The Social lives of Vultures
Vultures have a relatively large brain size and slow pace of life (van Overveld et al., 2022). Moreover, vultures of the Gyps genus are highly social year-round and strongly reliant on conspecifics to locate carrion. As such, the Gyps genus is highly interesting to investigate in order to increase our understanding of avian cognition and vulture social intelligence. However, little work has been done on vulture cognition and most research focusses on the facultatively social Canarian Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus). The aim of this project is thus to investigate the social lives and cooperative abilities of a social vulture species, the Rüppell’s vulture (Gyps rueppellii). To this end, we will be collaborating closely with Avifauna Bird Zoo and Rotterdam Zoo, which is the studbook holder for the Rüppell’s vulture.
Specifically, we are interested in the social network structure of Rüppell’s vultures, which we aim to investigate using layered social network analyses with data collected through focal observation. We also hope to investigate their cooperative abilities and the proximate mechanisms that may underlie their cooperative tendencies through voluntary behavioural experiments. Finally, by comparing the Rüppell’s vulture with the solitary White-headed vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis), we hope to gain a better understanding of the ultimate explanations that underlie vulture cognition.
Within my group, Eva van Dijk is the PI of this project.