The Himalayan Vulture is an Old World Vulture and belongs to the Gyps genus. It is native to central Asian mountain ranges. At a size of 103-110 cm and a huge wingspan of 260-289 cm it is also the largest Gyps vulture existing. Moreover it is even bigger than Griffon Vulture and Monk Vulture. This Vulture is an essential part of the Himalayan sky burial tradition.
The Himalayan Vulture is native to central Asian mountain ranges, plateaux and steppes. It used to be the absolute symbol of the Tibetan high plateau. This is due to its distribution in the Himalayan and especially in Tibet.
The German zoologist Wolfgang Fischer described how hundreds of the Himalayan Vulture sat at the monasteries waiting for food.
Apart from processing carcases, for centuries Himalayan Vultures have been central to the acient burial practices, the so-called sky burial. According to tradition, on the day of the burial the corpse was dismembered and given to the vultures. Tibetans believe that the vulture bring the deceased in a state between birth and rebirth, the so-called “Bardo”. This burial tradition also attracts Bearded Vultures which are left to process the bones.
Bird Facts: The Himalayan Vulture
Species: Himalayan Vulture
Scientific Name: Gyps himalayensis
Names and Synonyms of the Himalayan Vulture
German: Himalaygeier or Schneegeier
French: Vautour de l‘Himalaya
Italian: Gifone dell‘Himalaya
Spanish: Buitre del Himalaya
Polish: Sęp himalajski
Russian: Снежный гриф
Chinese (traditional): 高山兀鷲
Nepali: हिमाली गिद्ध
Malaysian: Burung Hereng Himalaya, Hereng Himalaya
Thai: อีแร้งเทาหิมาลัย, อีแร้งน้ำตาลหิมาลัย, อีแร้งสีน้ำตาลหิมาลัย
Persian: کرکس هیمالیایی
Bengali: হিমালয়ী গৃধিনী
Distribution – Movement – Habitat
Distribution: Palearctic and adjacent Indomalaysian. The Himalayan Vulture is native to the central Asian mountains and distributes mostly across the Himalaya, Tibet, the mountain ranges of Pamir, Kirgiz, Tien shan, Tarbagatay and Altai. Countries: North Pakistan, Kashmir, India, Nepal and Bhutan through Tibet and north Assam into central China (northwest Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia-Hui), enclaves in Afghanistan, former Russian and Chinese Turkestan.
Movements: Sedentary, but forages, thereby covering vast areas. Immature Himalayan Vultures are much more nomadic after leaving the breeding area and keep wandering around in the Himalayan region.
Habitat: Himalayan Vultures distribute in mountain ranges, gorges, high steppes, plateaux, and sometimes also visiting lower valleys. Usually they are active in altitudes of 1200 to 2500 m. Search flights are executed in altitudes ranging from 600 m to > 6000 m.
Himalayan Vultures posses very good gliding capabilities. They keep gliding in altitudes over 6000 m. They are colonial breeders, with colonies covering 4-6 breeding pairs. Nesting trees are usually being used for several years.
At times Himalayan Vultures are very sociable. The Himalayan Vulture that detects a carcas first immediately glides down to the spot. Within minutes of ist arrival another 50 plus of its own kind gather around the spot.
As a group Himalayan Vultures are able to process a dead Yak down to the skeleton within 2 hours. As long as the Himalayan Vultures are at work no other species is allowed to approach the carcas. When they are ready, they leave the field to the Bearded Vultures to process the bones.
Size: 103-110 cm
Tail: 37-40 cm
Weight: 8,000-12,000 g
Wingspan: 260-289 cm
Wing: 790-810 mm
Sexually mature: Himalayan Vultures reach maturity only after 5-6 years.
Mating: Monogamous breeding pairs. Assumably, mating takes place long before the birds become sexually mature. Mating takes place during the usual courtship period in spring.
Clutches per breeding season1 clutch
Breeding: as early as of December, usually between January to August, also until September by the latest.
Nest: Himalayan Vultures build a large and rough platform of sticks and branches. This nest grows in size after years of continuous use. The Nest often lined with rubbish or any soft material found in the surroundings. Nests can be found on ledges, open crevices of steep cliffs. Also uses old nests of the Lammergeier – Bearded Vulture.
Clutch: only one egg
Eggs: Egg with greenish white shell and scatterd rusty brown staints.
Egg Measurements and Weights
Length x Width: 92.6×69.6 mm
Width: ≈ ??? g, no recorded data available
Recurrent clutches: unknown.
Incubation: ca. 50-56 days, both parents share the task of incubating
Fledging: Both parents feed the chicken. The young vultures fledge after about 113-120 days as is the case with all Gyps vultures.
Dependency: After fledging the young vulture remains dependent on its parents for a period lasting 6-7 months.
Food: Himalayan Vultures feed on medium and large cadavers, carrion and corpses. Also, they forage by soaring high and watching for carcases and also watching the activities of ground predators and other aerial scavengers. They are dominant vultures at carcas, except when Monk vultures are present. The Himalayan Vulture plays a vital role in the burying practices of the Himalayan people as these birds are tasked with processing the corpse of a dead person.
Longevity: ??? unknown.
Threats: Human persecution, loss of habitat. So far, the Himalayan Vulture has not been affected by the Diclofenac problem that has caused mass dying of vultures in South Asia.
Bauer, Hans-Günther, Bezzel, Einhard et. al. (HG), Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 1+2, Sonderausgabe 2012, Aula Verlag, Wiebelsheim
Bauer, Hans-Günther, Bezzel, Einhard et. al. (HG), Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 3, Literatur und Anhang, Aula Verlag Wiebelsheim, 2. vollständig überarbeitete Auflage 1993
Baumgart, Wolfgang, Europas Geier, Flugriesen im Aufwind, AULA-Verlag Wiebelsheim, 2001
Ferguson-Lees, James and Christie, David A., Raptors of the World, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston New York, 2001
Vultures Conservation Foundation – European Vulture Protection and Conservation
Flying Himalayan Vulture – Source: Sunil Sharma/Agency iStock
Featured image: Himalayan Vulture at carcas – Source: ePhotocorp Agentur iStock
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