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Bearded vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) prefer fatty bones

Margalida, Antoni
Behavioral ecology and sociobiology 2008 v.63 no.2 pp. 187-193
birds, bones, energy, fatty acid composition, food choices, food processing, foraging, ingestion, nests, nutrient content, nutrients, oleic acid
In animal species, prey processing and the provisioning of nutrients are subject to several constraints related with finding, ingesting and processing food. In most bird species, these constraints are obvious as a consequence of food morphology. In the case of the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), in comparison with other species, its behavioural and physiological adaptations apparently allow this vulture to ingest bone remains irrespective of their morphology. Here, by comparing bones delivered to the nest to be consumed (selected) and remains found at an experimental feeding station and at bone-breaking sites or ossuaries (rejected), I tested whether bearded vultures are capable of choosing from among the various anatomical parts of an animal carcass in relation to their fatty acid content (nutrient concentration hypothesis), their size (width-reduction hypothesis) or both. The results suggest that bearded vultures prefer the fatty anatomical parts (with a high percentage of oleic acid) of an animal carcass regardless of bone length, although bone morphology as a consequence of handling efficiency or the ingestion process may also play a secondary role in food selection. The close association between the bones selected and their high fat value implies an optimisation of foraging time and of the increased energy gained from the food. This is in line with selective foraging to redress specific nutritional imbalances (nutrient concentration hypothesis) and, secondarily, the width-reduction hypothesis.