How The Peregrine Fund is Helping
The Peregrine Fund has been studying vultures in Kenya and other African nations since the early 1990s. Our initial efforts focused on scientific field studies, including placing radio transmitters on vultures to better understand their movement patterns related to where they travel and where they are most exposed to poisoning.
We conduct environmental education programs in the countries in which we work to help teach people about the importance of protecting birds of prey and their habitats, and we provide hands-on training to students and local biologists.
We are now focusing our conservation efforts on Rapid Response to Poisoning trainings, which is now being tied into more urban issues of dog poisoning, over-medicating livestock and other issues that could affect Hooded Vultures more specifically. We also collaborate with our partners in Uganda at Makerere University and Nature Uganda who are tracking of Hooded Vultures in and around Kampala as an effort to better understand the threats to this species.
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!
Watch Munir Virani's TED talk about "Why I Love Vultures" to learn more about why vultures are such cool birds.
Where They Live
The Hooded Vulture has a wide distribution throughout sub-Saharan Africa. It can be found in such countries as Senegal, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Somalia.
As you might imagine, a species with such a far-reaching range probably also occurs in a wide variety of habitats. This is certainly true in the case of the Hooded Vulture. This species can be found in savannas, deserts, riparian habitats, forests, cultivated lands, and even in urban habitats - often living quite close to humans. In fact, the Hooded Vulture is so comfortable around people, it will sometimes gather in large numbers at garbage dumps and slaughter houses. This not only helps them to take advantage of some easy meals, but it helps them avoid too much competition from other larger vulture species, as the other species wisely tend to avoid getting too close to humans.
What They Do
The Hooded Vulture is a lovely, relatively petite vulture. Overall it is a dark chocolatey brown color, with a white "collar" sometimes visible around its neck. True to its name, the hooded vulture has a small patch of downy feathers that runs along the back of its neck to the crown of its head, making it look like it is wearing a fluffy, cream-colored hood! It is has dark eyes and a long, narrow bill. Its face is devoid of feathers and its bare skin is normally white. However, when the vulture gets agitated or anxious, the white face flushes to a light pink or red - making it look as if it were blushing.
Like so many vulture species, the Hooded Vulture is often seen soaring high in the sky or gathered singly or in small groups at an animal carcass, garbage dump or slaughterhouse.
Many people mistakenly believe that vultures are dirty animals because of their steady diet of dead animals. However, the exact opposite is true. Vultures enjoy bathing and can spend quite a bit of time around watering holes. And speaking of bathing, vultures also spend time sunbathing, or sunning, as well. But, it isn't because they want to get a tan! Among other reasons, it is to help keep their feathers healthy and clean.
Scientists believe that when birds sun, this actually helps rid their feathers of unwanted and dangerous parasites. These parasites like to hide deep in a bird's feathers. Exposing them to sunlight, and the related heat, causes the parasites to move around, making it easier for the birds to pick off the parasites when they clean, or preen, their feathers.
Why They Need our Help
The Hooded Vulture, like many vultures across Sub-saharan Africa, is suffering alarming population declines. In fact, in 2000, this species was considered to be of "Least Concern" - meaning biologists weren't worried about this species at all. Just twelve years later, it was uplisted to "Critically Endangered" due to the large drop in population numbers.
It took biologists a while to discover the cause of these declines, but when they did, the answer was shocking.
The Hooded Vulture's tendency to hang around in places close to human settlements has, sadly, made it a relatively easy target for poachers. Many fall victim to people who kill them and use their body parts for medicinal purposes or for food. In fact, in West/Central Africa the illegal trade in vulture parts is a huge threat and probably the top threat for these regions! re also killed for food, mostly in Nigeria and neighbouring countries
Throughout much of Africa, many vulture species' populations are falling dramatically due to a carbamate pesticide called Carbofuran or Furadan. This pesticide is being misused by livestock owners and some pastoralists to poison predators like lions and hyenas that attack their livestock. When Furadan is sprinkled on a dead cow that is then eaten by other animals, they die too. This affects not only lions and hyenas, but also jackals, vultures, Tawny Eagles, Bateleurs, and even storks! Populations of White-headed Vultures, White-backed Vultures, Rüppell's Vultures and Hooded Vultures have been so badly affected by these poisonings that they are threatened with extinction.
To make matters worse, some poachers are using pesticides to poison vultures for another reason. When a poacher kills an elephant or a rhino or any other animal illegally, they don't want the authorities to know about it. For example, if they kill an elephant and take its tusks, leaving the rest of the carcass behind, vultures will soon come to feed. If park rangers see vultures circling in the sky, they know that something has died and may investigate. To cover up their crimes, poachers lace the carcass of the animal with a pesticide. When vultures come down and feed, they get sick and die and, since dead vultures are less likely to be spotted than live ones, this terrible crime allows the poachers to escape before anyone learns what they have done.
Despite efforts to ban it, Furadan is still cheap and available over the counter in Kenya and other countries.
While these issues are certainly having some impact on the Hooded Vulture, they still don’t tell the full story because Hooded Vultures are not as social as Gyps species and therefore do not die in large numbers at carcasses.
Another possible threat to this amazing species is the upgrading of slaughterhouses to improve sanitary conditions. For example, in Kenya most slaughterhouses now wash blood and other bits into underground tanks where it is no longer available to scavengers. Alongside this, there is also increased competition at dumpsites from stray dogs and people. There may also be more Hooded Vultures poisoned inadvertently due to contamination from pesticides, herbicides, other toxic waste at garbage dumps than at carcasses.
Sadly we also know very little about the breeding habits of the Hooded Vulture. Scientists fear is that breeding habitat may be reduced due to the cutting of trees - particularly in urban areas. So in short there’s probably more that we don’t know about the actual causes of their declines.
What They Eat
The Hooded Vulture, like most vulture species, feeds on primarily on carrion (animals that are already dead), including dead fish and small mammals. But, its dinner menu doesn't end there. The Hooded Vulture also eats bird eggs, trash, excreta (which is another word for feces), and insects, including flying termites.
Like other vultures, the Hooded Vulture searches for prey by soaring low over open areas, using its exceptional eyesight to spot a meal. If you have ever heard the term "the early bird catches the worm" you might think the Hooded Vulture has, too. It is up and in the air soaring around earlier in the day than other vultures and, because of that, it is often the first to find food. This is good news, because once other vultures show up, the Hooded Vulture takes a more subordinate position - moving back to let other vultures eat first.
Unlike the Turkey Vulture that has a strong sense of smell, the Hooded Vulture and other Old World vultures rely solely on eyesight to locate their dinner. Though they prefer freshly-dead meat, they can eat older carcasses without a problem.
Humans, of course, would get extremely sick, if we tried to eat meat that was even slightly rotten. Old meat can harbor bacteria that would surely give us food poisoning or maybe even anthrax! But vultures are able to eat old meat without ever falling ill. They are truly amazing, wonderful birds.
But, how are they able to eat all of these things, and remain healthy? Vultures not only tolerate this diet, but are in fact, adapted to eat this way. First, they have very acidic stomachs, which helps to kill off any harmful bacteria. Scientists also believe they have developed immunity to certain bacteria, so they are unaffected by it.
Let's face it - we owe a big thanks to vultures for doing the very important job of cleaning up rotting carcasses and ridding our landscapes of certain diseases and, let's face it, some pretty disgusting smells.
Nest, Eggs, and Young
The Hooded Vulture builds a large stick nest in tall trees. Both the male and female Hooded Vulture work together to build the nest. Unlike some vulture species that nest very close together in what is known as a "colony", the Hooded Vulture tends to nest farther away from other nesting vultures in more loose colonies.
When the time is right, the female will lay one egg, which is white with brown splotches. The egg needs to be incubated for around 51 days before the chick is ready to hatch. Once it does, its parents need to take good care of it and protect it so it can grow into a healthy fledgling. Hooded Vultures can’t carry food in their feet like many raptors do. Instead, the adults store food for their young in their crop, a special pouch inside their throats where food sits before it travels to the stomach to be digested. When the adult returns to the nest, it regurgitates, or throws up, this food, which the young chick happily eats.
The nestling will stay in the nest for around three to four months. Once the young bird flies, however, it will remain dependent on its parents for food for another six months at least.
Hooded 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 activities, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets and quizzes to costumes and a touch table are available for the curious mind. We also have several different birds of prey on display year-round, including California Condors and a Turkey Vulture. Come for a visit, where our knowledgeable staff and volunteers are on hand to answer any questions you may have about Hooded Vultures or other birds of prey.
Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 6 Aug. 2021
Kemp, A. C., D. A. Christie, J. S. Marks, and C. J. Sharpe (2020). Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes 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.hoovul1.0