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Learning to fly
Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project    Share

Lappet-faced Vultures nest in trees. For the first several months of their life, the tree, the nest, and their parents are all a Lappet-faced chick knows. Each morning a chick awakes alone as the parents go search for food. From only a few meters off the ground sitting at the top of a bush or tree, often on top of a small hill, the chick might survey the area. Perhaps the chick will see a lion walk by or an acrobatic Bateleur Eagle teeter left and right overhead. They will feel the wind and the rain, if there is any, beat down upon their soft white feathers. In the afternoon, the parents will hide the chick from view, spreading their six-foot wingspan to shade the chick from the hot African sun. With few feathers and nowhere to go, the chick could burn without the defense of its parent. For the first few months, this is the world of a Lappet-faced chick and yet soon all of this will change.

As the long black flight feathers grow out, the chick has become a fledgling. Soon it must learn to fly. One can imagine leaping from a tree and being expected to take flight would be hard enough, but where would you go. The parents are unlikely to lead the fledgling out. Instead this young bird must discover the savanna on its own. And if it wishes to return to the nest, it must navigate its own path and find its way home.

After putting a tag on a Lappet-faced fledgling, I waited for her to take her first flight. Where would she go? How far would she venture out? What might she see as she began her new independent life—no longer in the trees, but above them?

Find more articles about Bateleur, Lappet-faced Vulture, Africa

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