Hooded vultures occupy a wide variety of habitats, and their familiarity with humans makes them a large presence in urban centers and near agriculture. Their more typical habitat would include open grassland, forest edge, wooded savanna, deserts and along coasts. Anywhere with trees high enough (hooded vultures prefer to nest >15m high) and sufficient carrion can support the hooded vulture. Found as high as 4,000m above sea level, hooded vultures are most abundant below 1,800m. (Adang, et al., 2019; Campbell, 2009)
The hooded vulture is a relatively small vulture, standing around 67-70cm. They have a long thin beak, with the upper mandible curling downwards at the end. Strong toes are developed for walking and running rather than grabbing prey. Short, beige downy feathers are present along the back of the neck. The pinkish colored face remains uncovered, and their large blue eyes are prominent. Plumage is almost entirely dark brown, with a white patch on the upper breast, and there is no sexual dimorphism. Females are generally slightly larger than males. Hooded vultures have relatively large wingspans for soaring, and typically weigh 1.5-2.6kg. Juveniles look similar to adults, but are generally darker, and more plain, often with a pale blue face. Hooded vultures frequently perch hunched over, with their wings going straight down. (Adang, et al., 2019; Kibuule, 2016)
At the end of the rainy season, hooded vultures begin to breed in their monogamous pairs. This timing ensures that there will be plenty of food for the growing chick as the rains will return vegetation and herbivores to the area. (Adang, et al., 2019; Monadjem, et al., 2016; Virani, et al., 2011)
Hooded vultures nest in just below the canopy of tall trees, and build their nests out of sticks and line it with fresh vegetation at the beginning of the nesting season. Nests are then re-used year after year. Courtship displays are fairly basic, and generally involve the male swooping down on the female. Sometimes however, males will do a slight dance by moving in light circles with its claws held out. Each year the female lays a single egg, and it is incubated for about 46 days. Females typically spend most of their times sitting on the egg while the male will bring back food. Upon hatching, the chick requires constant attention, and it is totally reliant upon its parents for food. The chick will stay reliant on its parents for food for about 6 months. After around 120 days, the fledged vulture will be about the same size as its parents, and will soon complete its first flight. The vulture will then strike out on its own, generally at about 6 months of age. Sexual maturity in hooded vultures is not provided in the literature, but we can assume maturity will be around 3 or 4 years based on other vultures. (Adang, et al., 2019; Monadjem, et al., 2016; Reading, et al., 2018)
Females typically spend most of their times sitting on the egg while the male will bring back food. Upon hatching, the chick requires constant attention, and it is totally reliant upon its parents for food. The chick will stay reliant on it's parents for food for about 5 months. (Adang, et al., 2019)
There is no information on lifespan reported in the literature.
Hooded vultures are a shy bird, but they have adapted very well to the presence of humans. These vultures will frequently visit cities and end up in close proximity to humans. Hooded vultures are not highly social, and are typically seen soaring in monogamous pairs or alone. Monogamous pairs will roost together throughout the year Taking advantage of its relative light weight, hooded vultures are the first vultures to start soaring in the morning because they do not need the strong thermals that come out later in the day. This makes it so that they are usually the first vultures to arrive at a carcass. At night, hooded vultures will return to their nest until morning. It is still up to debate on whether hooded vultures are territorial or not. Adults have been documented living in the same area for several years, sometimes they will even have nests as little as 50 meters away from each other. There have been sightings of talon grappling among hooded vultures however, which does suggest territorial physical behavior. Per day, these vultures typically fly around 45 kilometers per day. (Adang, et al., 2019; ; Reading, et al., 2018)
Home ranges are much smaller during the breeding season as compared to non-breeding, when there is no need to frequently return to the nest. Home range in the non-breeding season is around 23,000 square kilometers, and shrinks to around 11,000 square kilometers during the nesting season. However, this is the only information on home range currently available, and sample size is an issue (Reading, et al., 2018)
Hooded vultures rely mainly on there advanced sense of sight to perceive their environment. The reason for the bare skin on the face of hooded vulture and many other species has been debated. This can have multiple purposes including sexual selection, thermal regulation, and communication. It is thought that in vultures a vibrant red face could be a sign of high fitness, as it is energetically costly to develop this. Usually silent, the hooded vulture will make shrill squeals at carcasses and at the nest site. During copulation they will also let out a shrill whistle. (Negro, et al., 2006)
Hooded vultures are highly opportunistic scavengers. Vultures are highly adapted to be able to digest the decaying carrion they consume. The heads of vultures contain a diverse microbiome that can outcompete other harmful bacteria that may be present in a carcass. The digestive tract has an extremely low pH, around 1 or 2, that kills off harmful bacteria entering the body. Hooded vultures are typically the first among vulture species to arrive at kills made by carnivores in rural areas of southern Africa. When arriving at carrion, hooded vultures will begin feeding by grabbing small portions with their beak and then running off to swallow it away from others. Since hooded vultures are smaller than most others, they can be pushed away from the feeding site by mammals or larger vultures like the white-backed and lappet faced, so the ability to arrive first is vital for their feeding. Hooded vultures tend to stay the longest at carcasses as well, even after there is no meat left. They then proceed to pick away at the bones and skin available. Along coastlines hooded vultures will feed on mussels, mollusks, and any dead fish available to them. Hooded vultures are also very prevalent in urban areas, especially those that have meat production facilities. In these areas where human waste is available, the hooded vultures comfort with human presence leaves them with only the competition of pied crows for carrion. Hooded vultures have also been documented following farm equipment and other ground disturbances where they will feed on grubs and grasshoppers. The hooded vultures tough feet are adapted to for them to be strong walkers and runners as they are on their feet most of the day. (Campbell, 2009; Gbogbo, et al., 2016; Petrides, 1959; Waite and Taylor, 2015)
Due to their diet of carrion and complex microbiome, hooded vultures have no consistent predators. Rarely a nest may be raided by predatory birds, but vultures are generally not preyed upon. (Waite and Taylor, 2015)
Vulture species worldwide are vital in the process of returning organic materials back to the soil. Vultures, including the hooded vulture, cleanse the environment of carrion which can become a breeding ground of potentially harmful bacteria and diseases. Carrion sites can quickly become a hot bed of disease transmission for mammalian scavengers, but the presence of vultures limits mammalian contact with these sites, essentially protecting many vital predators. Specifically in Africa, the hooded vulture protects important predators from transmitting diseases among themselves. Hooded vultures are also used by lions and hyenas in order to seek out available carrion; however, mammals are typically much slower to carrion than vultures. The carcass will typically be stripped of the majority of meat before mammalian scavengers reach it, limiting the disease transmission potential. In a study in the Serengeti, it was found that 84% of experimentally placed carcasses were completely consumed by vultures before any mammals arrived on the scene. (Ogada, et al., 2011; Plaza, et al., 2019)
Since hooded vultures are one of the most common scavengers around urban areas of Africa, they are especially important to people. Around cities, hooded vultures are vital for the removal of carrion, which could otherwise become a breeding ground of disease. For example, in India vulture populations have declined greatly, and feral dogs have taken their place as primary scavengers. This has allowed for rabies to spread wildly throughout their populations. One study shows this has caused an estimated 34 billion dollar increase in health care costs in India from 1993-2006. Vultures on the other hand, are a free way to dispose of organic waste. (Ogada, et al., 2011)
Hooded vultures can infrequently be hit by cars as they frequently scavenge roadside carrion; however, there is no data on the frequency of these occurrences. This is the only negative to be found in the literature.
Hooded vultures have the most stable population of any vulture species in Africa. This is most likely due to their adaptation to interact with humans in cities. However, the species is still listed as critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List. The most important threat to hooded vulture populations is the frequent use of pesticides in rural Africa. These pesticides are used to target predators to remove them from their land, or to target herbivores to stop them from eating their crop. Vultures are frequently a victim of these pesticides, and many species are declining rapidly. Even when applied in the appropriate doses for approved targets, vultures are still vulnerable to these pesticides. Hooded vultures are also traded as part of a traditional medicine in the illegal wildlife trade. (Kibuule, 2016; Plaza, et al., 2019)
DANIEL JUDD (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec Lindsay (editor), Northern Michigan University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.
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.
helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals
an animal that mainly eats meat
flesh of dead animals.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
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.
parental care is carried out by females
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).
a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).
parental care is carried out by males
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
an animal that mainly eats dead animals
scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
Living on the ground.
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
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.
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.
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.
living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.
uses sight to communicate
young are relatively well-developed when born
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