The Bone-eating Lammergeyer

The Lammergeyer is a large bird of prey. It is a vulture of the genus Gypaetus with a wingspan of nearly 3 metres. The vulture lives in harsh habitats, mainly in mountainous regions in places that have cliffs, gorges and plenty of rocky areas. One of the most amazing things about the Lammergeyer is its diet. Eighty-five to ninety per cent of its diet consists of bone from which the Lammergeyer digests the bone marrow. It searches for a dead animal, extracts a bone, which may weigh anything up to its own mass, flies really high, and releases the bone with precision so that it will crack on a rock. The Lammergeyer then finds the broken pieces and digests them. This may take a number of tries of dropping the bone before it takes a hit, and it is a skill that needs to be acquired by each individual bird.

The bones that the Lammergeyer swallow can be quite big, but that is not a problem as all bones are usually digested within twenty-four hours thanks to the digestive system of the bird. The Lammergeyer stomach contains acid at about pH 1 (that’s approximately the same as the acid in a standard battery). The stomach also helps to digest the bones by churning them around to mechanically help with digestion too.

In the past, the Lammergeyer was hunted as it was thought by some that it would carry off small children to eat. Nowadays, numbers decline mainly due to habitat loss, reduced food supplies and from being killed by poison that was intended for other carnivores that live in close proximity with it.

The Lammergeyer is really an incredible bird due to its ability to survive in such a harsh environment by filling a certain niche and finding a way to use the bones of another for nutrition because no other animal can.


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