Griffon vulture

The griffon vulture is a rare type of imposing vulture with a wingspan of up to 3 m, and the second largest bird in Europe. It is an Old World vulture and a member of the carnivorous hawk family. It soars majestically from thermal currents in search of food in the warmer, harsher parts of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

Origin of the species and description

 Photo: Griffon Vulture

Photo: Griffon Vulture

Griffon Vulture — it is an Old World vulture in northwestern Africa, the Spanish Highlands, southern Russia, and the Balkans. Gray above and reddish brown streaked with white below, this bird is about a meter long. The vulture genus contains seven similar species, including some of the more common vultures. In South Asia, three species of vultures, the Asian griffon vulture (G. bengalensis), the long-nosed vulture (G. indicus), the vulture vulture (G. tenuirostris), are close to extinction by feeding on the carcasses of dead cattle that have been given painkillers; painkillers cause kidney failure in vultures.

Video: Griffon Vulture

Interesting fact: The long bare-necked griffon vulture is the result of the evolution of birds that use their beaks to open the corpses of dead animals. The absence of feathers on the neck and head facilitates this process. A few years ago, a spy sip was caught in Saudi Arabia, which had traces of the Tel Aviv University GPS sensor. This event led to an increase in avian espionage.

These are noisy birds that communicate using a wide range of vocalizations, for example hissing and grunting can be heard while feeding, while arboreal chatter is emitted when another bird closes.

Large wings help these birds soar high in the air. This helps them conserve energy that would be wasted if they flapped their wings. Their exceptional vision helps them see carrion high in the air. Griffon vultures can thermoregulate without the aid of metabolism, which allows them to limit energy and water loss.

Appearance and Features

Photo: What the Griffon Vulture looks like

Photo: What the Griffon Vulture looks like

The upper body of the griffon vulture is dark brown, and the wings are rather dark with black patches. The tail is short and black. The lower part of the body is distinguished by a variety of colors, from brown to reddish brown. The long bare neck is covered with short creamy white down. At the base, behind the neck, the lack of feathering leaves a bare purple patch of skin, similar to those he sometimes voluntarily shows on his chest, and which is a reflection of his coolness or his excitement, changing from white to blue to red, depending from his mood.

Ripples of white or pale brown feathers appear around the neck and on the shoulders. Golden brown eyes animate the head, equipped with a powerful and pale hooked beak designed to tear flesh apart. Immature individuals have the silhouette of adults, but they are darker. It will take them four years to gradually acquire adult plumage.

Flight of the Griffon Vulture — a real show of virtuosity. He takes off for long moments, barely moving his wings, almost unimaginable and measured. Long and broad, they easily carry this clear-colored body, contrasting with the darker primary and secondary feathers. When the bird takes off from the ground or a steep wall, it performs slow and deep wing beats where the air rushes in and lifts the predator. The landing is just as beautiful as her approaches: the wings effectively slow the impact, and the paws stay away from the body, ready to touch the stone.

Where does the griffon vulture live?

Photo: Griffon Vulture in Russia

Photo: Griffon Vulture in Russia

In nature, the Griffon Vulture lives in the mountainous and hilly regions of North Africa and Southern Eurasia. It can live up to 3000 m above sea level.

There are two recognized subspecies of griffon vultures:

  • nominal G. f. Fulvus, which extends throughout the Mediterranean basin, from northwest Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, southern France, including the islands of Mallorca, Sardinia, Crete and Cyprus, the Balkans, Turkey, the Middle East, Arabia and Iran to Central Asia;
  • subspecies G.f. fulvescens is found in Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India up to Assam. In Europe, it has been successfully reintroduced in several countries where it had previously disappeared. In Spain, the main population is concentrated in the northeast quadrant, mainly in Castile and León (Burgos, Segovia), Aragon and Navarre, north of Castile La Mancha (north of Guadalajara and Cuenca) and eastern Cantabria. In addition, there is a significant population of — in the mountains of northern Extremadura, south of Castile La Mancha and several mountain ranges in Andalusia, mainly in the provinces of Jaén and Cadiz.

Currently, Eurasian Griffon Vultures breed in Spain and in Grand Cause in the Massif Central (France). They are found mainly in the Mediterranean zones, nesting locally in the Balkans, southern Ukraine, the Albanian and Yugoslav coasts, reaching Asia via Turkey and arriving in the Caucasus, Siberia and even Western China. They rarely live in North Africa. The main population of Europe — This is the population of Spain. Extremely protected, the object of a successful reintroduction in France, this species is, however, under the threat of various dangers.

The reasons for this are numerous:

  • the harsh climate of the high mountain causes the death of chicks;
  • predation of nests and removal of eggs and chicks;
  • cattle in the wild are declining and do not produce enough carcasses for colonies;
  • current medical regulations requiring the burial of dead animals deprive predators of these resources;
  • poisoned cuts of meat destined for foxes and fatally consumed by vultures that die because of it;
  • electrical lines;
  • lost pieces of lead shot.

Now you know where griffon vulture is found. Let's see what it eats.

What does the Griffon Vulture eat?

Photo: Griffon Vulture in Flight

Photo: Griffon Vulture in Flight

The griffon vulture discovers its food while flying. If a potential victim feels a light breeze, they use it to fly away. If the sun is hot, the griffon vulture flies into the sky until it becomes an inaccessible point. There he flies for hours, keeping his eyes on the ground, with other vultures, who, at the slightest change in attitude or flight, may find a dead animal that will give them food.

At this point, it descends and approaches with other vultures, hovering over the area above the carrion. They then begin continuous turns where each watches the other without deciding to land. In fact, Egyptian vultures and corvids often arrive first and eat the softer parts of the prey. Griffon vultures then establish their own hierarchy, gathering from different places to congregate in the same restricted area. Some of them dive without landing, while others circle in the sky.

Finally, one of them lands far from the frame, about a hundred meters. The rest follow very quickly. Then the struggle for hierarchy and temporary dominance over others begins. After several arguments and other displays of intimidation, the bolder vulture heads straight for the carcass, where the already dominant vulture opened its belly and began to eat the entrails.

Fun fact: Griffon vultures feed exclusively on carrion . They never attack a living creature and can live for a long time without food.

The griffon vulture plays a unique role in the food chain, which makes it indispensable. He specializes in eating dead animals and thus prevents the spread of disease and promotes a kind of “natural recycling”.

Character and Lifestyle Features

Photo: Griffon Vulture

Photo: Griffon Vulture

Flight displays — an important period in the life of the griffon vulture. These flights take place in November-December and are an unforgettable sight for those who have a chance to see them. Even if these displays are not as beautiful as those of other predators, they are a sign of short dives made by both birds together, when one chases the other at the beginning of the breeding season. These flights can take place throughout the year, and often gather other birds that join the previous ones.

At high altitude, a pair of Griffon Vultures circles slowly, with wings spread and stiff, close together or so well superimposed that they seem to be connected by an invisible wire. Thus, they fly in the sky, in short moments, following each other or flying in parallel, in perfect harmony. This spectacle is called “flying in tandem”.

During this period griffon vultures sleep where the future nest will be built. They nest in colonies, gathering in several nesting pairs in the same area. Some colonies may contain hundreds of pairs. They are located at different heights, sometimes up to 1600-1800 meters, but usually they are located at about 1000-1300 meters.

Fun fact: A very sociable species, griffon vulture forms large bands in in accordance with its quantity in these areas. Often they are in the same location as the breeding colony, or quite close.

Griffon vultures build their nest in a stone cavity, which is difficult for humans to access. It is made with medium-sized sticks one or two centimeters in diameter, grass and more beautiful branches. The nest differs from one Griffon Vulture to another and even from year to year in the same pair. It can be from 60 to 120 centimeters in diameter. The interior may be with a depression well lined with grass, or just plain with a depression lined with the feathers of other vultures found in a nearby perch. The decoration changes in the same way as the character of the wearer.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Griffon Vulture in Crimea

Photo: Griffon Vulture in Crimea

The female griffon vulture lays only one white egg, sometimes in January, and more precisely in February. Both partners take turns incubating one egg at least twice a day. The changes are very ceremonial, predators make very spectacular slow and careful movements.

Incubation lasts from 52 to 60 days. The chick at hatching is very weak, with little fluff, and its weight is about 170 grams. The first days of their life are dangerous, because they are brought out into the mountains and at a relatively high altitude. Snow is plentiful at this time of year, and many chicks do not survive these harsh conditions, despite the attention of their parents.

Interesting fact: Griffon vulture loves the sun and hates the rain. This is why the parents constantly raise the chicks and take turns regularly.

At the age of three weeks, the chick is completely covered in dense down, and his weak first calls become stronger. Parents feed him during the first days with a regular pasty mass. After two months, he already weighs 6 kg.

At this age, juveniles have a special reaction if they are threatened or even captured. He vomits straight up with a large amount of overcooked meat. Fear of reaction or aggressiveness? On the other hand, he does not defend himself against intruders or peck, although, true to his parents' mood swings, he can be aggressive at times. Feathers appear after about 60 days, and then very quickly become like adults.

Four full months are needed for the young vulture to finally fly freely. However, he is not completely independent and his parents still feed him burps. Juveniles often follow adults in search of food, but they do not land near carcasses, preferring to return to the colony and stay together until their parents return and feed them abundantly.

After the breeding season, Griffon Vultures, which breed in the northern part of the range or in the highlands, move south, but rarely over very long distances. Most, however, seem to be sedentary.

Natural enemies of griffon vultures

Photo: Griffon Vulture

Photo: Griffon Vulture

Griffon vultures have no predators. But the threats it faces are of particular interest. Currently, their biggest threats are collisions with power lines and vehicles as they soar in search of food, as well as poisoning.

When an animal on a farm dies, the farmer can poison the carcass to get rid of unwanted predators on farm (such as jackals or leopards). These poisons are indiscriminate and will kill anything that eats meat. Unfortunately, this vulture is also hunted for muti (or traditional medicines that are part of the witchcraft culture).

Some farmers have been involved in protecting griffon vultures and improving their chances of survival by establishing “restaurants” for the birds. For example, when one of their cattle dies, the farmer will take the carcass to the “restaurant” and leave it there so the vultures can dine in peace.

In the Serengeti, for example, kills of predators that griffon vultures feed on account for 8 to 45% of carcasses, and the remaining carcasses come from animals that died for other reasons. But since the vultures received only a very small amount of food from the killing of predators, they had to rely on their food supply, mainly carcasses, which were obtained for other reasons. Thus, these vultures use fundamentally different food supplies from predators and have probably become scavengers of migratory ungulate populations.

Population and species status

Photo: What the Griffon Vulture looks like

Photo: What the Griffon Vulture looks like

The total population of the griffon vulture is estimated at 648,000-688,000 mature individuals. In Europe, the population is estimated at 32,400-34,400 pairs, which is 64,800-68,800 mature individuals. Overall, the species is currently classified as Least Concern and is increasing in numbers today. In 2008, there were about 30,000 breeding pairs in Spain. Most of the population of Europe lives here. In Castile and León, about 6,000 pairs (24%) make up almost a quarter of the Spanish population.

After a decline in the population in the 20th century as a result of poisoning, hunting and reduced food supplies, in recent years this species has increased dramatically in some areas, especially in Spain, the French Pyrenees and Portugal. In Europe, the breeding population is between 19,000 and 21,000 pairs, with approximately 17,500 pairs in Spain and approximately 600 in France.

Illegal use of venom is a major cause of unnatural deaths in griffon vultures along with accidents caused by power lines. Some wind farms located in areas close to feeding areas and migratory routes have a high mortality rate. The griffon vulture's long reproductive period makes it very susceptible to disturbances caused by sports activities.

Due to its extensive breeding range and large population, the griffon vulture is not considered globally threatened. However, it faces several threats, such as farmers placing poisoned carcasses to control predator populations. Further major threats include improved hygiene for agriculture and veterinary care, which means fewer pets die and fewer opportunities for vultures. They also suffer from illegal shooting, interference and electric shock on power lines.

Grid vulture conservation

Photo: Griffon Vulture from the Red Book

Photo: Griffon Vulture from the Red Book

Griffon vulture was once widespread in Bulgaria. However, by the early 1970s — mainly due to reduced food availability, habitat loss, persecution and poisoning — it was believed that he had completely disappeared. In 1986, near the small town of Madjarovo in the Eastern Rhodopes, a colony of Griffon Vultures was discovered, consisting of about 20 birds and three breeding pairs. As a result of ongoing conservation efforts, it is from this low point that Bulgaria's griffon vulture population continues its current comeback.

Starting in 2016, Rewilding Europe, in collaboration with the Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) and a number of other partners, has developed a five-year LIFE Vultures project. Focusing on the interception zone of the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria, as well as on part of the Rhodope Mountains in northern Greece, the goal of the — support the recovery and further expansion of black vultures and griffon vultures in this part of the Balkans, mainly by improving the availability of natural prey and reducing mortality due to factors such as poaching, poisoning and collisions with power lines.

Number griffon vultures in the Greek part of the Rhodope Mountains is also increasing. Eight pairs were recorded, bringing the total number of Rhodope Griffon Vultures to over 100 pairs. The Caput insulae center in Croatia has a rehabilitation center for poisoned, injured and young Griffon Vultures, who often end up at sea during trial flights, where they are cared for until they are released back into the wild. The well-designed and organized labyrinths of Tramuntana and Belezh are the perfect place to explore nature.

The griffon vulture is a massive tricolor vulture with a whitish head and neck, pale brown body and contrasting dark feathers. It nests in colonies on rock ledges, often found in loose flocks hovering over valleys and mountains, but always in search of ascending and thermal currents. It is still the most common vulture in most of its breeding range.

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