The length of the above quotation will, I am sure, be excused for the sake of its beauty and accuracy ; for it is now well established that Vultures find their food not by scent, as some authors use to maintain, but by sight only. Nor is it necessarily the case that a Vulture should discover it at all; often the ubiquitous crow is the first comer, only to be driven off by the kite, who in turn yields place to his betters. The commonest Vulture hereabout is certainly the Bengal or white-backed species (Pseudo- gyps bengalensis), which may be seen almost any day soaring high in air, his wings flat and motionless as boards, in hope of the full meal that he gets, perhaps, once a week. For when a carcase is found, and the Vultures are assembled to enjoy it, they quarrel a good deal over the repast, and many have to stand back before their despot, the King Vulture (Otogyps calvus), who keeps the plebians off till he is satisfied; though even he fears the great Adjutant Stork (Leptoptilusdubius), once so common in Calcutta, but now, alas ! only a memory. The Bengal Vulture is a dull dirty-looking bird of a dingy black, relieved only by some white on the back and under the wing, and this only noticeable in flight. The regal bird, which is not nearly so numerous, is of a richer blackness, and has a bright red head, with a pendent flap on each side, as the insignia of his rank. The young of both are of a dirty brown, and in this resemble our third local species, the Long-billed Vulture (Gyps tenuirastris), which is, however, easily distinguishable by its very long and lean head and neck; it is quite a grey-hound among Vultures. The best place to study vultures and their want of manners is at Dhappa, to which richly-flavoured locality I once made an expedition for that purpose. Here the Bengal Vultures fare somewhat meagrely on the boiled garbage thrown out from the vats after the town carcases of horse and bullock have been boiled down for grease ; and as they are nearly as tame as turkeys they can be easily watched. The Long- billed birds are few and more shy; they keep aloof, disdaining, as I was told, boiled beef in the hope of a more dainty meal of dead dogs and rats. To these viands the King Vulture appears also more addicted, but I saw none at Dhappa and was told they were rare there and much more wary than the rest. In fact, the first occasion on which I identified his vulturine highness in Calcutta was when two of the species pitched on the maidan, apparently to settle some difference of opinion. Since then I have seen one or two others there.
In Vultures we have in the East not only the rajah and the common ruck of his subjects of various species, but the humble sweeper, in the form of the well-known White Scavenger Vulture (Neophron ginginianus). This bird, however, eschewed the neighbourhood of Calcutta, for although appallingly accommodating of stomach, he has some delicacy of constitution about him, and avoids a moist climate.
It is a curious thing that the same hierarchy of Vultures obtains in America, although the birds there belong to a distinct family of their own ; the old-world vultures being very near of kin to the eagles. In South America we get a handsome and powerful King Vulture (Cathartes papa), but creamy-fawn is here the royal colour; and he has for subjects the mean Turkey-Buzzards (Oenops aura), in their rusty black, and the Gallinazos or Black Vultures (Catharistes atratus), which look uncommonly like our scavenger, only dipped in ink, the colours of sovereign and sweeper being practically reversed. It is a curious fact that the Old and New World Vultures, like the monkeys of the two worlds, can most readily be separated by the form of the nostrils ; the difference in the case of the birds being that in the Eastern Vultures there is a partition between the nostrils as in most animals, whereas in the Western family this is absent, and you can look right through the beak from one side to the other. The American Vultures also have weaker feet and do not build nests; and they have no voice-muscles, so that they can only hiss. Their Eastern relatives, though not taloned like eagles, are more powerful in the extremities, and even carry nesting material therewith, for they build large unwieldy nests on trees or rocks : and they are sufficiently well endowed with a vocal apparatus to vent their affections in horrid bellowings at the breeding season. Our Vultures here build large rough nests in trees, of fresh boughs torn off by main strength, and the plebeians are sociable, nesting in colonies ; royalty, of course, can tolerate no neighbouring rivals. As a rule, they only lay one egg ; a large fertility is not necessary to keep up the numbers of birds which run so few risks as Vultures do and possess such iron constitutions. They have even been known to take and survive doses of poison which would inevitably have proved fatal to anything else.
A pleasing subject for speculation is the baldness of these disreputable fowl. Of course the most obvious explanation is that feathers on a head which is continually being poked inside carcases would soon be the reverse of ornamental, if not unhealthy ; but as Darwin, with his usual philosophic caution, remarks, the head of the cleanly, turkey is just as naked. So are those of the Ibis and the Cassowary, and the Sarus Crane, and scattered here and there throughout the bird class we come upon heads grievously in need of a hair restorer. It will, however, be noticed, that such usually belong to big birds ; and that where degrees of baldness exist in any given family, the biggest will also generally be the barest on the top. The Ostrich indeed, the largest of all birds, is also the nakedest ; his head and neck only have scanty hairs, and his thighs are completely nude. To apply this to the Vulture; the low-caste and under-sized Scavenger has a bald face, the ordinary Vultures a sparsely downy head and neck, the Longbilled a longer and nakeder neck, and the King luxuriates in complete bald-headedness accentuated by side-flaps, and a naked red patch inside each thigh. A very similar gradation may also be traced with the American kinds. So, too, with the cranes. The little Demoiselle (Anthropoides virgo) has her pretty head well covered ; the Coolung (Grus communis) is much bigger and is bare on the top; the white Crane (Grus leucogeranus), bigger still, is bare from beak to eyes all round ; and the great Sarus is naked all over his head and some way down his neck. Thus we arrive at the fact that baldness and prosperity in birds somehow go together; when a species gets up in the world it can afford to take off some of its feathers where they will not be missed, and go about more or less decollete. A simpler explanation would be that when a bird gets over a certain size it can't grow enough feathers to cover itself properly; but after all this involves the other, for it must be prosperous to be big at all. Vultures may certainly claim to be well-to-do, though they don't look it. Their simple tastes are more easily gratified than the expensive ones of the eagles, who, however, will condescend to bully the best of them occasionally in order to take of their high yet humble repast; and nobody owes them a grudge, for they do no one any harm to speak of Yet there are curious limits to their spread which are hard to understand. It is strange that there should be none in Ceylon, for instance, and that none inhabit Australia; for though not migratory, they are great travellers on occasion -: the Arabs of North Africa said that during the Crimean War the Vultures emigrated to Europe with an eye to unlimited dead horse. They can bear both heat and cold, and the only hindrance they would be likely to meet, one would think, would be heavy jungle in which they could not see their food. The New World birds are more enterprising, for the Turkey Buzzard extends from end to end, almost, of the American Continent and is a well known bird everywhere. It is true that one of the Old World birds, the huge Cinereous Vulture (Vultur monachus) also spreads from Spain to China, but it is not a common species anywhere, so that there must be some check on its increase that does not exist in the case of the much weaker and smaller Turkey-Buzzard, which is a very insignificant bird compared to it. But nothing demonstrates better than the study of the lives of birds that the battle is not always to the strong. The Turkey Buzzard in Jamaica has itself been recently experiencing a serious and quite unexpected check by reason of the introduction of one of our best known Indian animals, the mongoose. This beast plays havoc with the eggs of the poor Vulture, which has not, so far, developed sufficient sense to move his domestic belongings to a safer situation than the bare ground and has become much less numerous in consequence. It is evident therefore that "John Crow," as the Turkey Buzzard is called, has not intelligence equal to his constitution, and that he has prospered so far more by luck than judgment.