Hooded vultures are closely related to eagles and hawks and are amongst the smallest of the Old World vultures. They are typical vultures, with bald pink heads and grayish “hoods”. They have dark brown feathers. Being scavengers, they eat dead animals or carrion, relying on their beaks and talons to eat their food, which can be fairly messy. It is not easy for vultures to clean their heads, but they can easily shake off the mess. The sun will kill the remaining bacteria, so this is why they are bald.
The Hooded vulture lives in sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and other countries, in a range of habitats, from semi-deserts to coastal lowlands though to forests and open woodlands. It is most common in savannahs and grassland, especially near human settlements, as villages and towns are a good source of food. In some of Tanzania’s and Kenya’s sparsely populated grasslands, they settle near cattle ranches, picking up carrion and scraps from around farms.
The Hooded vulture is very abundant and often travels in a flock. In much of this bird’s range, there are always a few to be seen at almost any time of the day soaring in the sky. Its powerful toes are suited for walking and running, but not for the catching of prey. More courageous than most other vultures, hooded vultures do approach humans. A funny and common behavior is following a plough, to collect the delicious insects and larvae that have been disturbed. But though daring with humans, this bird is shyer than it seems. When flying, it holds its wings the same way large vultures do as it rises, and drops them in the same way, to make its body dark when on the ground. Being smaller than many other vultures, it is quicker to take off, and is often first to find carrion. The adult is usually silent, but chicks will peep to their parents when being fed.
Hooded vultures are monogamous and pairs remain together for life. Courtship displays are not remarkable, however, sometimes the male swoops down to the female, or it dances in circles on the ground with its claws held out. The breeding season varies depending on the location, but the timing is usually such that eggs are laid during or immediately after the local rainy season, so that there will be a reliable supply of food. The nest is built up in a tree (which is often a Baobab), and reused year by year, and is well lined throughout the nesting season with fresh vegetation. A single egg is laid and the mother is very attentive. Incubation is for around 48 to 54 days, by both parents, though mainly by the female, who is fed by the male at the nest. The chick is very weak when it hatches, and needs constant attention from its parents, a lot more than other vultures. The chick will be dependent on its parents for seven months, by when it will have grown all its plumage and taken its first flights.
The dramatic decline in the number of Hooded vultures is due to increasing use of poisoning, as well as hunting for use in traditional medicine, as bushmeat and the deliberate mis-selling as chicken.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Hooded vulture population size is maximum 197,000 individuals. Currently this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) and its numbers today are decreasing.