CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — A Missouri naturalist is taking up the cause of a bird with a not-so-great reputation — the vulture.

The Southeast Missourian reports that Jordanya Brostoski of the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center is a self-proclaimed “big nerd” about vultures, so much so that she started International Vulture Awareness Day about two years ago. The event was celebrated at the nature center Saturday.

“I used to work with a vulture rescue in Kansas City, Missouri, and found them interesting,” Brostoski said. “The more I learned about them, I fell in love with them.”

Vultures conjure images of a frightening, hulking bird hunched over roadkill. But Brostoski says they are vital to a healthy ecosystem, helping to purify waste.

“They really help prevent disease,” she said, noting that their stomach acid is 100 times more concentrated than humans’, and their gut bacteria are strong enough to digest anthrax and botulism-causing bacterium.

The turkey vulture and black vulture are the most common types in this region, Brostoski said. She has often worked with turkey vultures and was surprised to learn how intelligent they are.

“People think of barn owls as wise, but turkey vultures beat out owls for smarts,” Brostoski said. They live in intricate family groups and understand who their handlers are.

Then again, there’s this: “Vultures use projectile vomiting to protect themselves,” Brostoski said. The practice helps them evade predators or other scavengers who might be after their meals.


Information from: Southeast Missourian, http://www.semissourian.com

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