While photographing wildlife at Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma recently, I had a unique opportunity to observe and photograph the feet of a Black Vulture up close. As I drove down the auto tour road, I noticed a large, hollowed-out tree right next to the road with a hole near its base. Perched on the edge of the hole was a Black Vulture. A pair are nesting within the tree. As I grabbed my camera, one of the adult vultures hopped out of the hole and onto the ground at the base of the tree. I quickly focused my lens and snapped some photos, intrigued by the unique adaptations of these scavengers’ feet.
Black Vultures have long, blunt talons on the ends of their toes. Their toes are also quite long and slender compared to birds of prey like eagles and hawks. This anatomy allows Black Vultures to be adept and agile walkers as they forage on the ground for carrion. Their feet are not well-suited for grasping and killing prey the way raptors are designed. So rather than chasing down animals, vultures use their keen senses of smell and sight to scan the landscapes below for signs of dead animals to feast on.
When feeding, Turkey Vultures frequently will place one or both feet on top of their meal, almost as if to pin it down. However, I’ve observed that Black Vultures don’t use their feet at all while eating. They simply use their sharp, hooked beaks to tear away and consume the flesh. This shows how the Black Vulture’s feet are specially evolved for walking and balancing rather than hunting and killing.
As I watched this Black Vulture standing at the base of its nesting tree, its feet served as a reminder that every anatomical feature of wildlife has a function…
- Camera: Fujifilm X-T3
- Lens: Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II (attached with a Fringer EF-FX Pro)
- Location: Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge (Oklahoma)
- Date and Time Taken: April 11, 2021 (07:37 A. M.)
- Aperture Priority
- Aperture: f8
- Shutter speed: 1/640 (as determined by the camera)
- ISO: 2000
- Exposure Compensation: -1.7
- Focal Length: 400 mm