How The Peregrine Fund is Helping
The Peregrine Fund was the first conservation organization to set up “vulture restaurants” in South Asia. "Vulture restaurants" are where biologists set out carcasses that had never been treated with Diclofenac so they are safe for vultures to eat. We also do a number of other important things to help protect vultures. We support local students, we work with communities to educate them about the importance of vultures, and we continue to monitor the populations to help us understand if populations are stable, rising or going down.
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 Long-billed Vulture is found throughout southeastern Pakistan and India, south of the Ganges River, except for the extreme south, east to Indochina and the northern Malay Peninsula; It is now considered extinct in the eastern and southern portion of its range. The Long-billed Vulture is not migratory, however, like many vulture species, it ranges far and wide - sometimes traveling hundreds of miles in a day - in its search for food.
It prefers open habitats over heavily forested areas.
What They Do
There is a saying: "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Sadly, many people still haven't truly learned to behold vultures. Often considered "dirty" or "ugly" - mainly due to their feeding habits and the lack of feathers on their necks and heads - vultures most certainly deserve a second look. Let's examine the Long-billed Vulture closely. This medium-sized vulture has a dark black or gray-brown neck and head with just a dusting of barely visible downy feathers growing along the back of its neck. It is has a buffy-colored ruff around its neck which resembles the collar on Santa Claus' suit. Its wings, back and breast feathers range in color from black to brown to gray and biologists have used such lovely words as "sepia-brown," "mottled," and "chocolate brown" to describe the intricate color palettes that decorate this lovely bird. It has dark eyes and a yellowish beak with a pale green-yellow cere.
Though it has long been known that vultures have bald heads in order to help keep their heads clean when they eat, scientists are now looking at the vulture's bald heads in a new way. Their bald heads might also help them to stay warm or keep cool, depending on the weather. When they are cold, they can tuck their necks in, closer to their bodies, to keep them warm and cozy. When it is hot outside, vultures can extend their necks soaking up the sun's rays through the skin on their necks and heads.
As with many vulture species around the world, there is a lot biologists don't know about the Long-billed Vulture's behavior. However, one interesting fact about this vulture, as well as the White-backed Vulture, is that even though they are diurnal, they have been observed feeding during moonlit nights to take advantage of bright moonlight" (Naoroji & Schmitt 2007).
Why They Need our Help
The Long-Billed Vulture was once a very common resident throughout much of its range. However, biologists began to notice a steep decline in the numbers of birds they were observing in the mid 90's and early 2000's. One survey noted a drop of over 90% in population numbers! It took biologists a while to discover the cause of the decline, but when they did, they knew they had to act fast to prevent the loss of these beautiful birds.
The main threat to the survival of these and most other vulture species across southern Asia is the use of a drug called diclofenac. Diclofenac is a medicine people give their livestock (cattle, donkeys) when they fall ill. Though diclofenac may help their animals feel better for a little while, eventually the animals will get sick again. When the cow or donkey who has been treated with this drug dies, the diclofenac remains in their system. When vultures feed on the remains of these animals, they unknowingly swallow meat and tissue that contains traces of this drug along with their meal. The diclofenac poisons the vultures, which makes them very sick. Many of them die because their kidneys fail.
In 2003, The Peregrine Fund first discovered the catastrophic relationship between diclofenac and declining vulture populations in south Asia. Thankfully, the drug was banned for veterinary use in 2006 by India, Pakistan and Nepal, and Bangladesh took similar action in 2010. Sadly, despite the ban, diclofenac is still widely available in some parts of these countries and other drugs with similar effects are also still on the market. Biologists and conservationists are working hard to protect this species, but there is still a lot of work to be done!
What They Eat
Long-billed Vultures, like other vultures, are principally carrion eaters, which means they eat animals that are already dead. They search for prey by soaring far and wide, using their eyesight to spot a meal. They are also attracted to large congregations of other raptors or scavengers, as this usually means that there is a feast nearby. Long-billed Vultures generally feed on dead cows, goats, sheep or the remains of pretty much any large animal they can find. If they come across an old kill made by a tiger or other large predator, they will gladly feast on that, as well.
Usually, several species of vultures, including the Long-billed Vulture, will gather at a single carcass. Individuals often spar, or fight, with each other to maintain the best position at the carcass. Because Long-billed Vultures aren't as large as other species, they sometimes back down to let the larger birds eat first.
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.
Like all vultures, Long-billed 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
The Long-billed Vulture nests in colonies (or groups) of up to 20 pairs. Traditionally, these vultures place their nests on cliff ledges, rocky outcroppings, and hilly slopes, but biologists have occasionally documented them nesting in trees. One researcher (Sangha 2011) recently reported an active nest located on a pylon in Rajasthan!!
Both adults work hard to build a solid nest for their young, to incubate the eggs and to brood their young - making sure it grows up to be healthy and strong. The female will lay up to one egg which might be pure white or mottled with rusty spots. Though scientists don't yet know exactly how long a Long-billed Vulture pair must incubate an egg before it hatches, biologists know that it takes at least 50 days! This is similar to the incubation period of the most powerful neotropical bird of prey - the Harpy Eagle. When the Long-billed Vulture chick hatches, it is covered in fluffy brownish/yellow down.
Vultures can’t carry food in their feet like most 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.
Over the following months the young vulture will begin to grow sleek flight feathers which will help make it a very efficient long-distance traveler - just like its parents.
Long-billed 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 Long-billed Vultures or other birds of prey. If you are in Boise at the beginning of September, get in touch with our education crew at the Velma Morrison Interpretive Center to learn about International Vulture Awareness Day activities.
Chaudhry, M.J.I., Ogada, D.L., Malik, R.N., Virani, M.Z. and Giovanni, M.D., 2012. First evidence that populations of the critically endangered Long-billed Vulture Gyps indicus in Pakistan have increased following the ban of the toxic veterinary drug diclofenac in south Asia. Bird Conservation International, 22(4), pp.389-397.
Clark, W.S., D. A. Christie, and J. S. Marks (2020). Indian Vulture (Gyps indicus), 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.indvul1.01
Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Long-billed Vulture Gyps indicus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 6 Aug. 2021
Subramanya, S. and Naveein, O.C., 2006. Breeding of long-billed vulture Gyps indicus at Ramanagaram hills, Karnataka, India. Indian Birds, 2(2), pp.32-34.