The bearded vulture
The name Gypaetus for this elegant giant from the skies derives from two Greek words, gyps (vulture) and aetos (eagle). The adjective barbatus, on the other hand, refers to the presence of silky feathers that surround the eye and grow down to the beak where they form a kind of beard. With a wingspan of almost three metres, and a weight of up to 7kg, the bearded vulture is one of the biggest European birds. Vultures are usually scavengers that mostly feed on the carcasses of dead animals, but this bird follows an even stricter diet that mainly consists of bones. This adaptation presents an obvious advantage to the bird: most other animals cannot digest bones; hence the bearded vulture has few competitors as far as its staple food is concerned. The bearded vulture is able to swallow and digest bones the size of a bullock’s backbone, but it also feeds on even bigger bones. It will carry large bones to a cliff and drop them onto the rocky scree down below, from a height of 50-80m, in order to crack them into smaller pieces that can then be eaten more easily.