Old World Vultures Old World Vultures
Old World Vultures

Scientific Classification

Common Name
Old World vultures
Genus Species
bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)
palm nut vulture (Gypohierax angolensis)
Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus)
cinerous vulture (Aegypius monachus)
griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus)
white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis)
Rupell's vulture (Gyps rueppelli)
Indian vulture (Gyps indicus)
slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris)
Himalayan vulture (Gyps himalayensis)
white backed vulture (Gyps africanus)
cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres)
hooded vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus)
red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus)
lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos)
white-headed vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis)

Fast Facts

Vultures are large birds with wide wingspans that help them soar through the air for long periods. They have few to no feathers on their heads and faces.
60 to 140 cm (24 to 55 in.)
Varies by species
Vultures feed on the carcasses of dead animals, sticking their heads deep into the body cavity to pick bits of food. Some species also hunt small prey, such as insects, lizards, smaller birds and rodents. Pieces of decaying meat and skin are less apt to stick to bare heads than to a thick mat of feathers. When vultures bask after meals, the heat of the sun dries any potentially bacteria-ridden bits of food that easily fall off, helping them remain healthy.
Approximately 50 days
Sexual Maturity
Varies by species
Life Span
18 years or more, large species up to 50 years
Africa, Asia, and Europe. Specific ranges vary by species.
Savannas, plains, cultivated areas, and mountain ranges
Varies by species
bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) IUCN: near threatened
cape vulture(Gyps coprotheres) IUCN: Endangered
cinerous vulture (Aegypius monachus) IUCN: Near threatened
Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) IUCN: Endangered
griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) IUCN: Least Concern
Himalayan vulture (Gyps himalayensis) IUCN: Near Threatened
hooded vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) IUCN: Critically Endangered
Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) IUCN: Critically Endangered
lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) IUCN: Endangered
palm nut vulture (Gypohierax angolensis) IUCN: Least Concern
ted-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) IUCN: Critically endangered
Rupell's vulture (Gyps rueppelli) IUCN: Critically Endangered
slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) IUCN: Critically Endangered
white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus) IUCN: Critically endangered
white-headed vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) IUCN: Critically Endangered
white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) IUCN: Critically Endangered
All species Appendix II
Not listed

Fun Facts

Many species of Old World vultures live throughout Africa and have a great impact on their surroundings. They vary from small birds with slender bills, such as hooded vultures, to large hunters with heavy bills, such as white-backed vultures. These important adaptations help vultures survive and perform important roles in the environment.

Vultures have keen eyesight. It is believed they are able to spot a three-foot carcass from four miles away on the open plains. In some species, when an individual sees a carcass it begins to circle above it. This draws the attention of other vultures who then join in. Once the vultures have landed, they fight and bicker over feeding spots. For the most park, many vulture species are relatively silent, but not when it comes to a prime place at the dinner table! Once on the carcass, vultures plant their talons for stability and pull at the flesh with their beaks. Many species of vultures feed together with little competition, because they do not feed on the same kind of meat within the carcass. There are even vultures that feed on the bones! Since the entire carcass can be eaten, nothing is wasted. Vultures are such efficient feeders that the body of a small animal can be skeletonized in less than half an hour.

Vultures usually have one mate a year. Nests are constructed using sticks and leaves, and are built in trees and cliffs. The same nest may be used for several years. Most species produce one chick; the male and female share parental responsibilities. They take turns sitting on the nest while the mate finds food that, upon return, is regurgitated for the hatching.

Vultures play a prominent role in African folklore. Their ability to show up wherever there is a carcass leads many to believe they dream the location of food or use telepathy.

They have long been misunderstood and persecuted by humans, suffering from loss of habitat and from poisons that can accumulate through time in their prey.

Vultures serve an important function as nature's garbage collectors, helping to keep ecosystems clean of waste. Habitats must be preserved and pollutants eliminated so these important predators are not lost.

Ecology and Conservation

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.


Brown, L. and D. Amadon. Eagles, Hawks, and Falcons of the World, Vol. 1. Wellfleet Press, NJ, 1989.

Dewitt, L. Eagles, Hawks, and other Birds of Prey. Franklin Watts, NY, 1989.

Perrins, C.M. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds. Prentice-Hall, NY, 1990.

Perrins, C.M. and A.L.A. Middleton, eds. The Encyclopedia of Birds. Facts on File, Inc., NY, 1985.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22695238A118631696. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T22695238A118631696.en. Downloaded on 3 March 2020.