Named after 19th century German explorer and zoologist, Eduard Rüppell, the Rüppell's vulture is the most social of all Old World vultures and is an extraordinary species for every birder to see. A very large and gregarious bird, these vultures are powerful fliers and help keep the African savannah healthy by readily removing carcasses from the landscape.
Rüppell's Vulture, Rueppell's Vulture, Rüppell's Griffin Vulture, Rüppell's Griffon
- Bill: Very large, thick and heavy, creamy white or pale gray with black cere, sharply hooked
- Size: 34-40 inches long with 94-96-inch wingspan, long neck, slim head, short tail
- Colors: Brown, white, black, gray, pink, buff
- Markings: Genders are similar with mottled dark brown-black plumage overall, with broad, curved white or buff tips on the secondary feathers giving stronger mottling on the back and shoulders. The underparts are paler, and the head and neck have bare brown or dark pink skin covered with a sparse white fluff, and the neck is ringed by a low, thick fluffy white collar. The primary feathers are fully dark, and the underwings show a white V-pattern near the leading edge in flight. The eyes are a pale brown or amber, and the legs and feet are gray. Juveniles are similar to adults but darker overall, especially on the body.
Habitat and Migration:
These vultures are found in relatively arid, rugged habitats in sub-Saharan African from Senegal and Guinea east to Sudan, and south through the Great Rift Valley to northern Tanzania. They are more commonly found near large herds of animals such as wildebeest, but are adaptable and can be found in habitats from cliffs and mountains to desert fringes to the open savannah. These birds do not migrate, but do occasionally stray great distances in search of food. Vagrants have been recorded as far north as Egypt and Spain and as far south as South Africa.
These birds are generally silent but can hiss or squeal, frequently while feeding or at nesting areas.
These vultures are extraordinary fliers and soar on thermals to great heights to seek out food with their keen eyesight. A Rüppell's vulture has the record of the highest altitude flight after one was confirmed in an airplane strike at just over 36,000 feet high in 1973.
These birds are highly social and can feed in groups of 400 or more if food supplies are sufficient, though they can be aggressive while feeding, both toward one another as well as other scavengers. They gorge quickly, consuming not only meat from a carcass, but also the hide and bones, and a good feed can mean they do not need to eat again for 3-4 days. When they have gorged so heavily, however, they are more vulnerable to predators and are awkward and ungainly in flight, often taking several leaping bounds before becoming airborne.
These are monogamous birds that mate for life after a courtship display of close, circling flights between an interested pair, and those courtship bonds may be renewed each year. Both prospective parents work together to build a large nest of sticks lined with grasses, and while one egg is most common, two eggs can be laid in a brood. The eggs vary from white to a pale green shade with brown spots. Only one brood is laid per year.
Both parents share incubation duties for 54-58 days, and after hatching, both parents care for their offspring for an additional 80-90 days by regurgitating food they have gorged on for the young birds to eat. The juvenile birds will remain close to their parents until the following breeding season, when they will seek out their own mates.
Attracting Rüppell's Vultures:
No vulture is a common backyard bird species, but these birds will readily visit any carcass they find, even if it is in a farmer's field or near human habitation.
These vultures are classified as endangered and their population is strongly declining. Loss of habitat is a key reason for their decreased numbers, but Rüppell's vultures are also victims of poaching for local primitive tribes' black magic practices. Eggs and chicks are often poached for food, and poisoned carcasses can also threaten these vultures.
- Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)
- White-Backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)
- Indian Vulture (Gyps indicus)
- Himalayan Vulture (Gyps himalayensis)
Photo – Rüppell's Vulture © Tony Hisgett