[Heb., ra·chamʹ; ra·chaʹmah], Black Vulture [Heb., ʽoz·ni·yahʹ].
A large carrion-eating bird that renders a very valuable service in lands of warm climate, consuming the dead carcasses and putrefying flesh that might otherwise cause disease. This bird is listed among those declared ‘unclean’ in the Mosaic Law.
In Arabic, a language that is cognate with Hebrew, a word similar to ra·chamʹ designates the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), often called Pharaoh’s chicken. This bird is white except for its black wings and yellow bill and legs. It is the smallest of the vultures found in Bible lands, being about 65 cm (26 in.) in length. With its bare wrinkled face, large eyes, hooked beak, and curved talons, it is quite repulsive in appearance. Because of its willingness to eat refuse disdained even by other vultures, it is considered the foulest scavenger of the Middle East and, by the same token, the most useful because of the service it performs.
The griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) is a yellowish-brown bird measuring about 1.2 m (4 ft) in length, with a wingspan of some 2.7 m (9 ft). The griffon vulture was the symbol of the Egyptian goddess Nekhebet and also appeared on the battle standards of the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Persians.
The lammergeier, or bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), is a large bird of prey, standing about 1.2 m (4 ft) high. With its long pointed wings that span almost 3 m (10 ft), the lammergeier flies with unusual grace, and wheels effortlessly as it searches the land below for food. Unlike other vultures, the lammergeier has feathers on its head and a beard resembling that of a goat. It has a preference for marrow bones, carrying these to great heights and then dropping them on rocks so that they split open, allowing the bird to reach the marrow within.
The Hebrew word ʽoz·ni·yahʹ evidently refers to the black vulture (Aegypius monachus), the largest bird of prey occurring in Israel. More brown than black, it has the vulture’s characteristic naked head; the neck is blue, the tail wedge-shaped.