Unlike other birds of prey, vultures lack the hunting skills to catch live prey.
However, they have adapted to eat all sorts of rotting materials, without contracting any infections.
And so, vultures have become scavengers that consume carrion as their staple diet.
So the answer to the question – Do vultures eat dead vultures is..
Vultures eat all kinds of dead animals, even if it means devouring dead vultures.
Do Buzzards Eat Other Dead Buzzards?
That depends on which bird you are referring to as a “Buzzard”.
You see, the term “buzzards” is casually used for various raptors.
But, mostly it refers to either hawks or vultures, primarily based on their geographical location.
For instance, in North America, “buzzards” refer to vultures, especially the Turkey Vultures (often called Turkey Buzzards).
While elsewhere in the world, Hawks are called the Buzzards, mainly the Red-Tailed Hawks.
Even so, these two species are quite distinct from each other (as shown in figure1).
Figure 1: Buzzards – A general term for Hawks and Vultures
While bigger hawks do hunt smaller hawks of other species.
However, most hawks would not even come near the sick, much less dead hawks.
If by buzzards you mean ‘Hawks’, then they do not eat dead buzzards.
In contrast, vultures are supposed to eat all dead animals.
In fact, up to 90% of a vulture’s diet consists of carrion.
So, eating a dead vulture is just another meal to the vultures.
That said, eating another vulture is not an ideal food for any vulture.
Well, because even vultures have certain dietary preferences.
If given a choice, a vulture would rather eat:
- Fresh kill than a decaying and maggot-ridden flesh.
- Herbivore carcass instead of a carnivore one.
- Reduced fat content and more proteins.
- Red meat instead of any other form of meat.
- Soft skin rather than hard or furry hide.
Now, vultures are scavengers that eat rotting flesh.
Their meat is not particularly fatty, but not so nutrient-rich either.
If you are what you eat, then a vulture is anything but fresh and tasty.
Vultures have not been reported to murder other vultures, even from different species.
So, perhaps vultures do form emotional attachments with their fellow birds.
Even if vultures despise eating a dead vulture, they still do so.
The motivation to eat a dead fellow is likely hunger or mere habit.
Now vultures have quite intimidating looks.
But, it is noteworthy that vultures rarely hunt live prey.
If they do, they would choose a sickly and nearly dead animal.
Check out my article – Do vultures eat live animals?
Therefore, if you were assuming them to be hunters, then you may be wondering..
Do Vultures Eat The Meat Of Dead Animals?
They most certainly do.
Now, wild animals tend to avoid even sick animals, much more the dead ones.
It’s because feral animals understand that sickness can easily spread through physical contact.
Even if a wild animal eats sick prey, it is likely to contract its infection, thereby suffering the same fate.
This is precisely why sparrows often throw out their babies that they deem infected.
However, vultures can eat several months-old rotten carcasses.
Considering all this, a more appropriate question would be asking:
How Do Vultures Survive Eating The Meat Of Dead Animals?
Because they have exclusive adaptations to avoid infectious agents.
You see, vultures are the only land-based obligate scavengers.
They have evolved to become specialists in eating mainly the carcasses.
An exception to this rule is Palm-Nut vultures that usually eat fleshy husks of palm fruits from Raffia Palm.
But even these vultures can eat dead crabs and fish without getting sick.
Here are the main evolutionary adaptations that help vultures eat the dead:
|Chicken-Like Feet||Elongated straight toes with blunt talons.||Allows walking or hopping, on all sorts of dead bodies without getting stuck.||Lack of gripping abilities and crushing strength; Cannot be used for hunting as in other raptors.|
|Bare Heads and Necks||Small featherless faces with elongated necks.||Allow dipping into all sorts of rotting flesh without getting residual meat stuck to them.||Must physically retract their necks to avoid getting cold.|
|Eye Membrane||An inner eye covering to avoid acidic decay gases from infecting the eyes.||Allows deep exploration of the dead bodies.||Requires frequent bathing for maintenance.|
|Ears||Streamlines to their faces.||Meat does not get inside ears.
Helps in searching carcasses by hearing other scavengers eat.
|Feathers||Broad thick feathers with wingspans up to 3.3 meters.||Allow reaching heights as much as 40,000 feet. Thereby, help in scanning vast territories for the dead bodies or for tracking other scavengers.||Clumsy and rugged appearance; Need frequent preening.
Can only sit on the ground or featherless trees, otherwise get tangled in leaves.
Cannot fly fast enough through mere fluttering.
|Beaks||Long hooked with sharp edges.||Allow tearing off meat from bones in bite-sized chucks.||Not sharp enough to poke holes through all sorts of hides, may need to wait for a dead body to soften down via decay.
Sometimes must wait for another scavenger to tear open the skin.
|Sense of Smell||Nostrils designed to maximize breathing air; Olfactory nerves developed enough to heighten the sense of smell.||Allows smelling decay gases from hundreds of miles away. Thereby, giving the location of a carcass.||Sense of smell is only developed in certain New World Vultures.|
|Eyesight||Developed optical nerves in nearly all vultures.||Allow observing the slightest of changes in movement, or detection of carcasses from afar.||Most developed in Old World Vultures.|
|Digestive Adaptations||Holds corrosive stomach acids of pH less than 1.
Can Hold food in Crop.
|Stomach acid kills off natural infections and toxins, including:
Botulism, Anthrax, Rabies, Distemper and Cholera.
|Digestive juices are corrosive enough to dissolve lead bullets, causing death through lead poisoning.|
|Sanitizing Urine||Urinate on themselves (Urohyrdosis).||Allows thermoregulation.||Coats the feet in white color and gives a distinct odor to vultures.|
|Immune system||Body’s natural defense system.||Can fight off most natural infections.||Not adaptable enough to resist veterinary medicines like Dicloflec or pesticides such as DDT.|
|Respiration System||Efficient enough to work in low air pressure.||Can breathe on great heights.||Get more affected by airborne pollution.|
Apart from all these, vultures often cleanse themselves through frequent bathing and preening each other, so that no skin-borne infection can get through.
However, a bathing vulture is often vulnerable and can get eaten by alligators.
You may be awed, wondering,
What Eats a Dead Vulture?
Usually, whoever has no choice between dying or eating a dead vulture.
Of course, no sane animal eats vulture as a staple diet.
However, even lions or leopards may hunt a vulture if it’s the only breathing animal left.
Again, such cases are rare.
Most would rather eat something else.
Normally, only vultures tend to eat dead vultures.
But if we are counting all those animals that may potentially eat a vulture, then here is a list:
|Vulture Predator||Common Reason||Hunting Style||Remarks|
|Vultures||Because the dead must be eaten.||Don’t hunt vultures.||Vultures can live up to 50 years. So, dead vultures are usually Road-kills or poisoned vultures.|
|Birds of Prey
(Mainly Eagles but sometimes Hawks)
|Inability to find adequate prey.||Swoops from above with talons outstretched, breaking vulture necks.||Mostly happens when a vulture is alone on the ground.
Can sometimes eat baby vultures.
|Crocodiles||Eat everything that comes near enough.||Pretend to be dead, or hides underwater plants. Grasp vultures when they come within their range.||Mostly happens when vultures are bathing or drinking water.|
|Snakes||Surviving Hunger.||May grab a vulture feasting on carrion.||Happens in deserts when food is scarce.|
(Mostly Lions, Puma, and Snow Leopards)
|Surviving the wild and hunger.||Hide around a carcass and wait for the vulture to swoop down, then pounce and eat.||Happens during drought, when eating a fresh vulture is a better option than carrion.|
(Wolves, Pack Hounds, foxes, and Jackals)
|Fight over carrion.||May eat vulture babies, some steal eggs but mostly chase in packs.||Rarely happens, but mostly in harsh conditions.|
|Humans||Surviving Hunger.||Pretend to be dead and grab the vulture whenever it lands.||Happens in deserts accidents.|
Vultures have various adaptions to resist infection.
Therefore, they can eat all sorts of dead and rotting animals.
And so, eating a dead vulture is just another meal for vultures.
That said, vultures rarely hunt for live prey as they don’t have much hunting skills.
While vultures seem intimidating and most animals avoid them. (Check out my article – Are Vultures dangerous?)
But they are harmless raptors and if it comes to starvation, several animals can eat a dead vulture.
Related articles about vultures which may be of interest in you so do check them out!