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A photo of a Rüppell's Vulture (Gyps rueppelli)
Rüppell's Vulture

Rüppell's Vulture

Gyps rueppelli

The Rüppell's vulture, named in honor of Eduard Rüppell, is a formidable bird of prey, soaring through the skies of the Sahel region and East Africa. This large vulture is distinguished by its impressive size, with adults measuring between 85 to 103 cm in length, boasting a wingspan of 2.26 to 2.6 meters, and weighing from 6.4 to 9 kg. Its plumage is predominantly mottled brown or black, with a contrasting whitish-brown underbelly. A white collar graces the base of its neck, and its head and neck are covered in thin, dirty-white fluff, an adaptation for its feeding habits. The eye is a striking yellow or amber, and the crop patch is a deep brown.

Identification Tips

When identifying Rüppell's vulture, look for its larger size compared to the white-backed vulture, with which it often shares its habitat. The white collar at the base of the neck, the yellow or amber eye, and the lack of feathers on the head are key features. The bird's powerful build and the backward-pointing spikes on its tongue are also distinctive.

Habitat

Rüppell's vulture is found in a variety of habitats including grasslands, mountains, and woodlands across the Sahel region and East Africa.

Distribution

This species is native to the Sahel region and East Africa, with populations spread across Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and West Africa. It has also been recorded as a vagrant in Spain and Portugal.

Behaviour

Rüppell's vulture is known for its remarkable flight capabilities, often cruising at altitudes as high as 6,000 meters. It can fly for 6–7 hours daily and travel up to 150 km from its nest site in search of food. This vulture is monogamous, forming lifelong breeding pairs that share in the construction of nests and care of their young.

Song & Calls

Generally silent, Rüppell's vulture becomes vocal at the nest and when feeding at a carcass, emitting a series of squeals.

Breeding

The species is monogamous, with pairs building nests on cliffs, often in large colonies. Both parents incubate the egg for about 55 days and tend to the chick for approximately 150 days post-hatching. Young vultures remain dependent on their parents until the following breeding season.

Similar Species

The white-backed vulture is slightly smaller and has a shorter neck compared to Rüppell's vulture.

Diet and Feeding

Rüppell's vulture is a carrion feeder, often following migrating game herds and feeding at carcasses alongside other vulture species. It has a preference for freshly-killed meat but can consume older carcasses as well. Its powerful build and specialized tongue allow it to consume even the hide and bones of carcasses.

Conservation status

Rüppell's vulture is currently classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. The total population is estimated at around 22,000 individuals, with significant declines due to habitat loss, poisoning, and other human-related factors. It is listed as an Appendix II species under CITES, indicating that it is not immediately at risk of extinction but requires regulation of trade to prevent future threats.

Threats

The species faces threats from habitat loss, poisoning, use for medicine or meat, loss of nesting sites, and declining food sources. Poisoning, often unintentional, is a significant threat, as vultures are attracted to poisoned carcasses intended for other predators. Conservation efforts include establishing protected wildlife areas, particularly around key breeding and nesting sites.

Rüppell's Vulture Sounds


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Rüppell's Vulture Fun Facts

Did you know?
The highest recorded birdstrike occured in 1973 when a commercial airliner collided with a Rüppell's Vulture at an altitude of 37,000 ft (11,300m) over Abijan, Ivory Coast.

Rüppell's Vultures on Birda

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