White-rumped Vulture – an endangered Native to South Asia

The White-rumped Vulture (Gyps bengalensis) is an Old World Vulture of the Gyps genus. Other names attributed to this vulture are Oriental Vulture, Indian Vulture and Asian White-backed Vulture. At sizes of 75-85 cm and wingspans of up to 213 cm it is a medium sized and fairly bulky vulture and a native to south Asia.

Once it was one of the most common vultures in India and basically, in tandem with other vultures, was an indispensable and integral part of public life fulfilling a vital role in dispensing and processing carcases, carrion and human corpses. 

Mass Extinction of the White-rumped Vulture

As was the case with other vulture on the Indian subcontinent, the White-rumped Vulture fell victim to sort of a mass extinction in the 1990s. Nowadays the White-rumped Vulture is a critically endangered species.

Breeding Programmes to help the White-rumped Vulture

Breeding programmes were set up in South Asia to support this species in the wild. Young White-rumped Vultures are released to the wild under the protection of national parks. In Europe this vulture is kept in zoos and falconries, where they are also part of breeding programmes to help keeping the species alive.

white-rumped vulture gyps bengalensis old world vulture india bangladesh pakistan
White-rumped Vulture (Gyps bengalensis) Source: Michel VIARD/agency iStock

Distribution and current Population Status

About 30 years ago the White-rumped Vultue was, together with Slender-billed Vulture, Red-headed Vulture and Long-billed Vultre, the most common vulture throughout Southern Asia. Within a period of only 13 years the population crushed dramatically by a staggering 97%.

The Effects of Painkillers to the White-rumped Vulture

For a long time it was unclear was the cause might be. Studies were  set up to find the cause, though, for a long time scientists had no clue what really had happened. It was by mere chance that the reason was the painkiller diclofenac, used in veterinary medicine.

We have been knowing this agent from human medicin where it proved most helpful and effective for people suffering from orthopedic ailments. Because of its success in human medicine this pharmaceutical was introduced into veterinary medicine to do good. Considering that vultures can take up any sort of corpse poison without suffering any harm, than it is quite a shock to learn that residual amounts of pharmaceuticals left in carcases lead to fast multiple organ failure.

Current Population Status

Currently, the remaining population of the White-rumped vulture is estimated at about only 6,000 individuals; status: critically endangered. A conservation programme has been launched to help these birds survive, which included a breeding programme and also provides special feeding places to feed the them properly.

Characteristics of the White-rumped Vulture


Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Gyps
Species: White-rumped Vulture

Scientific Name: Gyps bengalensis

Distribution – Movements – Habitat

Distribution: Indomalayan. The White-rumped Vulture is a bird of the Indian subcontinent and adjacent countries to southwest Asia: southeast Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, lower Himalaya, Thailand, northern peninsula of Malaysia, parts of Laos, Cambodia and south Vietnam, partly Indonesia, and to southwest China.

Movements: White-rumped Vultures are sedentary in general; forages over large distances and areas; immature more nomadic. Nepal population descends in winter to lower habitats. In Thailand mostly visitor in winter. Might also appear in Afghanistan in summer.

Habitat: White-rumped Vultures live in the vicinity of villages and older towns and cities with open areas andn tall trees, mostly near slaughtherhouses and rubbis dumps, riverside trees in farmland, open country , scrub jungle, forest edges, wooded savannah, semi-desert, lowlands and foothills. Sealevels of up to 2,700 m but mostly below at 1,200 m; in Nepals during March-May at altitudes of 3,000 m.

Behaviour of the White-rumped Vulture

White-rumped Vultures are gregarious birds, usually appears in small groups, often mingling with Long-billded Vulture and other social vultures, also in flocks of >100 individuals. White-rumped Vultures mostly wait for food close to villages and urban areas, roosting on trees. In the Himalaya they socialise with Long-billed Vulture. Although they are know as very aggressive and bellingerent at carcases the accept the pecking order pecking order: Lapped-faced Vulture – White-rumped VultureLong-billed Vulture.

Measurements and Voice

Size: 75-85 cm
Tail: 22-24 cm
Weight: 5000-5250 g; immature c. 4760 g
Wingspan: 192-213 cm
Wing: 557-608 mm; ♀usually larger

Voice: mostly silent, utters croaks, grunts, hisses and squeals at nest, roots and carcases, also during courtship.


Sexually Mature: Probably during the 5th year, when changing into adult plumage.

Mating: shortly before start of breeding, which depends on geographical region.

Clutches per breeding season1 clutch

Nest, Clutch and Eggs

Breeding: depends on geographical region: India – November to May (also end of October to July latest); though most lay between November to early January. In the Himalayan up to sealevels of 1,200 m.

Nest: Large platform built from sticks, measuring 60-80 cm across and 15-20 cm deep, lined with wool, skin, dung and rubbish. Nest usually sits at levels of 5-30 m (mostly 10-18 m) in tall trees near roads, rivers or even in villages and towns; forest edges. Often 2-3 nests in one tree and also several in adjacent trees. Nest building starts as early as September.

Clutch and Eggs

Clutch: 1 egg
Egg: white egg partly with brownish staints.

Egg Measurements and Weights
Length x Width: 82.5×60.9 mm
Weight: ≈ ??? g

Recurrent Clutch: unknown.

Incubation, Fledging and Dependency

Incubation: 45-52 days; ♂ and ♀ share the task of incubating

Fledging: chicken is fed by both parents. Fledges after 80-90 days (3 months).

Dependency: Assumably the young White-rumped Vulture is cared for by its parents for several weeks before leaving the breeding area.

Food – Longevity and Mortality

Food: Putrid and fresh carrion and offal from cattle and any domesticated mammal; also human corpses. Forages by soaring singly and watching activities of ground predators, crows, kites and other social vultures. Rosts on ground near carcase, can be seen feeding during moonlight.

Longevity: The White-rumped Vulture can reach an age of c. 25 years, probably older in captivity.

Mortaltity: unknown.

Threats to the White-rumped Vulture

From 1993 a decline in population was recorded and by the end of the 1990s the population had crashed by incredible 99%, that almost led to extinction of that species. According to research the White-rumped Vulture also had fallen victim to feeding on carcases that previously had been treeted with the painkiller Diclofenac.

While painkillers turned out to be useful in veterinary medicine it proved lethal to vultures. This is why: after consumption of contaminated food, residual traces of the agent led to massive organ failure and subsequently to death of the vultures. Nowadays the White-rumped Vulture is ony of the most endangered species at all.


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

Bezzel, Einhard, Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Non-Passeriformes, Band 1, AULA-Verlag Wiesbaden, 1985

Ferguson-Lees, James and Christie, David A., Raptors of the World, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston New York, 2001

White-rumped Vulture Conservation of IUCN read more …
4Vulture Conservation Foundation read more…
Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre, Pinjore read more …
Article: Now, another veterinary painkiller is accelerating extinction of vultures in India

Image Credits

Feature Image of White-rumped Vulture – Source: Michel VIARD Agentur iStock
Post Image of White-rumped Vulture – Source: Michel VIARD Agentur iStock

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Published by Raymond Loyal Photography

Bird, Nature, Art and Architecture Photographer, Traveller, Blogger.

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