Neophron percnopterusEgyptian vulture

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Geographic Range

Egyptian vultures inhabit southern Europe and Asia as well as northern Africa. Isolated populations inhabit the Canary and Cape Verde Islands. Although Egyptian vultures are not truly migratory they do travel between resident and breeding areas to a greater extent than do most other vultures. Breeding pairs may return to the same nesting site for many consecutive years. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Mundy, et al., 1992; Perrins and Middleton, 1985; Widensaul, 1996)

Habitat

Egyptian vultures usually nest on rock ledges. As with other Old World vultures, this species has a difficult time sustaining flapping flight and does best when it begins its soaring flight from a high location or by using thermal updrafts on a heated plain. This vulture species is also known to nest in trees or old buildings when more favorable locations are not available. Egyptian vultures prefer open country with variable elevations. They also occur near human habitation due to the food sources produced by humans. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Mundy, et al., 1992; Perrins and Middleton, 1985; Widensaul, 1996)

  • Range elevation
    4500 (high) m
    14763.78 (high) ft

Physical Description

Egyptian vultures have white colored heads and backs. Flight feathers are darker, near black in color. Individuals have a collared-look of spiked feathers around the neck and a featherless face. The face shifts from yellow to orange for breeding season The featherless face is thought to be useful for thermoregulation purposes as well as for keeping food particles from clinging to plumage.The bill is large and narrow with a curved tip to the beak, a feature that facilitates removing the last bits of tissue between bones. There is little physical difference between males and females. However, females tend to have a slightly higher body mass, on average, than do males. Sexually immature birds are uniformly brown. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Mundy, et al., 1992; Perrins and Middleton, 1985)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    1584 to 2180 g
    55.82 to 76.83 oz
  • Average mass
    1889 g
    66.57 oz
  • Range length
    58 to 70 cm
    22.83 to 27.56 in
  • Average length
    68 cm
    26.77 in
  • Range wingspan
    1.68 (low) m
    5.51 (low) ft

Reproduction

Egyptian vultures are monogamous and migrate between breeding seasons with their mate. They construct a large nest and constantly refurnish it throughout the breeding season. The nest may include pieces of old rags, hair, or fur. During the breeding season the male performs swooping displays toward his mate and the pair engages in talon grappling during courtship. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Mundy, et al., 1992; Perrins and Middleton, 1985; Widensaul, 1996)

Eqyptian vultures breed once per year. The timing of the breeding season varies slightly between populations in different regions, but egg laying usually occurs between March and May. Female Egyptian vultures have been observed to incubate the eggs alone for several days before duties are shared by both parents. A typical clutch consists of two eggs which take 39 to 45 days to hatch. Because there may be a significant lapse of time between the laying and hatching of eggs, one nestling will often be considerably more developed and coordinated than the other. Nestlings take 71 to 85 days to fledge and are able to hunt for themselves about a month after fledging. Nestlings have grayish-white down and the skin covering the face may be a dark green color. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Mundy, et al., 1992; Perrins and Middleton, 1985; Widensaul, 1996)

  • Breeding interval
    Egyptian vultures breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Egyptian vultures lay their eggs between March and May, depending on the region.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 3
  • Average eggs per season
    1.9
  • Range time to hatching
    39 to 45 days
  • Range fledging age
    71 to 85 days
  • Average fledging age
    82 days
  • Average time to independence
    4 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    6 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    6 years

Each clutch constitutes about 9 % of the mother’s body weight, which is high for a vulture species. After laying, the female will incubate the eggs on her own for several days before both parents share this duty. Both parents also work to defend the territory and to bring food to nestlings. Food can be carried in the beak of a parent or regurgitated on return to the nest. Smaller nestlings may require that a parent pull pieces of food apart before consuming them. After the young have fledged they can be seen flying within the home range alongside parents as part of family groups. Parents may continue to feed fledged birds that arrive at the nest and teach them to find food and feed for themselves. Fledged birds separate from their parents at the onset of migration away from the breeding grounds. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Mundy, et al., 1992; Perrins and Middleton, 1985; Widensaul, 1996)

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

Lifespan/Longevity

The longest recorded lifespan in captivity for an Egyptian vulture is 37 years. The lifespan of individuals in the wild is hard to determine because the birds do not always return to the same location between seasons. ("Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research Longetivity Records", 2002)

Behavior

Social behavior of Egyptian vultures varies, depending on available resources. Numerous individuals can be found together, along with immatures birds and other carnivores, at preferred feeding locations with abundant resources. Otherwise these vultures forage alone or with their mate. In the dominance hierarchy at a feeding site, Egyptian vultures are below larger griffons, but above kites and crows. Egyptian vultures are well equipped to remove the scraps of meat remaining on the bone after more dominant scavengers have fed. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Mundy, et al., 1992; Perrins and Middleton, 1985; Widensaul, 1996)

Neophron percnopterus is one of very few species to use tools. In order to crack open larger, thicker-shelled eggs such as those of ostriches, Egyptian vultures will walk hundreds of meters from the egg to find a rock that they throw in a characteristic manner to open the egg and feed on the embryo. (Jackson, et al., 2003; Mundy, et al., 1992)

Home Range

The home range of an individual, mating pair, or family group is larger than the territory that it defends and will often include human refuse areas or areas where livestock are held. Male birds are known to perform repeated aerial battles in defense of nesting territory. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Mundy, et al., 1992; Perrins and Middleton, 1985; Widensaul, 1996)

Communication and Perception

Egyptian vultures are purely visual hunters and do not use smell to locate food. They seek food mostly in open areas where carcasses can be discovered from a soaring height. Rather than sighting prey themselves, individuals will often notice other vultures, of their own or other species, circling lower in the sky over a detected meal. The group may then perch, and wait above the intended meal if trees are available nearby, before proceeding to feed. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Perrins and Middleton, 1985)

  • Communication Channels
  • visual

Food Habits

Egyptian vultures are carnivorous, feeding mostly on carrion, but they are also known to eat insects, small reptiles and mammals, crustaceans, snails, bird eggs, nestlings, and the dung of larger animals. The eggs and young of larger ground-laying birds are especially in danger from this species, as they are skilled at using rocks as tools to crack open eggs. The feces of larger animals, including that of humans, is thought to be a good source of nutrients for Egyptian vultures, and therefore helps to maintain the facial coloration of these birds. Nestlings are fed small animals, which provides them with calcium for bone development. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Mundy, et al., 1992; Perrins and Middleton, 1985; Widensaul, 1996)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Other Foods
  • dung

Predation

Egyptian vultures do not have natural predators as adults, however persecution by humans is a major problem for this species. These birds may experience direct habitat destruction from humans or may be indirectly poisoned when feeding on the carcasses of animals killed by lead bullets or when feeding on cattle that have been raised on unnatural diets, especially those containing anti-inflammatory medicines. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Mundy, et al., 1992; Perrins and Middleton, 1985)

Ecosystem Roles

Egyptian vultures consume carcasses, trash, and feces and therefore play important roles in the removal and recycling of organic waste. They are direct predators of small animals as well as of eggs of other birds. As a result, they may influence population sizes of these prey animals. Egyptian vultures and other carnivores may benefit each other by signaling one another about the location of food. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Mundy, et al., 1992; Perrins and Middleton, 1985)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Egyptian vultures may help rid areas populated by humans of potentially disease-causing carcasses. This species plays a role in ancient Egyptian culture. It was displayed on monuments and was represented in their alphabet. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Jackson, et al., 2003; Perrins and Middleton, 1985)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Egyptian vultures on humans.

Conservation Status

The world population of Egyptian vultures is thought to be between 10,000 and 100,000 individuals and is declining. Conservation status has been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources beginning in 1988. Most currently, populations were considered “least concern” by the IUCN. ("IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Neophron Percnopterus", 2006; Jackson, et al., 2003)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Ethan Rosenblatt (author), Kalamazoo College, Ann Fraser (editor, instructor), Kalamazoo College.

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

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

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

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.

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).

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

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

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

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

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.

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 2006. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Neophron Percnopterus" (On-line). Accessed November 09, 2006 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/.

2002. "Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research Longetivity Records" (On-line). Accessed November 05, 2006 at http://www.demogr.mpg.de/longevityrecords/.

Campbell, B., E. Lack. 1985. A Dictionary of Birds. Vermillion, SD: Buteo Books.

Jackson, J., W. Bock, D. Olendorf. 2003. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2nd ed.. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.

Mundy, P., D. Butchart, J. Ledger, S. Piper. 1992. The Vultures of Africa. San Diego, CA: Academic Press INC.

Perrins, C., A. Middleton. 1985. The Encyclopedia of Birds. NY: Facts on File.

Widensaul, S. 1996. Raptors. NY: Lyons & Buford.