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.
One of Europe’s largest birds the griffon vulture is impressive and a master in the air. Adult birds are identical with a white head, neck and ‘feathery’ ruff-like collar. The feathers on the head and neck are short with the ruff just above the nape highlighting the long neck of the bird. The back and upperwing coverts are a bold buff brown with the flight feathers and tail being a much darker brown. The underwing coverts are a mid brown with two lighter buff coloured narrow bands stretching from the scapulars to the alula (also known as the bastard wing where the feathers of the bird’s ‘thumb’ protrude). The belly is a chestnut brown and all other areas of the underwing are a dark brown. In flight the wingtips are deeply fingered. Juveniles are similar to adults although the collar is brown and the back is darker in colour.
Griffon vulture in flight - note deeply fingered wing tips
Noisy when feeding or close to its nest, issuing loud hisses and cackles, often in threat, the griffon is otherwise a fairly quiet bird.
Griffon Vulture call
Stanislas Wroza, XC423958. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/423958.
Close up of a Griffon Vulture
One of natures champion recyclers the Eurasian griffon eats carrion. In particular it enjoys internal organs and muscles from dead sheep, cows, goats and deer etc. It will sometimes attack sick or injured live animal and when food is scarce it often scavenges at municipal dumps.
Griffon vulture coming in to land
The highest density of griffons can be found in countries bordering the Mediterranean, particularly in Spain and the neighbouring Mallorca and Menorca. They can also be seen in north and sub-Saharan Africa and throughout Asia, including the Middle East. Juvenile birds in particular are migratory with many overwintering in Africa.
Griffon vultures prefer large open spaces from cliffs and gorges to mountain regions or lowland terraces. Superb in flight they catch thermal air currents and can soar for great distances. Often seen high in the air circling on a thermal looking out for food and being watched by and watching other griffon vultures for signs of carrion having been sighted. Once one bird sights a likely meal and descends to feed others follow immediately. Their preference for a diet of viscera means they can often be spotted with their heads and long necks deep inside the body cavity of a carcass, emerging with their white heads and necks suitably attired in blood and gore.
'Venue' of griffon vultures
Adults generally pair for life and during breeding nest with others of their species in small colonies of up to twenty pairs although in the past, colonies with well over one hundred breeding pairs have been recorded. Nests are basic and normally on a bare ledge or in a small cave on a cliff face. Between December to March one egg is laid and incubated by both parents for between fifty to fifty eight days. Chicks are fed by both adults and fledge at around one hundred and twenty days after hatching. Parents will often continue to feed fledged young for another three months.
Adult griffons pair for life
Griffon vulture on its nest
In the wild, life expectancy is up to twenty five years although in captivity records show birds surviving well into their thirties.
The endangered Egyptian vulture is Europe’s smallest vulture and in plumage colour and patternation closely resembles the much larger, White Stork (Ciconia ciconia).