The endangered Egyptian vulture is Europe’s smallest vulture and in plumage colour and patternation closely resembles the much larger, White Stork (Ciconia ciconia).
The adult Egyptian vulture is predominantly white overall with contrasting browny black flight feathers with black tips. The white body and forewings often appear as a very pale dirty buff shade caused by feeding and habitat. The bird’s neck, nape, rear of the head and upper chest area are covered in long spiky white feathers forming a ruff, similarly stained with a buff hue. The head is narrow with a large bald yellow face, throat and bill, tipped black in the more common nominate sub-species, with a hooked upper mandible and elongated nostrils. Leg colour varies from pale yellow to pink or light grey. The adult female is similar to the male. Juveniles are generally a dark brown overall becoming lighter with age until they resemble that of an adult bird over a period of up to five years.
Egyptian Vulture in flight
Generally a silent bird, either sex can occasionally be heard vocalising by hissing, mewing or grunting.
Egyptian Vulture call / alarm call
Eduardo Realinho, XC650774. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/650774.
Close up of an Egyptian Vulture
Like most vultures the Egyptian vulture is an extremely proficient scavenger dining off fresh or putrid carcasses, mammal faeces, rotting fruits and scraps from urban rubbish tips. They will also kill small animals, particularly those which are weak or injured and take other birds’ eggs.
Egyptian Vulture feeding on prey
There are three sub-species of the Egyptian vulture with the nominate of the sub-species being the most populous and widespread.
Found from South West Europe bordering the Mediterranean, including the Balearics, eastwards into Kazakhstan via the Caucasus and Turkey and into North Western India. Also across North and East Africa, south into sub-Saharan Africa and east into the Middle East.
This is the largest sub-species in the physical size of the bird and is confined to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the North African Coast.
The smallest member of the Egyptian vulture family with a totally yellow bill, it is found throughout Indian and north into Nepal.
Egyptian Vulture perched on a branch
Although more commonly seen as a solitary bird or in pairs they can often be spotted in small to medium sized groups waiting at regular feeding points such as rubbish dumps, fishing ports or slaughter houses. In addition to the easy pickings found within urban environments they can also be found at low to medium altitudes in arid or semi-arid regions including steppes, rocky pastures and deserts. Close up the distinctive scruffy neck ruff and yellow face are a key to identification, whilst in flight the contrasting black of the primary and secondary flight feathers with the rest of the white wing and wedge shaped tail, are an easy identifying feature. They can occasionally be found in the company of the larger Griffon Vulture.
Egyptian vultures are mainly sedentary although birds breeding in the northern most regions and particularly those in Europe, migrate during the winter south into Africa, but tend to confine themselves to the north of the equator.
A pair of Egyptian Vultures
Dependent upon location, breeding takes place throughout the year although within Europe it is generally April to June and March to June in India, North Africa and the Canary Islands. Males and females build a nest constructed with sticks, rubbish and bones normally on rocky surfaces such as cliff tops or inside caves or buildings. They are lined with wool or animal hair, food and occasionally faeces. 1-3 eggs are laid and incubated by both parents for up to forty five days. Fledging takes place between seventy to eighty five days after hatching.
A typical nest of an Egyptian Vulture
Juvenile Egyptian Vulture
Life expectancy for Egyptian vultures in the wild is between ten to fifteen years.
Also known as the Eurasian Griffon, this large short tailed vulture has excellent eyesight and in flight can spot an animal carcass from a distance in excess of five kilometres.