I was watching some vultures at a carcass as I so often do, when three birds broke off into a separate group. Two Lappet-faced vultures had been feeding on the head of a carcass for about thirty minutes when a new pair of Lappets arrived. There wasn’t much left and both feeding Lappets moved off the carcass and flew away without any confrontation. One of the Lappets that had been feeding landed about fifty meters away from the carcass.
Vultures fight a lot, but what occurred next wasn’t a normal fight. Most fights in the animal world are designed to be competitions. In a contest, opponents show what they have, but they aren’t really trying to hurt each other. Once the bigger, better contestant becomes obvious the smaller ones just move out of the way. That’s not what these three birds were doing. All three were Lappet-faced vultures – my favorite. From a distance, I could just see that the pair of Lappets had the other one pinned and appeared to be pecking at it. When I drove closer, we found that the Lappet’s face had been badly pecked and one of its eyes looked nearly destroyed. One Lappet continued to peck at its face while the other attacker held the Lappet down and took pecks at its chest. After several minutes, the Lappet was able to escape and though pursued was able to hide in some tall grass. The attacking Lappets then returned to the carcass. About a half hour later, the Lappet that had been attacked was able to take off and quickly caught a thermal. The other two Lappets followed it but at a distance and all three quickly disappeared from view as they flew off.