Himalayan griffon, Himalayan griffon vulture
The Himalayan vulture or the Himalayan griffon is a vulture from the Old World in the Accipitridae family, which includes eagles, kites, hawks and buzzards. The European griffon vulture is a close relative. A Himalayan vulture is the second largest of the Old World vultures, after the cinereous vulture. A typical vulture, the Himalayan vulture has a bald white head, wings that are very wide, and short tail feathers. Its neck ruff is white and it has a yellow bill. Its dark flight feathers contrast with its wing coverts and whitish body. Its lifespan is unknown, but vultures live on average for 20-35 years.
The Himalayan vulture mostly lives the Himalayas on the Tibetan plateau (India, Nepal and Bhutan, central China and Mongolia) and is also found in the Central Asian mountains (from Kazakhstan and Afghanistan in the west to western China and Mongolia in the east). Occasionally it migrates to northern India but migration usually only occurs altitudinally. Breeding is typically at elevations of 600 to 4,500 m. Foraging can be at elevations of 5,000 m or more. Non-breeding migrants including juvenile birds usually spend the boreal winter near the southern tip of their range, in the lowland plains just to the south of the Himalayas. Most of the plateau landscape consists of meadow, particularly in the north, and the rest is mostly alpine shrub, with forests in the south.
Habits and lifestyle
Himalayan vultures are diurnal and mostly solitary. They eat only dead animals, gathering around carcasses that they find when gliding and soaring over large areas. Small groups gather at the feeding site and they are the dominant bird except for the cinereous vulture, which is a little smaller. The carcass is usually eaten quickly. As with other species, the Himalayan vultures fight for a better position to feed from, grunting and hissing as they do so. They also follow domestic flocks and caravans in the high mountains. These birds are very mobile foragers and they generally keep away from human settlements. This species appears to be less gregarious, and prefers to nest high above the tree line on cliff faces on its own or in groups of four to six pairs. They are usually sedentary, moving only altitudinally. Some young birds travel to the low plains in northern India. Adults may be vagrant in Turkestan and Afghanistan.
venue, kettle, wake
Diet and nutrition
Himalayan vultures are monogamous and pairs return to the same nesting and roosting sites from year to year. The pairs engage in aerial displays, soaring close to one another. Breeding is usually during winter, from December until March. Both adults build or repair the large nest of sticks. A single white egg is laid, usually in January, and incubation is for 50 days, with both parents taking turns. Both are also equally involved in feeding their chick. Both males and females preen their nestling, watch it, move it around, and feed it. The young bird stays with its parents until it is six to seven months old.
The major potential threat to the continued survival of the Himalayan vulture is considered to be death from ingesting diclofenac (NSAID) an anti-inflammatory non-steroidal drug widely used for livestock, primarily in South Asia, which causes visceral gout in birds that have eaten contaminated carcasses and results in renal failure.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Himalayan vulture population size is 100,000-499,999 individuals, assumed to equate to 66,000-334,000 mature individuals. Currently this species is classified as Near Threatened (NT), but its numbers today appear to be stable.
Himalayan vultures are localized scavengers of nature, with the important role of removing and processing carrion. They are the most dominant bird scavenger on the Tibetan Plateau, and experience minimal competition for food from other scavengers.
Fun facts for kids
- Vultures are designed for their messy job, having a wide wingspan, so they can soar for a long time without needing to flap their wings while they look for carrion.
- In the throat of most vultures is a large pouch or crop that enables them to last a long time without food - which is adaptation to their feast-or-famine lifestyle of scavenging.
- Their strong immune system enables vultures to eat rotting carcasses, including meat that is possibly infected, without getting sick.
- Vultures have excellent eyesight. They seem to be able to sight a carcass of one-meter (3 foot) from a distance of four miles on the open plains. When an individual of certain species sees carrion, it begins circling above it. This gets the attention of other birds that then join in.
- “Committee”, “venue” or “volt” are words to describe a group of vultures. In flight, a flock is called a “kettle”, and when feeding together on a carcass, they are called a wake. - When a vulture gets upset, its head turns a red color, as if it were blushing. - Old World vultures sometimes play dead when they are threatened, hiding in a nest or hunching down.