National Geographic : 1968 May
Tool-using Bird: The Egyptian Vulture Unique photographs show how it throws stones to open ostrich eggs By Baroness JANE VAN LAWICK-GOODALL, Ph.D. Photographsby Baron HUGO VAN LAWICK HE MIDDAY HEAT seemed intensi fied by the blackened ground and smell of smoke, aftermath of one of the peri odic grass fires that sweep east Africa's plains. As my husband Hugo and I bounced along in our Land-Rover, we saw few signs of life, though grass would soon appear and the herds of antelopes would move back to feast on the succulent shoots. We were on a wild life photographic safari, with National Geo graphic Society support, in the Serengeti National Park of northern Tanzania (map, page 633), and we were headed for country we had never seen before. Suddenly Hugo noticed vultures plummet- ing down in the far distance, and we swerved to see what had attracted them. How well Hugo's sharp eyesight would be rewarded! At first we saw only a confusion of vultures gathered round about 20 ostrich eggs, squab bling over the contents of some that were broken. The nesting ostriches apparently had fled the grass fire as it swept near them. But our attention was abruptly riveted by an extraordinary action among the vultures. "He's using a tool!" Hugo and I exclaimed almost with one voice. Amazed, we watched an Egyptian vulture, a white, yellow-cheeked bird about the size of a raven, pick up in his beak the stone he had Assault on an egg's stubborn armor: With stones in their beaks, Egyptian vultures prepare to bom bard an ostrich egg (opposite); downward snaps of the neck will propel the missiles. An assailant with beak still open (above) misses the target. After a dozen rounds and a few hits, a crack appears (above, right). As the yolk spills, the greedy pair bar would-be guests (right)-another Egyptian vulture and a darker hooded vulture. This use of stones to secure food adds the Egyp tian vulture to the few known animals that, like man, manipulate objects as tools. The van La wicks observed the phenomenon on a National Geographic Society expedition in Tanzania.