Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture

An Ossuary was discovered near Tunganath (Chopta, Uttarakhand, India) on 6 Jul
09 - an important find this time for me.

The Lammergeier has a bizarre habit of dropping large bones from high
up on to the rock surfaces to break them partially and afterwards it
devours the bones. These bone breaking sites are known as ossuaries.

(see the work of Antony Margalida here )

This ossuary is an inverted V shaped section of a precipice 200-300
meters from the track to Chandrashila. The rocky face is on one lower
side of the "V", next to a mule track. An ideal spot for the
Lammergeier as prevailing wind will not deflect the large falling

Thanks to Negi of Kakdagad camp for noting the site. He heard the
crack of a bone landing on the rocks and then saw the Lammergeier in
action the next round.

Out of this bone breaking habit, the bird came to be known as bone
breaker and ossifrage. It is also called the bearded vulture and
bearded eagle whence the scientific name Gypaetus barbatus. And
"Lammergeier" or Lamb Vulture comes from the Alpine stories, now
discredited, of its carrying off lambs over precipices.

An interesting extract from the JOURNAL, BOMBAY NATURAL HISTORY

The statement that the Bearded Vulture hurls animals over the
tremendous precipices of the Himalayas is, I think, proved by the fact
that the Gooral’s shoulder blade I found in the stomach of the bird
killed by me was broken in two pieces, as though from a fall, for it
is impossible that the bird could have done this with its bill.

It is probable that the Lammergeyer keeps a good look out for such
animals as may fall, or be thrown over the precipices of the mountains
which it frequents. I remember a sad accident which happened a few
years ago, when two officers were shooting on the Himalayan ranges.
One of them was following up a wounded bear which suddenly charged,
knocking him, and his shikari over the precipice, the impetus of the
charge carrying the bear over as well. His companion who was observing
all this from the top of the mountain, and who told me the story of
the accident very shortly after it happened, mentioned that it took
him about four hours to get down to the foot of the precipice, and
there he found the three bodies shattered almost beyond recognition.

He added that the Lammergeiers had already got at them.

W. OSBORN, Lieut.-General,
Naggur, Kulu Punjab,
12th January 1908.

Juvnile Lammergeier pix from Har Ki Dun trek, Uttarakhand, India, shot
on 19 Oct 08.

(report posted at birds-chandigarh google group by Devashish Deb, both photographs are him).