Few birds look more like a living dinosaur than the bearded vulture. With yellow and red eyes, rust-red feathers, and a massive figure, this bone-eating bird looks like the stuff of Jurassic Park nightmares. And in some ways, they are, but for more unsettling rather than dangerous reasons. For one thing, the birds scavenge upon not just carcasses, but ones dead long enough for the bones to dry out. Furthermore, even as young hatchlings, bearded vultures already engage in a survival of the fittest test between their own siblings, similar to the murderous shoebill bird.
But despite those horrifying bearded vulture facts, this species also boasts a number of fascinating qualities that set it apart from other avian breeds. And they're pretty intelligent animals too, as their eating habits allow them to leave their meals unattended for large amounts of time. Who's gonna go after a bunch of bones? The bearded vulture knows what it's doing, knows it's a bada**, and in the end, just wants to eat some bones.
While some animals occasionally chew on or eat a bone here and there, the bearded vulture takes it one step further, with up to 90% of this animal's diet consisting of the bones of other animals. In order to make the bones bite-sized, the bearded vulture carries a large bone to a high point and then drop it on stones below to shatter them. Then, it eats the smaller shards whole. The vulture in particular likes the marrow of the bones, and tends to eat that first. Once the bones digest, the vulture's body breaks them down into nutrients, so it does not need to eat other meat.
Few animals actually want or even chew on bones, so the vulture easily returns again and again to the same skeletal carcass, without worrying it will be nabbed by another creature. They will even sometimes eat owl pellets, because they mostly consist of rodent bones.
Upon seeing this fearsome looking and bone-eating bird, people understandably feel compelled to give it a truly gruesome name. In fact, the bird boasts many different names, in several languages, and all of them are pretty much as metal as you can get. In German, they are called the lammergeier, which roughly translates as "lamb-vulture," because it is big enough to supposedly carry off young lambs or even grown sheep. In Spanish, it is called quebrantahuesos, which means roughly "bone-breaker." In Crete, they are called bone-eaters. It's original name, ossifrage, also means something close to bone-breaker, so even the vulture's first name reveals the nature of its morbid diet.
Besides its love of all things dead and bony, and its terrifying yellow-red eyes, the bearded vulture also sports one other intimidating feature: its freaking massive size. They stand up to four feet tall, and sport a wingspan sometimes over nine feet long! When they puff up their feathers, they can further inflate their already large stature. All that said, the vulture is surprisingly light for an animal of its size. The birds only weighs about 10 to 15 pounds, which sounds low, but still makes this creature one of the largest old-world vultures in the world.
Once they get their feathers, bearded vultures tend to be darker colored around their faces, black on their backs and wings, and white on the chest and neck. Why, then do you always see photos of them looking red or rusty around their head? Before you go thinking it's blood, keep in mind when this vulture eats, it usually does so long after the blood of an animal stopped flowing. Instead, the vulture rolls and bathes in red and dark earth in order to stain its feathers the reddish color people recognize.
Many experts believe the vulture does this in order to appear more frightening to potential competitors, and to show strength to potential mates. However, other research suggests they do this in order to ward off parasites and to keep their feathers and skin healthy.