Imagine my surprise when my Traveling Companion wanted to try the zoo again. We made an earlier start of it, used a less circuitous route, and really found it this time. Arriving in the early afternoon, we found the zoo to be almost completely deserted. Admission was surprisingly high (16€ each). One of the many reasons I loved going to the St. Louis Zoo when I was in high school (other than the obvious reason that I had friends who worked there) was that most of the zoo was free. It was the best people-watching in all of St. Louis.
The Barcelona Zoo has pony rides, a children’s train, and even golf carts you can rent. They also have a candy store and several spots to buy a beer. They have both kinds of camels, fighting flamingos, meerkats and too many parrots. Many animals behaved in a way that made us think that they’ve been fed by people looking at them; most turned and looked at us, and others walked right up when we approached.
The genuine treat of the day was that they have three kinds of vultures: a large sociable colony of Griffon Vultures, a pair of Black Vultures, and my Traveling Companion’s favorite bird ever, the Bearded Vulture.
The gorgeous solitary Bearded Vulture we saw had taken up a spot in its new enclosure where it could survey its entire cage and still see all the way to the tables of the snack bar. I took three pictures of it, and despite the fact that I could see its face almost the whole time we were there, its head is completely turned away from me in each shot. This bird lives on skin and bones and marrow and tendons, with a pH of 1 in its stomach. They have been observed dropping bones from a great height to break them open.
The Griffon Vultures had just been fed, and there were beheaded rabbit carcasses strewn about their enclosure. Griffon Vultures are very expressive birds, with downy tan fuzz on their heads and on their long, curved necks. There was also some gentle squabbling over the best spot on a perch and plenty of cantering over the ground. These vultures have a ruff of long, thin feathers which float about their thin necks like a fancy collar, and long flat feathers that hand around their legs like culottes. Certainly this is the best-dressed vulture I’ve ever seen. We observed several individuals spreading their enormous wings to stretch. Suddenly one lifted into the air and had a quick flight across the enclosure; in the large Doñana Aviary next door, the Eurasian Spoonbills rose in agitation. The other species were quiet, unmoved by either the swoop of the great vulture or the excited circling of the spoonbills.