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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Vulture

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The name of certain birds whose best-known characteristic is that of feeding upon carcases. The genus Vultur, as instituted by Linnaeus, is now restricted by ornithologists to a single species, V. monachus. The other species included therein by him, or thereto referred by succeeding systematists, being elsewhere relegated (see Lammergeyer). A most important taxonomic change was introduced by T. H. Huxley ( Proc. Zool. Society, 1867, pp. 462-64), who pointed out the complete structural difference between the vultures of the New World and those of the Old, regarding the former as constituting a distinct family, Cathartidae (which, however, would be more properly named Sarcorhamphidae), while he united the latter with the ordinary diurnal birds of prey as Gypaetidae.

The American vulture may be said to include four genera: (I) Sarcorhamphus, the gigantic condor, the male distinguished by a large fleshy comb and wattle; (2) Gypagus, the kingvulture, with its gaudily coloured head and nasal caruncle; King-Vulture ( Gypagus papa). ( 3) Catharista, containing the so-called turkey-buzzard with its allies; and (4) Pseudogryphus, the great Californian vulture - of very limited range on the western slopes of North America. Though all these birds are structurally different from the true vultures of the Old World, in habits the Vulturidae and Sarcorhamphidae are much alike.

The true vultures of the Old World, Vulturidae in the restricted sense, are generally divided into five or six genera, of which Neophron has been separated as forming a distinct subfamily, Neophroninae - its members, of comparatively small size, differing both in structure and habit considerably from the rest. One of them is the so-called Egyptian vulture or Pharaoh's hen, N. percnopterus, a remarkably foul-feeding species, living much on ordure. It is a well-known species in some parts of India,' and thence westward to Africa, where 1 In the eastern part of the Indian peninsula it is replaced by a smaller race or (according to some authorities) species, N. ginginianus, which has a yellow instead of a black bill.

it has an extensive range. It also occurs on the northern shores of the Mediterranean, and has strayed to such a distance as to have suffered capture in England and even in Norway. Of the genera composing the other subfamily, Vulturinae, Gyps numbers seven or eight local species and races, on more than one of which the English name griffon has been fastened. The best known is G. fulvus, which by some authors is accounted "British" from an example having been taken in Ireland, though under circumstances which suggest its appearance so far from its nearest home in Spain to be due to man's intervention. The species, however, has a wider distribution on the European continent (especially towards the north-east) than the Egyptian vulture, and in Africa nearly reaches the Equator, extending also in Asia to the Himalaya; but both in the Ethiopian and Indian regions its range inosculates with that of several allied forms or species. Pseudogyps with two forms - one Indian, the other African - differs from Gyps by having 12 instead of 14 rectrices. Of the genera Otogyps and Loplwgyps nothing here need be said; and then we have Vultur, with, as mentioned before, its sole representative, V. monachus, commonly known as the cinereous vulture, a bird which is found from the Straits of Gibraltar to the seacoast of China. Almost all these birds inhabit rocky cliffs, on the ledges of which they build their nests.

The question whether vultures in their search for food are guided by sight of the object or by its scent has excited much interest. It seems to be now generally admitted that the sense of sight is in almost every case sufficient to account for the observed facts. (A. N.)


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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Vulture'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/bri/v/vulture.html. 1910.

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