Egyptian Vulture

Egyptian Vulture

Scavenger vulture, White scavenger vulture, Pharaoh's chicken, Egyptian vulture, White scavenger vulture, Pharaoh's chicken

Neophron percnopterus
Population size
20-61 Thou
Life Span
30-37 yrs
Top speed
55 km/h
1.5-2 kg
58-70 cm
1.7 m

The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus ), also called the white scavenger vulture or pharaoh's chicken, is a small Old World vulture and the only member of the genus Neophron. It is widely distributed from the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa to India. The contrasting underwing pattern and wedge-shaped tail make it distinctive in flight as it soars in thermals during the warmer parts of the day. Egyptian vultures feed mainly on carrion but are opportunistic and will prey on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They also feed on the eggs of other birds, breaking larger ones by tossing a large pebble onto them.

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The use of tools is rare in birds and apart from the use of a pebble as a hammer, Egyptian vultures also use twigs to roll up wool for use in their nest. Egyptian vultures that breed in the temperate regions migrate south in winter while tropical populations are relatively sedentary. Populations of this species declined in the 20th century and some island populations are endangered by hunting, accidental poisoning, and collision with power lines.

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Egyptian vultures are small Old World vultures. Their adult plumage is white, and there are some black feathers on the wings and tail. The plumage dulls quickly due to the bird’s habit of stalking around a carcass, waiting its turn, on the ground that is usually dusty, so before a molt, the feathers are beige more than pure white. Individuals also occasionally cover themselves with soil that contains iron oxide, which makes their plumage a pinkish buff, giving them the name Schmutzgeier in German ("dirt-vulture"). The smallest of Europe’s four vulture species, the Egyptian vulture is also the most endangered of these four.



Egyptian vultures occur in southern Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. Isolated populations live in Cape Verde and the Canary Islands. Birds that breed in the temperate regions migrate south in winter while tropical populations are relatively sedentary. Egyptian vultures generally inhabit arid open areas such as steppe, desert, cereal fields, and pastures, but need rocky sites for nesting. They are often found near where humans live, for example, in or near towns, and around slaughterhouses, rubbish dumps, and fishing ports.

Egyptian Vulture habitat map
Egyptian Vulture habitat map
Egyptian Vulture
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Habits and Lifestyle

The social behavior of Egyptian vultures varies according to the resources available. Many of them will gather together at preferred feeding places with abundant resources, along with immature birds and other carnivores. Otherwise, they forage alone or as a pair. Egyptian vultures are diurnal birds and hunt by sight only, not smell. They mostly seek food in open areas where they can see carcasses from very high up. Rather than spotting prey themselves, they often observe other vultures lower in the sky, circling over a potential meal. The group then may perch on a tree above the intended meal to wait before feeding. An individual’s home range, or that of a mating pair, or group of family members extends further than the territory it defends and often includes human refuse areas or places where livestock are held. Males will perform repeated battles in flight to defend nesting territory.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Being carnivores and scavengers, Egyptian vultures eat carrion. However, they will also prey on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They also feed on the eggs of other birds, breaking larger ones by tossing a large pebble onto them.

Mating Habits

varies regionally, egg-laying: March-May
39-45 days
4 months
2 eggs

Egyptian vultures are monogamous, migrating between breeding seasons as a pair. They build a large nest and will constantly replenish it during the breeding season. It may include bits of old rags, hair, and fur. During the period of breeding, the male will perform swooping displays for his mate, and during courtship, the two of them engage in talon grappling. The breeding season varies a little between populations in different areas, but eggs are usually laid between March and May. Usually, two eggs are laid, and they are incubated for a period of 39-45 days by both parents. The male and female both feed their chicks until they fledge 70 to 85 days after hatching. At about 4 months old, the chicks are independent. Once chicks have fledged, they can be seen flying in their home range with their parents. They leave their parents when migration from the breeding grounds starts. They reach maturity when they are 6 years old.


Population threats

One of the primary threats facing this species is illegal poisoning aimed at carnivores. Furthermore, the widespread treatment of livestock with Diclofenac may have caused the sudden population decline in India, as vultures eat domestic animals’ carcasses. In Africa, particularly in Sudan, and in Spain, particularly in the Canary Islands, many vultures die by being electrocuted by transmission lines that are poorly designed. In many parts of Africa, these birds are captured to be used for medicinal purposes. The Egyptian vulture in Europe has suffered due to disturbance, the greatly reduced availability of food, lead poisoning from a gunshot, electrocution by power lines, and direct poisoning.

Population number

The IUCN Red List reports that there are about 20,000-61,000 individuals in the total Egyptian vulture population, roughly equal to 13,000-41,000 mature individuals. The breeding population in Europe is estimated as 3,300-5,050 breeding pairs, being 9,900-15,150 individuals. Overall, currently, Egyptian vultures are classified as Endangered (En) and today their numbers are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Egyptian vultures eat carcasses, trash, and feces, playing an important role in removing and recycling organic waste. They also eat small animals and the eggs of other birds and therefore may influence the population size of such prey.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Egyptian vultures are one of the very few species that use tools. To crack open big thick-shelled eggs like ostrich eggs, an Egyptian vulture will walk up to hundreds of meters to find a rock which it throws in a characteristic manner at the egg to break it so it can eat the contents.
  • These vultures and other carnivores will signal to one another about where food is located.
  • Egyptian vultures can fly up to 80 miles in search of food.
  • Venerated in ancient Egypt for its role as a scavenger, a Pharaoh would punish people with death if they killed an Egyptian vulture, and the bird became known as “Pharaoh’s child”.
  • Rarer than other species and quite as beautiful, the Egyptian vulture is a living symbol of the phoenix, which disappeared and was reborn.


1. Egyptian Vulture Wikipedia article -
2. Egyptian Vulture on The IUCN Red List site -

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