Formerly known as the Black Vulture the name was changed to Cinereous Vulture, from the Latin meaning ‘ash coloured’, to avoid confusion with the much smaller and separate species of the American Black Vulture.
Black Vulture, Monk Vulture, Eurasian Black Vulture
Although appearing mainly black, particularly from a distance, the cinereous vulture is predominantly brown in colour. The head appears bald although it may be covered in a black feathery down with a black mask around the eye. Otherwise the face is pale morphing into a black chin and throat. The neck ruff is pale brown with underlying white feathers. The bill is large and hooked with a greyish blue colour from the base to just past the nares (nostrils) where it changes to a dark grey black. The feet are pale, almost white in colour. Breast, belly, tail and underwing areas are all dark brown as is the back, upper tail and upperwing areas. The underwing coverts are a very dark brown and in flight the primary feathers are deeply fingered. Female adults are slightly larger and heavier than males whilst juveniles are blacker overall.
Cinereous vultures - male and female
A relatively silent bird that tends to vocalise with hisses and grunts when feeding.
Cinereous Vulture / Black Vulture call
Fernand DEROUSSEN, XC144935. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/144935.
As with most vultures, the cinereous vulture is a scavenger, rarely taking live prey but concentrating on carrion including medium to large carcasses, although it will also take dead rabbits. Unlike other species of vulture, it often feeds alone.
In April 2021 it was widely reported in the European media that a dead cinereous vulture found in Spain was found to have died as a result of poisoning after consuming meat from a livestock carcass that had been treated with the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. This drug is banned throughout the Indian sub-continent following the almost total extinction of the vulture population in that region some thirty years ago as a result of diclofenac poisoning. The 2021 death of a cinereous vulture in Europe is believed to have been the first poisoning due to the drug on the continent and led to calls for a ban on the drug in order to protect the extremely rare and vulnerable species of vultures that inhabit the region.
Also known as the ‘monk vulture’, due to the upright standing neck feathers which are said to resemble the hood of a monk
Whilst often hunting in large areas with sparse vegetation the cinereous vulture also moves around forested areas of hills and mountains and frequently nests in trees high in the treeline of rugged wildernesses in Central Asia. Within Europe it mainly occupies Portugal, Spain, the Balearics and southern France from where it very rarely migrates. Travelling east it is also found in the Caucasus, the Middle East, Indian sub-continent, Siberia, Mongolia and north eastern China. Some juvenile birds will migrate to north east Africa to overwinter.
Cinereous vulture hunting for food
Like the griffon vulture the cinereous is also a master of the air using thermals in order to soar effortlessly around the skies seeking prey. Unlike the former it is however a fairly solitary bird and often feeds alone. Its outspread wings tend to be flat as opposed to ‘V’ shaped whilst soaring and the overall wing shape when viewed from below is broad and rectangular. It is one of the worlds heaviest birds capable of flight with the female able to reach thirty one pounds or fourteen kilograms in weight. Unsurprisingly it therefore requires a large wing area to enable flight and wing spans of over ten feet are not uncommon.
During the breeding season large nests constructed from sticks and small branches are built in flat topped trees where one brood consisting of just one egg is laid between February to April, dependant upon geographical location. Again, dependent upon region, incubation averages fifty four to fifty six days with fledging taking place anytime between ninety five and one hundred and twenty days. It is not unusual for adult birds of breeding age to skip a season and not produce an egg.
Cinereous vulture on its nest
Young cinereous vulture
The lifespan of a cinereous vulture is up to twenty five years although in captivity a specimen has been recorded as achieving thirty nine years of age.
The endangered Egyptian vulture is Europe’s smallest vulture and in plumage colour and patternation closely resembles the much larger, White Stork (Ciconia ciconia).