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Reader's Digest World Presents The Living Edens Bhutan, The last Shangri-la
 
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Lammergeier Vulture Lammergeier Vulture
Of the large raptors that inflicted legendary tortures in Greek mythology, the lammergeier most fascinated the Greeks. The Roman Pliny gave one of the first descriptions of the lammergeier's signature behavior: breaking bones and hard shelled turtles by dropping them on rocks from high in the air. According to Pliny, Aeschylus was supposed to have been killed by a missile dropped by a lammergeier that mistook his bald head for a rock.

Lammergeiers are common in central Asia. Their wide wingspans, which can measure up to 46 inches, allow lammergeiers to live in remote mountain strongholds at altitudes up to 25,500 feet. Typically, lammergeiers nest in caves, ledges and low rocks rising from planes. The bird can swallow whole bones up to the size of a lamb's femur.

As Pliny describes, the lammergeier does have a unique method of getting to its food. The bird splits bones by dropping them from a height of up to 200 feet, usually on slabs of rock called ossaries, where the bones scatter into fragments. The lammergeier approaches the chosen slab downwind, bone held in its feet. Diving and dipping in flight to increase its velocity, the lammergeier then releases the bone, keenly watching as it falls. The crack of the bone is audible from some distance away. Immediately, the lammergeier turns into the wind, spiraling down towards the scattered bone fragments, alighting within a few seconds of the crack. In this way, the lammergeier forestalls other scavengers from robbing the fragments. It will repeat the process up to three times, often having to fly for several miles to gain height for another gliding approach.

Although dropping bones is a regular habit, the lammergeier also obtains food by other means. The bird has been known to lift and carry such live prey as a two foot monitor lizard. For the most part, however, the Lammergeier Vulturelammergeier is a bird of unashamed cowardice, ready to take advantage of any animal in distress, incapable of defending itself against a creature half its own size and frightened at the wink of an eyelid. There is, however, nothing uncouth about a lammergeier. It is sinister, yet magnificent and dignified.


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