Vultures are large, loathsome members of the hawk family. The largest species have a wingspread of about 32 meters (9 to 10 feet). Most vultures have bare heads and necks. However, the lammergeier (bearded vulture) has dirty-white neck feathers and a tassel of dark feathers hanging from its beak. The Egyptian vulture likewise has neck feathers. A griffon’s long neck is covered with fine white down.
The lammergeier is also called the ossifrage (see (Lev. 11:13; Deut. 14:12)) or the gier eagle (Lev. 11:18; Deut. 14:17).
Vultures feed on dead bodies. For this reason they were considered UNCLEAN animals by the Jewish people (Lev. 11:13; Deut. 14:12-13). Other versions of the Bible translate the word as buzzard, falcon, and bustard.
The vulture is called a bird of prey, because it lives on flesh; but it has not such strong claws as the eagle, to seize and tear its food. It does not often kill other animals; but preys upon those that have been killed in some other way, or have died of themselves. It is a disagreeable bird, and one that you would not like very well to see; no wonder the Israelites were forbidden to eat it. It is about a yard long from the top of its head, and it sometimes measures two yards across the wings.
It lives only in warm or hot climates, and there it is very useful, though you might at first be puzzled to think how this can be. It is because it lives upon such things as would be very injurious to man if they were left to decay in the open air. It not only consumes the dead bodies of animals, but takes away many things from the streets of the cities which the inhabitants are too indolent to remove. It is for this reason that in the city of Cairo, in Egypt, there is a law forbidding any person to kill a vulture. These birds sometimes follow an army, and prey upon the bodies of those poor soldiers who have been killed in battle. Ah! it is a sad thing to go to war; almost every thing about it is sad.
The vulture has a very keen eye, and, like the eagle, can see what is on the ground, even when it is very high in the air. This is referred to in the book of Job. “There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen.” It often happens in those countries that almost as soon as an ox, or a horse, or any other large animal has been killed, great multitudes of vultures will gather around, though not one could be seen in the sky before. they seem to fly down from every part of the heavens, and being to pull and struggle for the flesh of the animal; until in the course of a few hours nothing is left but the bones. We read in Isaiah, “There shall the vultures be gathered, every one with her mate.” This must have been written by one who had seen these birds coming together, as they do in great flocks or companies.
[Cook, Scripture Alphabet of Animals]