The Indian vulture is a medium-sized and bulky scavenger. Its body and covert feathers are pale, its flight feathers are darker. Its wings are broad and its tail feathers short. The head and neck are almost bald, and its bill is rather long. Females of this species are smaller than males.
Indian vultures are native to India, Pakistan, and Nepal. They are usually found in savannah and other open habitats around villages, cities, and near cultivated areas.
Indian vultures are social birds that often congregate in flocks. They are active during the day spending most of their time soaring over open areas looking for carcasses to gorge on. Indian vultures do not migrate but they may fly up to 100 km in a day when searching for food. They are generally silent, but when these vultures gather in groups around carcasses, they produce various grunts and hisses.
The breeding season of Indian vultures takes place between November and March. They breed in colonies using mainly hilly crags; however, some populations may also nest in trees and high human-made structures. The female lays only one egg and both parents incubate it for about 45 days. The newly hatched chock is covered in down and remains in the nest within 3 months.
The Indian vulture has suffered a 97-99% population decrease due to poisoning caused by the veterinary drug diclofenac. This drug is toxic for vultures; it was given to working animals as it reduced joint pain and so kept them working for longer. The drug is believed to be swallowed by vultures with the flesh of dead cattle. Since then the use of this drug was banned and captive-breeding programs for Indian vultures have been started. The vultures are long-lived and slow in breeding, so the programs might take decades. It is hoped that captive-bred birds will be released to the wild when the environment is clear of diclofenac.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Indian vulture 30,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.
Vultures play a very important role in their native ecosystem by removing and processing carrion. The decline in the Indian vulture has drastically affected the conservation of the environment. By removing all carcasses, vultures had helped decrease pollution, disease spread and suppressed undesirable mammalian scavengers. In their absence, the population of feral dogs and rats, along with their zoonotic diseases, increases greatly.