures also eat through the groin region. 

Intervention after this point gives inconclusive forensic results. Mainly because the human remains are too mutilated to be identified as a sexual crime or sadistic assault.

  1. Lastly comes the belly portion, often bloated because of the continuous microbial activity. And so, a small poke leads to the abdomen bursting and eviscerating the entire human entrails. 
  2. This single event typically leads to a frenzy of vultures, that pick the entire skeleton clean within 4-5 hours.
  3. After eating the flesh, vultures try to crack open the remaining bones. Classically, this involves the vultures flying at heights greater than 260 feet and throwing down the bones.  

Most vultures only eat the bone marrow portion. However, vultures like Andean Condor and bearded vultures, tend to engulf even the broken bone pieces.

But this struggle to eat bone marrows often leads to the spreading of human remains. And so,

Human bones are often found around 100miles2 area, surrounding the original dead body site.

Going through one dead body after another, vultures are bound to get exposed to various infectious agents.