Did You Know?
- The Cinereous Vulture is also known as the Monk Vulture
- It is one of the largest Old World vultures
- In captivity, one Cinereous Vulture lived to be 39 years old
- In certain regions of Asia, some people perform Sky Burials. Instead of burying their dead, they place their bodies in the open where they are fed on by vultures. The Cinereous Vulture can sometimes be found feeding on these bodies.
How The Peregrine Fund is Helping
The Peregrine Fund helped support research of the Cinereous Vulture. The Peregrine Fund also helps support vultures worldwide by promoting and celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day, which is the first Saturday in September each year! You can help by celebrating this day on your own by going out and watching vultures in your area, or by encouraging others in your family, school or neighborhood to celebrate too!
Where They Live
The Cinereous Vulture can be found in a number of different countries within Europe, Asia, the Middle East. It makes its home or spends part of the year in Spain, France, Balkan Islands, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan southern Siberia, Mongolia, China, southern Pakistan, Northern India, and Nepal, among many others.
This large bird spends its time in dry hilly areas and montane habitats, including wooded areas and semi-desert areas above the tree line. If you are in Cinereous Vulture territory, you might also find it hanging out in agricultural fields that are interspersed with patches of forest.
What They Do
This large vulture soars often on broad, wide wings. If you were to see this bird in flight you would notice that its entire body is covered mainly in dark brown to black feathers. Its tail is slightly tapered. Like other vultures, its head isn't covered in large feathers, but rather with tufts of dark down. It has slightly paler feathers around its neck, which resemble the fuzzy collar of a winter coat, called a ruff. Its cere can appear bluish and the skin on its head and neck is a bluish-grey color.
If you hope to see a Cinereous Vulture, one of the best ways to do it is to look up! These birds spend a lot of time soaring overhead in search of food. It can also be seen perching on trees or even hanging out on the ground.
Of course, if you stumble across an area with a large food source, you may be lucky enough to see this bird congregated in large flocks.
Why They Need our Help
This vulture is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. While its distribution is wide, it is also patchy. In some areas the species is experiencing more of a decline than in others. Sadly, this vulture faces many threats throughout its range. Perhaps the greatest threat is direct and indirect human persecution. Birds are poisoned accidentally when they feed on carcasses people have laced with poison to kill predators preying on livestock. Some people deliberately shoot these birds or destroy their nests. Other threats include loss of breeding habitat, a reduction in its food supply - mainly with the decline of some Critically Endangered ungulate species within its range. In some areas, there is a market for its feathers, which also poses a big threat to this amazing bird.
What They Eat
Like most vulture species, the Cinereous Vulture feeds mainly on carrion. But what is carrion? It isn't the luggage you bring with you on an airplane! Carrion are animals that are already dead. They may have been predated on by another predator, fallen ill, or been poached, or died in an accident. No matter the cause of death, these animals make a good meal for this vulture. Rabbits, marmots, yaks, gazelles, sheep, and more are some of the animals this vulture is known to feed on.
Despite is affinity for dead animals, the Cinereous Vulture has also been known to attack and kill live prey, including birds and reptiles. One researcher observed this species pirating rodents from Greater Spotted and Steppe Eagles in northern India.
As nature's clean-up crew, vultures and other carrion eaters often consume organisms in dead and decaying animals that are harmful to humans and the environment, thereby helping to contain any spread of disease. They truly help keep us safe and the environment clean! Vultures like to be clean, too. In fact, it is important for all birds to keep their feathers neat and well-groomed. But you’ve never seen a bird with a hair brush, right? Instead, they use their beaks to clean, or preen, their feathers.
Like all vultures, Cinereous Vultures have very few feathers on their heads. When they eat, they often need to put their heads deep into the cavities of rotting carcasses. If particles of this meat got deep into their feathers, they might cause bacteria or germs to grow. Though some people might think vultures look ugly, the fact is a bald head helps keep vultures healthy – and the more healthy vultures we have around the better.
Nest, Eggs, and Young
These birds are known to be semi-colonial nesters in some areas where nest sites are available. Colonial nesting simply means that many different pairs nest in very close proximity to each other.
As you can imagine, a large bird needs to build a fairly large nest. And the Cinereous Vultures don't disappoint. These birds build huge platform nests made of large sticks and twigs. They line their nest with all kinds of natural materials including bark, animal hair, and even bones!
The nest is normally built at the top of a tree or on a cliff ledge.
When it is time, the female will lay one white egg that is often covered in a mosaic of rusty-brown spots. Both the male and female take good care of their egg and they share in incubation duties. Over the following 50-55 days after the eggs are laid, the adults take turns sitting on their eggs and occasionally rotating them to make sure they stay at just the right temperature and that the fetus develops into a healthy bird.
After the nestling hatches, it will develop quickly over the next 3-4 months. It will fly from the nest when it is around 120 days old.
When these vultures are around 4 years old, they are able to breed for the first time.
Cinereous Vulture and The World Center for Birds of Prey
The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about birds of prey. Interactive exhibits, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets to quizzes to costumes are all available. Owls are included among the ambassador birds at the visitor center, providing visitors with a wonderful opportunity to see owls up close and learn about the wonderful and interesting adaptations they have in order to survive in their respective habitats. There is also a touch table with owl feathers and other natural objects available for exploration.
BirdLife International. 2018. Aegypius monachus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22695231A131935194. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22695231A131935194.en. Downloaded on 12 August 2021.
Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 12 Aug. 2021
Meyburg, B.-U., D. A. Christie, G. M. Kirwan, and J. S. Marks (2020). Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.cinvul1.01