The Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), also known as the bearded vulture, is an old world vulture living at very high altitudes across Europe, Africa, and Asia. They mostly live at or above the tree line of their given area, for instance, this would be about 16,000 feet above sea level in central Asia. They have even been recorded at altitudes up to 24,000 feet up in the great heights of Mount Everest! Those are some cold birds!
What is interesting about these vultures in particular is that 85-90 percent of their diet is bones, which they break by flying up high and dropping them on the rocks below to get at the marrow inside. Because of this, they used to have the name Ossifrage, which means “bone breaker”. They will occasionally also take small live prey that is killed with the same technique used to break bones, or by beating it to death with their wings.
Lammergeiers are very large birds with wingspans up to a little over 9 feet and weighing an average of almost 14 pounds! Here is a good comparison from Google Images to show just how big these guys are. The individual in the photo is a juvenile because of its very dark plumage.
As you can see from the pictures, these are exquisitely beautiful birds and it’s a shame that they are not often thought of when someone says “vulture”. The very word is associated with anything from death, uncleanliness, disgusting habits, to pure ugliness. So it’s nice we have the lammergeier around to disprove some of those assumptions.
1. Tenenzapf, J. 2011. “Gypaetus barbatus” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 18, 2015 at http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Gypaetus_barbatus/
2. “Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus)” (On-line), Arkive. Accessed April 18, 2015 at http://www.arkive.org/lammergeier/gypaetus-barbatus/