|The food of the Lammergeier (or Bearded
Vulture) is, like that of other vultures, the flesh of dead animals, though
it does not feed quite in the same manner that they do, When the ordinary
vultures have found a carcase they tear it to pieces, and soon remove all
the flesh. This having been done, the Lammergeier comes to the half-picked
bones, eats the remaining flesh from them, and finishes by breaking them
and eating the marrow. That a bird should be able to break a bone as thick
and hard as the thigh-bone of a horse or ox seems rather problematical,
but the bird achieves the feat in a simple and effectual manner.
Seizing the bone in its claws, it rises
to an immense height in the air, and then, positioning itself over a piece
of rock, it lets the bone fall, and sweeps after it with scarcely less
speed than the bone falls. If the bone is broken by the fall, the bird
picks the marrow out of the fragments; and if the bone has escaped fracture
by way of falling on a soft piece of ground instead of a hard rock, the
bird picks it up, and renews the process until it has reached its objective.
It will be seen, therefore, that its old name of Ossifrage, or Bone-breaker,
was very properly given to this bird.
The Lammergeier and Tortoises
Not only does the bird extract marrow from
bones in this peculiar manner, but it procures other articles of food by
employing precisely the same system. If it sees a tortoise, which can sometimes
found in the cemeteries which the bird often inhabits, it does not waste
time and trouble by trying to peck the shell open, but carries its prey
high in the air, drops it on the ground, and so breaks its shell to pieces.
Tortoises are often very hard-shelled creature, and the Lammergeier has
been observed to raise one of them and drop it six or seven times before
the stubborn armour would yield. Snakes, too are killed in a similar manner,
being seized by the neck, and then dropped from a height upon rocks or
hard ground. The Hooded Crow of England breaks bones and the shells of
bivalve molluscs in a similar manner.
It has been suggested, with much probability,
that the 'eagle' which mistook the bald head of the Greek poet Aeschylus
for a white stone, and killed him by dropping a tortoise upon it, was in
all likelihood a Lammergeier, the bird being an inhabitant of Greece, and
the act of tortoise-dropping being its usual mode of killing (although
usually intending to kill the tortoise itself rather than Greek poets).
We now see why the Lammergeier is furnished
with such enormous wings, and so great a power of flight, these attributes
being required in order to enable it to lift its prey to a sufficient height.
The air becomes thinner in exact proportion to the height above the earth,
and if the bird did not possess such great powers of flight, it would not
be able to carry a heavy tortoise into the thinner strata of air which
are found at the height to which it soars.