The bearded vulture appears to be one of the most terrifying birds of prey, known for dyeing its feathers blood red and feasting on the bones of animals.
The vulture, Gypaetus barbatus, is native to crags in high mountainous regions, including Southern Europe, Africa, Tibet, and the Caucasus. It is the only known animal whose diet is comprised nearly exclusively of bone — which makes up for close to 90 percent of what it eats.
The bird’s stomach acid has a pH of 1, making it adequately equipped to completely digest its diet of bone and bone marrow in 24 hours or less. To break down large bones into manageable pieces, these scavengers will often drop carcasses from remarkable heights in or bang them against rocks. Occasionally, they hunt and eat live prey like turtles and lizards — unlike other vultures, they dislike rotting meat.
The color of a bearded vulture can range from black and white to a bright orange-red. In the latter case, this is usually due to its odd bathing behaviors — the bird does not clean itself with water, but rather in dirt stained with iron oxide. The vultures often use their claws to apply the dirt to their bodies and preen for extended periods of time in order to assure complete coverage.
Scientists surmise this is likely a status symbol, as it’s definitely not a camouflage tactic. The redder the feathers, the more resourceful the bird.
These unusual vultures have a wingspan that ranges between 7 and 9 feet in length, and they grow to more than 4 feet in height. They weigh between 10 and 18 pounds, making for quite a formidable creature. While in the wild they only live to an average of 20 years of age, but in captivity, they can live to the age of 45.
While they mostly scavenge for food, bearded vultures have a dangerous reputation of carrying off animals and perhaps even children — they are also called lammergeier, which is German for “lamb vulture” because they’ve been observed seizing lambs, goats, and other small mammals.