The Himalayan griffon vulture is a massive bird, the largest and heaviest bird in the Himalaya, weighing up to 28 pounds (12.5 kg). Can you guess the length of that wingspan? Here’s another hint, since there’s no point of reference in the blue sky—they stand about 3.5-4 ft. tall on the ground.
Scavengers are a critical part of any ecosystem, and on the Tibetan Plateau, these birds play an additional role, also essential. With little wood, and hard, rocky, permafrost earth, neither cremation nor burial is a practical method to deal with human remains. Consequently, Tibetans use the process known as sky burial to handle human remains—the body of the deceased is cut up by a team of under-taker lamas, who feed the meat to the vultures, even grinding up the bones so that every piece of the body is consumed. This is seen as a final good deed by the deceased, offering his/her body to benefit other sentient beings (the vultures). As a result of this practice, vultures are deeply revered by Tibetan and considered a sacred animal.
When these vultures take off, especially after a big meal, they really have to work for it. If they’re full, they basically need to walk up a hill in order to take off by running down again. But, once they are airborne, their flight appears effortless. They circle and glide for hours on end without once flapping their wings, just making tiny adjustments of their feathers and wing angles and working with the thermals produced by the topography and weather. I’m not a scientist or an engineer, so it’s just completely my own theory, but they seem to actually sense the air currents with those beautiful out-stretched feathers on the tips of their wings. One thing is certain—they are true masters of the sky.
@jedweingarten @natgeocreative @wildwondersofchina