The Cinereous Vulture
Key facts and figures
Key facts and figures
The Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus), also called the Eurasian Black Vulture, is a true giant of the skies. Renowned for its impressive size, it holds the title for the largest Old World vulture and one of the biggest and heaviest birds of prey globally, with an astonishing wingspan stretching 3 meters. It’s a true wonder of nature!
Near Threatened (population decreasing)
Status in Portugal
Status in Spain
Features and appearance
With its broad wings and wedge-shaped tail, this majestic bird boasts an impressive wingspan of 2.5-3.1 metres and can measure up to 120 cm in length. To top it off, the Cinereous Vulture is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world, weighing 6.3-11.5 kg. But what truly sets this avian wonder apart is its distinctive appearance - a dark brown plumage with a bluish-grey bald head and neck decorated with a fluffy collar that becomes lighter with age. Interestingly, in many cultures it's even known as the 'monk vulture' due to the upright feathers on its neck resembling a monk's hood.
Distribution and habitat
The vast and diverse range of the Cinereous Vulture spans Europe, Asia and the Middle East, all the way to northern India and central Asia. While these majestic birds are generally permanent residents of hilly and mountainous areas, certain vultures, especially juvenile and immature individuals, often wander far away from home, covering large distances. The Cinereous Vulture favours dry semi-open habitats such as high-altitude meadows and nest in loose colonies. They forage across a wide variety of terrains, including steppe, grasslands, woodlands, and riparian habitats. Whether soaring over the slopes of Greece and Turkey or perched atop a Mongolian peak, the Cinereous Vulture is a true master of the skies.
Behaviour and diet
Cinereous Vultures are scavengers that primarily feed on carrion - the remains of dead animals. They possess various unique adaptations that enable them to consume carrion effectively. For instance, their heads have few feathers, which helps keep them clean during feeding, while their powerful hooked beaks allow them to tear tough flesh from the carcass with ease. They also have a third eyelid that shields their eyes from flesh and blood. Furthermore, their remarkably long and broad wings enable them to soar effortlessly in the sky for hours. Soaring conserves their energy and enables them to travel great distances in search of carrion. These birds also have specialised type of haemoglobin in their blood, allowing them to effectively absorb oxygen even at great heights and have even been observed soaring at altitudes of 6,970 m. However, they must eventually descend to lower elevations to feed. Their exceptional eyesight is critical in helping them spot potential meals from great heights. While their diet may appear unappealing, vultures perform a crucial role in nature as they recycle carrion, help clean up the environment, and function as nature's "clean up crew."
Cinereous Vultures are known for their monogamous and lifelong pair bonds, with both males and females working together to raise their young. Individuals take quite a long time to reach sexual maturity (4 to 5 years), and their breeding season is quite lengthy, lasting around nine months. Typically, pairs use sticks and twigs to build huge nests on treetops that can be as wide as 3 m and 2 m deep. These nests are reused year after year and can become quite large and elaborate over time. Females lay only one egg per breeding season. It takes approximately 50 to 55 days for the egg to hatch, and once it does, the chick is covered in grayish down that gradually lightens to white before the feathers start to grow in. Flight feathers begin growing when the nestling is around 30 days old and cover the plumage completely by 60 days of age. The parents feed their young by regurgitation, and around 120 days old, the nestling is ready to fledge. This is a critical period, as the young birds are vulnerable to predators and accidents during their first flights. Once they have successfully fledged, the young vultures will continue to receive food and protection from their parents for around two more months before they become fully independent.