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VULTURIDAE, NOT CATHARTIDAE
Ron Orenstein wrote..
> Just to clarify: there are two groups of birds called vultures. The
> Cathartidae or New World Vultures (including the two condors) are
> probably most closely related to storks,
Cathartidae is actually a junior synonym of Vulturidae. The latter
has priority, and is now coming back into widespread use. Which is
OK. Olson recognised this in 1985 and more recent technical
literature has followed his lead. Of course, if you are a strict
follower of Drs. Sibley and Ahlquist, vulturids (which they called
cathartids) are a subfamily of ciconiids.
On another note, Lammergeiers do not drop stones onto eggs:
this is a well-known behaviour for the Egyptian vulture (_Neophron_)
instead. Egyptian vultures generally perform this task when
confronted with ostrich eggs - thus the behaviour is always observed
on the African plains. BUT Egyptian vultures also occur in
southern Europe and, when artificially introduced to 'planted'
ostrich eggs, they still know and successfully practise the
egg-cracking behaviour. Until a few thousand years ago, however,
ostriches lived across southern Europe and throughout Asia:
presumably the vultures that have never been to Africa still have a
genetic memory of encountering ostrich eggs.
To my knowledge, ostrich eggs are the only eggs that vultures require
stones for, so use of stones on the eggs is not simply applying a
known behaviour to a new situation.
_Neophron_ also lived in North America during the Pleistocene (and is
preserved at Rancho La Brea).
Lammergeiers, meanwhile, are famous for carrying bones and tortoises
aloft (Egyptian vultures do the egg cracking on the ground), then
dropping them onto rocks so that the contents can be revealed (marrow
and guts respectively). I like Lammergeiers because they have this
superb method of harrying mountain-dwelling mammals (chamois and
ibex) by dive-bombing and surprise swooping: the idea being to
startle the mammal so it loses its balance and then plummets to its
death. Presto, Lammergeier lunch. Needless to say, there are
ancecdotal reports of Lammergeiers (occassionally successfully)
trying this out on human rock-climbers.
"Who said, while waiting handcuffed in the rain --"
"It's got to be Oscar Wilde"