Today I witnessed the softer side of vultures. At one of my carcasses, two Lappet-faced vultures arrived and scared off everyone else. They are huge birds with 2m wingspans, weighing in at about 8kg, so it was no wonder the others leave them alone. I think of the Lappet-faced vultures as the bodyguards of the savannah. After they land they will race at other birds with a hunched posture and the black feathers of their body framing their mass as the white feathers of their chest puff out. Once they were left to themselves, the two Lappet-faced vultures took turns feeding. Every once in a while, they would stop and look at each other and press their beaks together, as if for reassurance. While one ate, the other would remain vigilant, probably looking for other Lappets or hyenas that might be sneaking up on them. They weren’t without their quarrels though and occasionally one bird would try to feed while the other was taking a momentary breather. The feeding bird would immediately nip the other, lightly on the neck and holding on for only a few seconds. It was clearly just a love bite as those beaks are capable of ripping the tendons out of a buffalo’s knee or pulling apart the jaws of a Thomson gazelle, but hardly even evoked a response from the partner bird and certainly didn’t leave a mark.
I also saw my first Lappet-faced vulture chick today – so adorable (though admittedly a face only a mother could love). The little chick’s head was the exact replica of the adult, naked and pink with a dark black beak and round beady eyes. Yet the chick’s body unlike the adult was missing all the feathers.