Old World Vultures

Old World Vultures

Scientific Classification

Common Name
Old World vultures
Genus Species
No data

Fast Facts

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60–140 cm (24–55 in.)
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Approximately 50 days
Sexual Maturity
No data
Life Span
18 years or more, large species up to 50 years
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Savannas, plains, cultivated areas
Global: No data
IUCN: Not listed
CITES: Not listed
USFWS: Not listed

Fun Facts

  1. 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 African white-backed vultures. These important adaptations help vultures survive and perform important roles in the environment.
  2. 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.
    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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. New World vultures in America, such as California condors, have also been devastated by pesticides and habitat loss. Thankfully, captive breeding programs helped restore these magnificent birds. 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.
  5. Vocabulary
    Carcasses: the dead bodies of animals; frameworks, skeletons, or shells
    Ecosystems: systems of ecological relationships in local environments, including relationships between organisms and between organisms and the physical environment
    Old World: the earth's eastern hemisphere, which includes the continents of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia
    Pesticides: chemical agents used to destroy an animal or plant harmful to people
    Regurgitated: to have coughed up incompletely digested food
    Talons: claws of an animal, especially a bird of prey
  6. For more information about raptors, explore the Raptors InfoBook.

Ecology and Conservation

No data


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.