The Long-billed Vulture (Gyps indicus) is an Old World Vulture of the Gyps genus. Other names attributed to it are Indian Griffon or Indian Vulture. At sizes between 80-103 cm and wingspans between 222-258 cm this is really a large vulture.
As its name already indicates this bird is a native to the Indian subcontinent, distributed between east Pakistan and from there to the north of Delhi southwards through the Ganges plain and further into the Indus plain, the lower Himalayas, Nepal, Burma, Thailand and the Malaysian peninsula.
Distribution and Current Population Status of the Long-billed Vulture
Back in 1963, the German zoologist W. Fischer, described the Long-billed Vulture as a common species in India. Unfortunately this is no longer the case. In the 1990s this species suffered a tremendous crush in population numbers. Together with the other two Gyps species, White-rumped Vulture and Slender-billed Vulture and the Red-headed Vulture, huge numbers of the Long-billed Vulture died in India.
What happened and Why?
For a long time it remained unclear what really caused that mass dying. After several years of extensive studies on the subject, actually by mere chance the reason was identified in the painkiller diclofenac.
This pharmaceutical has been in use in human medicine for a long time and especially been helpful to people suffering from othropaedic ailments. Because of this that pharmaceutical was introduced into veterinary medicine. However, even residual remanats in carcases led to acute multiple organ failure with vultures; what an effect considering that vultures have no trouble consuming any sort of corpse poison whith any problems.
Immediate Action by Governments
This lead to a near immediate ban of the substance in veterinary medicine, but it was too late for 97% of the population of the Long-billed Vulture. Exactly 97% was the rate by which the population had crushed. Recent studies found out that the agents Aclofenac, Nimesulide and Ketoprofen, under certain conditions, might deliver a similar effect. What that really means and what the governments are going to do remains to be seen.
Vulture Conservation Programmes set up
Programmes set up by private Organisations such as Zoological Society of London, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the governments of India, Nepal and Pakistan, managed to set up protection areas in India and Nepal for the vultures in order to release vultures into the wild, consumable carcases and carrion can be safely provided to the vultures.
Vultures and Low Reproduction Rate
However, because of the low reproduction rates of vultures it might take quite some time before the populations are back to their old strength. It must be said that only 50 % of immature Gyps vultures survive to see the end of their first year and only 8% will live to begin breeding at all.
The Long-billed Vulture has become extinct in many Indian regions and where the birds are still around the status is down to: “critically endangered”. There are only 12,000 individuals left of the Long-billed Vulture in India.
Characteristics of the Long-billed Vulture
Species: Long-billed Vulture
Scientific Name: Gyps indicus
Names and Synonyms of the Long-billed Vulture
French: Vautour indien
Dutch: Indische Gier
Italian: Grifone indiano
Spanish: Buitre Indio
Danish: Indisk Grib
Polish: Sęp indyjski
Russian: Индийский сип
Nepali: लामो ठू“डे गिद्ध
Malaysian: തവിട്ട് കഴുകൻ
Chinese: 印度兀鹜, 印度兀鹫
Chinese (traditional): 長嘴兀鷲
Distribution – Movements – Habitat
Distribution: As the name already indicates, the Indian Vulture or Long-billed Vulture is native from the Indian subcontinent to southeast Asia. Region: southeast Pakistan, Kashmir, much of India, lower Himalaya southwards, lower altitudes of Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, Thailand, Malaysian peninsular, Laos , Cambodia, south Vietnam.
Movements: Sedentary, foraging over large areas, immature birds are likely to wander around nomadically, also seasonal altitudal movements in Nepal.
Habitat: less wooded urban areas, savannah, open plains with crags, semi-desserts, farmland with trees. In low mountain ranges in altitudes of up to 1,500 m, does not appear in urban areas, though might appear near villages. Never inside populated areas, where it is represented by the Egyptian Vulture.
Behaviour of the Long-billed Vulture
The Long-billed Vulture is a sociable creature and breeds colonial. At carcases they always appear as a group. Although the Long-billed Vulture is a large bird they give way to two other species at the carcas: Lappet-faced Vulture and the White-rumped Vulture. The established pecking order at the carcas is as follows: Lappet-faced Vulture – White-rumped Vulture – Long-billed Vulture. However they do share the carcas peacefully with the Griffon Vulture. Together with other vultures they are also vital in processing human corpses.
Characteristics of the Long-billed Vulture
The Long-billed Vulture is a large vulture with naked head and a long naked neck. Rather long bill, which is manifested in the bird’s name. There is a clear pale buff with broad pale edges to the dark-centred larger coverts. Most obvious are indeed the pale body and covert faethers upon first sight. Fluffy white ruff, typical for Gyps species. Tail, primaries and secondaries are blackish.
Bill: pale yellowish
Cere: light bluish
Talons: pale yellowish
Measurements of the Long-billed Vulture
Size: 89-103 cm
Tail: 24-31 cm
Weight: 5,500-6,300 g
Wingspan: 222-258 cm
Wing: 575-595 mm; ♂ and ♀ show similar wing length
Breeding: Colonial. In India between Mid November to May
Sexually mature: probably not before 3-4 year.
Mating: Mating starts simultaneously with nest building which happens shortly before breeding.
Clutches per breeding season1 clutch
Nest: Small platform made of leafy sticks, measuring 60-90 cm across and 35-50 cm deep; lined with straw, skin, rags and all sort of rubbish assembled around the nest. Nest sits in tall trees, usually in heights between 7-14 m, often close to villages, also on cliff ledges.
Clutch: 1 egg
Eggs: egg shell greenish white, rarely with red brown staints.
Egg Measurements and Weights
Length x Width: 91.7×69.9 mm
Weight: ≈ ??? g
Recurrent Clutches: probably, but only if clutch is lost in the early days of incubation.
Incubation: ≃ 45-50 days
Fledging: chicken is fed by both parents. Fledging period is not recorded, compared to other Gyps vulture a period of about 120 days is to assume.
Dependency: As is customary wih Gyps vultures, the young Indian Vulture will be dependent on ist parents for feeding and education at least for several weeks. Though, there are no firm data existing.
Food: Dependent on medium and large carcases, carrion.
Threats to the Long-billed Vulture
The Long-billed Vulture is an extremely endangered species, as is the case with all Indian vultures. The use of the painkiller diclofenac in veterinary medcine wreaked havoc within the population of the Indian Vulture and all other widely distributed vultures in India and by early 2000 most of of the populations had died.
In all >97 of the population were killed. Carcases that earlier had been treated with Diclofenac, still had the active ingredient in it and after consumption the vultures died from multiple organ failure.
Ingredients we know from human medicine are, most obviously, a total no-go for wild living animals. Considering that vultures can consume and digest carrion and do not die from corpse poison then this is time to realise that painkillers are by no means healthy.
Brown, Leslie, Die Greifvögel, Ihre Biologie und Ökologie, Paul Parey Verlag Hamburg und Berlin, 1979
Ferguson-Lees, James and Christie, David A., Raptors of the World, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston New York, 2001
Ferguson-Lees, James, Christie, David, Raptors of the World, A Field Guide, Christopher Helm London, 2005, reprinted 2019
Fischer, Wolfgang, Die Geier, Die Neue Brehm-Bücherei, A. Ziemsen Verlag Lutherstadt Wittenberg, 1963
Grzimek, Bernhard et al (HG), Grzimeks Tierleben, Band VII, Vögel 1, Kindler Verlag AG Zürich, 1968
Article: Now, another veterinary painkiller is accelerating extinction of vultures in India
Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre, Pinjore Haryana Forest Department
Article (Mongabay India): How a village in Maharashtra is helping vultures make a big comeback
Article (Guardian UK): Born to be wild: India’s first captive-bred endangered vultures set free
Featured Image – Source: Sourabh Bharti/Agency iStock
Post Image – Source: ePhotocorp/Agency iStock
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