Aegypius monachuscinereous vulture

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Geographic Range

Cinereous vultures (Aegypius monachus) breed throughout much of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia including Spain, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Afghanistan, northern India, northern Pakistan, Mongolia, and mainland China. They also winter in areas of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa including the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, northwest India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Lao People's Democratic Republic, North Korea, and South Korea. (American Zoo and Aquarium Association, 1998; "Aegypius monachus", 2012; Vasilakis, et al., 2008)

Habitat

Cinereous vultures prefer hilly mountainous habitats for mating, but they can also be found in thick forests, open terrain, and semi-deserts. This versatile bird can be seen at altitudes ranging anywhere between 10 m and 2,000 m. Habitat versatility is essential for a species that must travel such vast distances for food. Cinereous vultures prefer to roost near their nest tree during the breeding season to guard and defend their nest site. How the birds choose a roost tree is still debated, although cinereous vultures tend to roost in older trees. ("Cinereous Vulture", 2005; "Cinereous Vulture, Aegypius monachus", 2012; Heredia, 1996; Vasilakis, et al., 2008)

  • Range elevation
    10 to 2000 m
    32.81 to 6561.68 ft

Physical Description

Cinereous vultures are one of the largest flying birds in the world, and among birds of prey, they are second only to Andean condors, which are usually considered to be only slightly larger. However, recent data suggests cinereous vultures may actually be bigger than Andean condors. However, this observation does not yet have wide support. Female cinereous vultures are normally heavier and slightly larger than males. They both have a broad head and bodies covered in black and/or brown feathers. Their beak is black and their eyes are brown. Feathers on their head are smaller than those found on the rest of their body. Their legs are a grayish-blue or a whitish-yellow in adults, but during adolescence, their legs and beaks are pink. These magnificent birds can weigh up to 14 kg, and average 8.17 kg. The length from their beak to the end of their tail feathers is between 110 to 120 cm, and their wingspan is between 2.44 to 2.91 m. The proportions are hard to imagine, but to put it into perspective; these birds could easily wrap their wings around any human, although they would be unable to lift a person. ("Cinereous Vulture", 2005; "Cinereous Vulture, Aegypius monachus", 2012; American Zoo and Aquarium Association, 1998)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    6.82 to 14.0 kg
    15.02 to 30.84 lb
  • Average mass
    8.17 kg
    18.00 lb
  • Range length
    110 to 120 cm
    43.31 to 47.24 in
  • Range wingspan
    2.44 to 2.91 m
    8.01 to 9.55 ft

Reproduction

Although not much is known about the mating system of these birds, they are known to be monogamous. Once these birds find a mate, they stay together their entire lives. It is not known how these vultures initially choose a mate. ("Cinereous Vulture, Aegypius monachus", 2012; Moreno-opo, et al., 2010; Poulakakis, et al., 2008)

Cinereous vultures mate once a year, between October and November. Incubation is from January through April and chick-rearing continues through August. Generally, only one egg is fertilized each season. Although extremely rare, two eggs have been observed. Both parents incubate the egg for 50 to 55 days until the egg hatches. The young are fed by both parents for about 160 days; however, even after the young have fledged, they will still return to the nest for food for several months. Both males and females are sexually mature at 4 to 5 years of age. ("Cinereous Vulture", 2005; "Cinereous Vulture, Aegypius monachus", 2012; "Aegypius monachus", 2008; Heredia, 1996; Jais, 2009; Skartsi, et al., 2008; Vasilakis, et al., 2008)

  • Breeding interval
    Cinereous vultures mate once a year.
  • Breeding season
    These birds breed from October through November.
  • Range eggs per season
    0 to 2
  • Range time to hatching
    50 to 55 days
  • Average time to hatching
    53.3 days
  • Range fledging age
    95 to 120 days
  • Range time to independence
    180 to 215 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 to 5 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4.4 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 to 5 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4.4 years

These enormous vultures must first construct a nest where they can lay an egg. Their monstrous nests are usually wider than 2.4 m (8 feet) and deeper than 2.1 m (7 feet), composed almost entirely of sticks, pine needles, branches, and trash. An egg is deposited in February and incubated by both parents until April. The baby bird reaches the fledgling stage in about 100 days. At this point, the fledgling leaves the nest but will still return to the nest for food from its parents and to sleep, this usually lasts 2 to 3 months. The amount of effort the parents put into their offspring is enormous, but it insures the survival and continuation of their species. ("Cinereous Vulture", 2005; "Cinereous Vulture, Aegypius monachus", 2012; Jais, 2009)

  • Parental Investment
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

These vultures have a very long lifespan for a bird. Generally in the wild, they will live to be at least 20 years old; however, they require large areas and suitable food sources for continued survival. The longest known lifespan of a cinereous vulture in captivity was 40 years old. (Moreno-opo, et al., 2010; Poulakakis, et al., 2008)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    28 (high) years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    40 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    20 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    35 years

Behavior

These birds do not migrate like other birds. They fly great distances to get food; however, they always return to their nest to sleep. They stay in that nest throughout the year. This species prefers to roost near their nest tree in the breeding season to guard and defend their nest site. These birds roost and soar together. At a carcass, these vultures are the dominant species, but they are known to tolerate other vulture species and any other species that wants to eat. These vultures form colonies for survival, which makes scavenging easier for their species. (Yamac, 2007; "Cinereous Vulture", 2005; Moreno-opo, et al., 2010; Yamac, 2007)

Home Range

They have been observed flying up to 75 km to find food. Once they are done eating, they fly back to their nest. Their home range is anywhere they can fly in order to get food; however, no matter how far they fly, they always return to their nest. ("Aegypius monachus", 2012; Poulakakis, et al., 2008)

Communication and Perception

Cinereous vultures, like many other vulture species, are very quiet. It is rare to hear vultures, but they may make croaks, grunts, and hisses when feeding at carcasses and have a querulous mewing, loud squalling, or roaring during breeding season. The most useful sense cinereous vultures have is their sight, which is used to find food. (Ogada, et al., 2012; Yamac, 2007)

Food Habits

In their natural habitat, these vultures feed on carcasses. Their main food sources are dead rabbits, sheep, and ungulates. They also feed on the carcasses of red deer, wild boars, pigs, and cattle. They rarely eat live animals, but snakes and insects have been killed and eaten by these vultures. Their powerful beaks have evolved to allow these vultures to tear even the toughest flesh, muscle, and tendons into edible pieces. (American Zoo and Aquarium Association, 1998; Moreno-opo, et al., 2010; Poulakakis, et al., 2008; Vasilakis, et al., 2008)

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • carrion
  • insects

Predation

Cinereous vultures are not hunted by any animal other than humans. They have no natural predators. ("Cinereous", 2000; "Aegypius monachus", 2012; Poulakakis, et al., 2008; Vasilakis, et al., 2008)

Ecosystem Roles

The presence of cinereous vultures is essential for other species. Since their main food source comes from carcasses, they usually eat the flesh before other smaller scavengers. Their population decline has made it possible for other animals to feast on the carcasses that are normally consumed by cinereous vultures. These decaying carcasses contain bacteria and other parasites that can be passed to the smaller opportunistic scavengers, potentially increasing the incidence of disease in the ecosystem. Cinereous vultures, on the other hand, are adapted to digesting these harmful organisms without damage to themselves. Though the full impact of their population decline has yet to be seen, their complete disappearance could have disastrous results. (Ogada, et al., 2012; Vasilakis, et al., 2008)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Humans do not directly benefit from cinereous vultures; however, these birds are crucial members of the ecosystem. Many of their habitats are favored tourist attractions, where these birds provide a free cleaning service. This not only provides a sanitary environment, but also reduces the chances of other animal getting infections, which they could potentially pass on to human populations. (Ogada, et al., 2012; Vasilakis, et al., 2008)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Billions of dollars have been spent to keep this species from going extinct in many areas, but the global population is still declining. (American Zoo and Aquarium Association, 1998; Moreno-opo, et al., 2010)

Conservation Status

This species is classified globally as “near threatened” according to criteria in the Conservation of Nature Red List (IUCN 2000) and is rare in Europe. It is included in Annex I of the European Union Bird Directive and in Appendix II of the Bern, Bonn, and CITES Conventions. The biggest problem for cinereous vultures is humans. Humans have caused population declines through accidental poisoning, which may happen when vultures consume poisoned carcasses used to bait and reduce the populations of wolves, foxes, and jackals. These birds may also be killed due to poaching. Shooting these birds is illegal in many places, but it still occurs. Humans also affect vulture populations by eliminating their habitats with logging. Many places fortunate enough to have cinereous vultures have set up man-made habitats and feeding sites to increase their population. These man-made habitats are mainly composed of oak and beech woods with many other trees incorporated into the surroundings. In addition, housing and protective structures are built and placed in their habitats to increase protection. ("Cinereous Vulture", 2005; American Zoo and Aquarium Association, 1998; "Aegypius monachus", 2008; "Aegypius monachus", 2012; Moreno-opo, et al., 2010; Poulakakis, et al., 2008; Skartsi, et al., 2008; Vasilakis, et al., 2008)

As of 2013, the global population of cinereous vultures was about 7,200 to 10,000 pairs. Their Spanish population includes about 1,845 pairs, which is almost 95% of the European population. Greece is their only remaining breeding grounds in the Balkan nations, where cinereous vultures are now considered endangered. Greece has spent massive amounts of money to ensure vultures populations remain, building habitats and feeding stations to help the population grow. Cinereous vultures have been extinct in Bulgaria since 1985. France has initiated a massive project to reintroduce these birds to one of their original breeding areas. In Azerbaijan, their population has been declining for the past 10 years. In Armenia, cinereous vulture populations are declining and are considered very rare and are only found in the far south along the border of Iran and Azerbaijan. Recent action in Georgia has saved cinereous vultures from disappearing; however, their population is still declining. In Italy, a reintroduction program is underway for this species. Cinereous vultures are endangered in Portugal and will soon be extinct in this area due to the lack of breeding habitats. They will also soon be extinct in Russia, where their population is declining due to habitat destruction, human disturbance, and poisoning. Cinereous vultures are endangered in Turkey, but have been protected by law since 1991, making it illegal to kill these birds. Three new breeding areas were discovered in Turkey in 1995, however, their population has been declining in recent years. In Ukraine, cinereous vultures are considered endangered and will soon be extinct due to lack of food, shooting, poisoning, disturbance, and lack of breeding areas. ("Cinereous Vulture", 2005; American Zoo and Aquarium Association, 1998; Moreno-opo, et al., 2010; Poulakakis, et al., 2008; Skartsi, et al., 2008; Vasilakis, et al., 2008)

Contributors

Katharine Barbeiro (author), Sierra College, Jennifer Skillen (editor), Sierra College, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

biodegradation

helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scavenger

an animal that mainly eats dead animals

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

BirdLife International. 2012. "Aegypius monachus" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. Accessed February 28, 2013 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22695231/0.

BirdLife International. 2008. "Aegypius monachus" (On-line). Species factsheet. Accessed March 12, 2013 at http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3380.

2012. "Cinereous Vulture, Aegypius monachus" (On-line). The Peregrine Fund Global Raptor Information Network. Accessed February 28, 2013 at http://globalraptors.org/grin/SpeciesResults.asp?specID=8161.

2005. "Cinereous Vulture" (On-line). World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Accessed February 15, 2013 at www.waza.org.

2000. "Cinereous" (On-line). Vulture Territory. Accessed February 15, 2013 at http://www.vulture-territory.com/.

American Zoo and Aquarium Association, 1998. Cinereous vulture - Aegypius monachus. Species Survival Plan. Silver Spring, MD: Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Heredia, B. 1996. Action Plan for the Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) in Europe. Pp. 147-158 in B Heredia, L Rose, M Painter, eds. Globally threatened birds in Europe: action plans. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe and BirdLife International.

Jais, M. 2009. "Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus)" (On-line). European Raptors Biology and Conservation. Accessed February 12, 2013 at http://europeanraptors.org/.

Moreno-opo, R., A. Margalida, A. Arredondo, F. Guil, M. Martin, R. Higuero, C. Soria, J. Guzman. 2010. Factors influencing the presence of the cinereous vulture Aegypius monachus at carcasses: food preferences and implications for the management of supplementary feeding sites. Wildlife Biology, 16/1: 25-34.

Ogada, D., F. Keesing, M. Virani. 2012. Dropping dead: causes and consequences of vulture population declines worldwide. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1249: 57-71.

Poulakakis, N., A. Antoniou, G. Mantziou, A. Parmakelis, T. Skartsi, D. Vasilakis, J. Elorriaga, J. De La Puente, A. Gavashelishvili, M. Ghasabyan, T. Katzner, M. McGrady, N. Batbayar, M. Fuller, T. Natsagdorj. 2008. Population, structure, diversity, and phylogeogeography in the near-threatened Eurasian black vultures Aegypius monachus (Falconiformes; Accipitridae) in Europe: insight from microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA variation. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 95/4: 859-872.

Skartsi, T., J. Elorriaga, D. Vasilakis, K. Poirazidis. 2008. Population size, breeding rates and conservation status of Eurasian black vulture in the Dadia National Park, Thrace, NE Greece. Journal of Natural History, 42/5-8: 345-353.

Vasilakis, D., K. Poirazidis, J. Elorriaga. 2008. Range use of Eurasian black vulture (Aegypius monachus) population in the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli National Park and the adjacent areas, Thrace, NE Greece. Journal of Natural History, 42/5-8: 355-373.

Yamac, E. 2007. Roosting Tree Selection of Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus in Breeding Season in Turkey. Podoces Journal, 2: 30-36.