This post describes one of the larges vultures in Europe, the Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus). Most people have never seen a vulture at all, if any, only few people have a faint idea what these birds look like. The Griffon Vulture is an Old World Vulture of the Gyps genus. This bird is truly a huge and bulky vulture, by size and wingspan. If you ever had the chance to stand in front of a Griffon Vulture, then you will know what I am talking about.
The Griffon Vulture is also sort of a European success story. This is because the griffons were close to extinction in the Europe of the 1970s. However, a comprehensive and thoroughly managed conservation programm by the European Vulture Conservation Foundation greatly helped this species to recover and become the most common vulture in Spain and the south and southwest of France.
Bird Facts on the Griffon Vultue
Species: Griffon Vulture
Scientific Name: Gyps fulvus
Names and Synonymes of the Griffon Vulture
French: Vautour fauve
Spanish: Buitre Leonado
Dutch: Vale Gier
Croatian: Bjeloglavi sup
Serbian: Beloglavi sup
Czech: Sup bělohlavý
Slovak: sup bielohlavý
Hungarian: Fakó keselyű
Greek: Γύπας, Ορνιο, Όρνιο
Polish: Sęp płowy
Russian: Belogolowy Ssip
Hebrew: נשר, נשר מקראי
Persian: دال معمولی, دال (کرکس) معمولی, دال معمولی
Bengali: ইউরেশীয় গৃধিনী
Nepali: खैरो गिद्ध
Distribution of the Griffon Vulture
The Griffon Vulture is distributed across the arid regions of South Europe, the Alpine region, northern Africa, from the Middle East to central Asia and reaches northwest Mongolia and southwards down to northern India and Bangla Desh.
Migrations of the Griffon Vulture
Breeding pairs of the Griffon Vultures are mostly sedentary. Only juveniles and immature Griffons are out and about migrating. Young Griffon Vultures can travel over 1000 km away from their breeding grounds. Also immature Griffon Vultures gather in so-called bachelor bands. Migrations lead immature birds mainly southwards down to Marocco and also to the Middle East. Sometimes up to 100 Griffon Vultures gather in order to cross the Bosporus on their way to the south. Non-breeders mainly winter in the north of their habitats. Lack of food urges the Griffon Vultures to leave the area.
Griffon Vultues love to settle in arid areas, karst mountain ranges and steppe-like plains.
Where to watch Griffon Vultures
The French Cenvennes are the only European regioin where all four vulture species (Griffon Vulture, Cinereous Vulture, Bearded Vulture, Egyptian Vulture) can be found and observed in nature. The next region in France are the Pyrenees where Griffon Vultures breed in large colonies.
In the Austrian Hohe Tauern Griffon Vultures can be watched during Spring, Summer and Autumn when bachelor bands of immature birds are migrating. The next breeding colonies of the Griffon Vultures are in Croatian and in the north of Italy (Friaul). The vultures visiting Austria come either from Croatia or from Italy.
Since the 1990s Griffon Vultures can be watched in Switzerland. The best regions to do so are in the Kaiseregg Region (Canton Freiburg), Berner Oberland, and in Valais. In Valais the best place is on Gemmi mountain pass, close to Leukerbad resort. It might also be a good thing to check out the Stelvio Pass on the Swiss/Italian border.
In Crotia Griffon Vulutures are breeding on the islands of Plavnik, Krk and Prvi’s, and also in the Tramuntana nature reserve.
In Spain it is possible to watch Griffon Vultures nearly everywhere. Good chances are still in the Extremadura in the Monfragüe National Park and on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees.
Persecution, Conservation and Development with the Griffon Vulture in Europe
As was the case with the other three European vulture species, the Griffon Vulture was systematiclly persecuted and was close to extinction in the 1970s in Europe. In 1946 there were no Griffon Vultures in the French Cevennes. This was all down to poisened baits and hunting. After France had banned the use of poisened baits 50 vultures were released into the wild in the Cevennes. Since then the release of young Griffon Vultures into the wild has become a success story.
Zoos and breeding stations are involved in the EAZA EX-situ Programme (EEP), formerly known as the European Endangered Species Programme, which is a population management programme born by zoos and other specialised instutions. It proved that breeding and subsequent relaese into the wild are the most probable way to preserve species from becoming extinct.
Today, the largest European population of the Griffon Vulture exists in Spain. According to the last census in 2018 the Spanish populations numbers are about 31,000 to 37,000 breeding pairs. Since Spanish farmer are allowed to leave caracases out in the fields the situations for Griffon Vultures has greatly improved. Also the French Cenvennes have a stronger Griffon population.
Identification of the Griffon Vulture
The Griffon Vulture is larger than the White-tailed Fish-eagle and all other eagles but smaller than Bearded Vulture and Cinereous Vulture. Its flight identification shows long broad wings with very long fingers. There are bulging secondaries and indented inner primaries. Most obvious is the very short tail which appears to be a bit round. In flight head appears rather small. However, the white colour of the head is most obvious even in flight. The flight of the Griffon Vulture appears slow and heavy with very slow and deep wingbeats. Mostly gliding if thermals are good. Wingbeats when lack of updrift. When soaring the Griffon Vulture holds the wings in a slight v, similar to the Golden Eagle. In good light the two-coloured wings can easily be identified.
Size: 95-105 cm
Weight: 6-11 kg
Wingspan: 240-280 cm
♂: 68.5-75.0 cm
♀: 72.5-77.5 cm
Voice of the Griffon Vulture
The Griffon Vultue is all but vocal. When in flight, it is impossible to hear any sound at all, quite the opposite to the Bearded Vulture. Sounds are uttered against other vultures, when feeding at carcases and at sleeping places. Sounds are a variety of hissing, hoarse grunting notes.
Breeding of the Griffon Vulture
Maturity: The Griffon Vulture becomes mature after 4-5 years
Mating: Monogamous breeding pairs, mating starts in December
Breeding: Griffon Vultures are colonial breeders. In Southern Europe breeding begins in February earliest and can last up to September; North Africa and Indian region: from January; Middle East: as of December
Clutch: 1 egg, only rarely 2 eggs
Eggs: The egg of the Griffon Vulture is broadly oval to plump, even elliptical at times, with a mainly white shell; sometimes the shell is coverd with rusty brown speckles and stains.
Egg Measures and Weight
Length: 81.5-101.0 mm
Width: 64.5-75.0 mm
Ø: 92.0×70.1 mm
Weight of fresh egg: 252 g
Eggshell: 21.0-30.0 g, Ø 24.3 g (n=100)
Clutch – Laying Interval – Incubation – Dependency
Recurrent Clutch: Although it is possible that Griffon Vulture start laying again, the loss of clutch mostly leads to end of breeding for the current season.
Laying interval: There are no data recorded on laying intervals in case of two eggs.
Incubation: 45-48 days. The task of incubating is shared between female and male.
Fledging: In case of a two eggs clutch, only the older sibling will survive. When breeding for release into the wild, it is good practice to put a small partition wall between the two young vultures. After four weeks the aggresson of the older against the younger sibling ceases and both vultures can fledge. The chicken is thoroughly nursed during its first days. Both parents feed the chicken. Fledging after 113-159 days
Dependency: After leaving the nest the young vulture can fly, but continues to be dependent on his parents for another 3-4 months.
Food: The Griffon Vulture feeds exclusively on cadaver and carrion. Matter-of-factly, the Griffon Vulture processes cadaver and leaves the leftovers to the so-called garbage collectors, which are the Egyptian Vulture and the Bearded Vulture. These two are only allowed to feed on the carcase once Gyps vultures and Cinereous Vultures have finished their meal. The Griffon Vulture needs the cadaver of medium to large mammals of which it processes guts, muscle and small bones. It is a proven fact that Griffon Vultures do not feed on living animals or any live stock. The usual accusations brought forward by local people have long been proven to be baseless and utter nonsense. It possible to put waterfowl together with vultures into the same aviary without the waterfowl suffering any harm by the vultures.
Longevity: In captivity Griffon Vultures can reach 50 years of age (Zoo Salzburg).
Mortality – Survival Rate: no recorded data are available.
Threats: The biggest threats to Griffon Vulture well-being is human persecution. The laying out of poisened baits in order to fight predatory mammals such als wolves prove deadly to vultures in general. Because of EU regulation prohibiting farmers to leave dead cattle, sheep and goats out in the fields to rot away, feedin options for the Griffon Vulture are rather slim and the birds have to rely on exclusive feeding place where they receive cadaver, carcases and carrion, clean off any poison and veterinary medicin. This is the way vultures are fed on both sides of the Pyrenees, in France and Spain. Meanwhile France and Spain allow farmers to leave cadaver out in the field for vultures to feed on. Another danger to vultures are power lines. Too much tourism in certain areas lead to disruptons in the colonies of the Griffon Vulture.
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