Carla Venter
2 minute read
4 Oct 2013
7:00 am

Vulture parents show loving side

Carla Venter

For the first time since the '90s, the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria has a fluffy addition to its avian family in the form of a king vulture chick.

TAKEN UNDER THEIR WING. A four-week-old king vulture chick is being reared by both parents for the first time in 15 years at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa in Pretoria. Picture: Christine Vermooten.

The four-week-old chick, a first for its parents, is also the first of his kind to be hatched unaided by zoo staff in more than 15 years.

The new arrival is covered in fluffy white feathers it will only lose when it leaves the nest at three months. It is unclear what sex the chick is as sexing takes place at a later stage, according to Angeline Schwan from the zoo.

The chick made unearthly snorting noises when it was photographed separated from its parents. The parents rearing the chick are a male bird aged 49 and a female aged 28.

“In the past, conservation staff were required to remove the eggs from the king vulture nest as the parents would either break the eggs or abandon them shortly after laying,” said Schwan.

The zoo received a year-old female king vulture in 2006 and paired her with a younger male in the hope of them breeding as these vultures reach sexual maturity between five and seven.

“Instead of the younger pair of birds starting to breed as was expected, it was the older pair that laid and successfully incubated an egg,” said Schwan.

“Staff were not expecting a chick because the reproduction rate is very low in such old birds. Staff were delighted when they discovered the hatched chick in the nest.”

The chick will grow to be between 2.7kg and 4.5kg. King vultures are one of the largest vulture species with a wing span of up to 1.8 metres.

The feathers around their heads and necks are blue, red, orange and yellow. The skin drooping over their beaks, called a wattle, is a bright red-orange. They are usually the first to feast on a carcass.

According to Schwan, king vultures are currently categorised as a least concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. She said the species is, however, on the decline.