Lappet-Faced Vulture

Lappet-Faced Vulture

Scientific Classification

Common Name
lappet-faced vulture
Genus Species
Torgos tracheliotus

Fast Facts

The lappet-faced vulture is a large bird with a heavy head and massive bill. It has mainly dark feathers and is easily identified by its bare pink head and large, fleshy folds of skin on the sides of its neck.
Approximately 100 to 105 cm (39.5 to 41.5 in.); wingspan 2.6 m (8.5 ft)
Up to 13.6 kg (30 lbs.)
The bird is mainly a scavenger, feeding predominantly on any large carcasses or their remains. It is also known to hunt, probably taking a variety of small reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals, and has been observed apparently group-hunting flamingo chicks.
Approximately 7 weeks
Clutch Size
1 egg
Sexual Maturity
Approximately 4 to 5 years
Life Span
20 to 50 years
This species can be found in open areas of Sub-Sahara Africa, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman.
Over much of its range, this bird mainly inhabits semi-arid or desert areas with only scattered trees and short grass.
Data from Mundy et al. (1992) suggest the African population is at least 8,000 individuals, and there may be 500 in the Middle East. This gives a total population of at least 8,500 individuals, roughly equivalent to 5,700 mature individuals, although this may prove to be an overestimate given current trends for this species. The population is decreasing but it is not severely fragmented.
IUCN: Endangered
CITES: Appendix II
USFWS: Vulnerable

Fun Facts

The lappet-faced vulture is one of the most aggressive of African birds. It possesses one of the strongest beaks, usually arriving last to the carcass due to its ability to tear off skin, tendons, and ligaments that are too tough for smaller scavengers. In fact, they are able to strip a small antelope carcass to the bone within 20 minutes.

Because of their dominating size, they will often scare off or steal from smaller vultures.

These vultures do not feed strictly on carrion; they have been known to sit by termite mounds or locust nests and eat them as they emerge from their holes.

Lappet-faced vultures sometimes raid flamingo colonies, killing adults, young, and eating the eggs.

They are usually solitary or live in pairs. Contrary to popular belief, they do not locate carrion by smell. They find carcasses by watching the behavior of other birds.

Their featherless heads and necks help them to keep clean because they can shake off any sticky remains of their meals. The sun bakes off any bacteria or parasites since this the hardest part of the body to preen.

These birds have a larger wingspan than any other vulture in Africa.

Ecology and Conservation

The scavenging behavior of the Lappet-Faced Vultures helps break down and recycle animal matter. They aid in the removal of carcasses and help to prevent the spread of disease.

Vulture eggs and young are prey for other predators such as crows.

Widespread accidental poisoning, largely due to strychnine, used by many farmers for predator control, and more recently carbofuran, has contributed significantly to declines.

The upper beaks of these birds may be traded for traditional medicine and they are also often mistakenly persecuted as a livestock predator.

The total population is estimated to be declining at a very rapid rate. Ogada et al. (2016) estimated the population in Africa could decline by 80% in just over three generations.


Gotch, A.F. Birds - Their Latin Names Explained. Poole, Dorst: Blandford Press, 1981.

Perrins, C. Birds: Their Life, Their Ways, Their World. New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. 1979.

Perrins, C. M. and A. L.A. Middleton, eds. The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File Pub. 1985.

Birdlife International:

BirdLife International. 2017. Torgos tracheliotos (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22695238A118631696. Downloaded on 17 December 2018.