The Egyptian Vulture is one of thebest scavenger birds, not only devouring carcases of dead animals, but feeding on most types of offal or garbage. It often wanders about the streets of villages, and may generally be found investigating the heaps of refuse which are left. Indeed, its teeth and claws are much too feeble to enable it cope with the true vultures in tearing up a large carcase, and in consequence it never really associates with them, although it may be seen hovering near them, and it never ventures to feed in their company, keeping at a respectful distance while they are eating, and, when they retire, humbly making a meal on the scraps which they have left.
The 19th century English scholar, Mr Henry
Baker Tristram narrates an amusing instance of this trait of character.
"On a subsequent occasion, on the north side of Hermon, we observed
the griffons teaching a lesson of patience to the inferior scavengers.
A long row of Egyptian vultures were sitting on some rocks, sointently
watching a spot in a cornfield that they took no notice of our approach.
Creeping cautiously near, we watchd a score of griffons busily engaged
in turning ovr a dead horse, one side of which they had already reduce
to a skeleton.
Thier united efforts had just effected
this, when we showed ourselves and they quickly retired. The inferior
birds, who dreaded us much less than them, at once darted to the repast,
and, utterly regardless of our presence within ten yards of them, began
to gorge. We had hardly retired two hundred yards, when the griffons came
down with a swoop, and the Egyptian vultures and a pair or two of eagles
hurriedly resumed their post of observation; while some black kites remained,
and contrived by their superior agility to filch a few morsels from their
It not only eats dead animal Substances,
but kills and devours great quantities of rats, mice, lizards, and other
pests that swarm in hot countries. So tame is it, that it may even be observed,
like the gull and the rook of our own country, following farmers as they
plough up the ground, and examining the furrows for the purpose of picking
up the worms, grubs, and similar creatures that are disturbed.
Indeed, it is so utterly fearless with
regard to human beings, that it has been seen to follow travelling caravan
processions along their way as they pass from one town to another, for
the sake of feeding on the refuse food and other offal which is thrown
aside on the road.
Two articles of diet which certainly do
not seem to fall within the ordinary range of vultures' food are consumed by this bird. The first is the egg of the ostrich, the shell
of which is too hard to be broken by the feeble beak of the Egyptian Vulture.
The bird cannot, like the lammergeier,
carry the egg into the air and drop it on the ground, because its feet
are not large enough to grasp it, and only slip off its round and polished
surface. Therefore, instead of raising the egg into the air and dropping
it upon a stone, it carries a stone into the air and drops it upon the
egg. This interesting behavoiur makes the Egyptian Vulture one of
the few animals which, along with man, use tools to achieve their aims.
The other article of food is a sort of
melon, which is very full of juice. This melon is called "nara",
and is devoured by various creatures, such as lions, leopards, mice, ostriches,
etc, and seems to serve them instead of drink.