White-headed Vulture – a scarce native species to Africa

The White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) is an Old World Vulture and monotypical to the Trigonoceps genus. It is also a native to Africa where it is distributed across vast areas. Depending on the author this vulture is also classified as Aegypius occipitalis thereby acknowledging its relationship to the Monk Vulture.

We could find the White-headed Vulture in savannah, thornbush and lightly wooded grassland. It likes to forage in open country and semi-desert. However, this species is still scarce to uncommon in most areas. Since 2015 this species is listed as critically endangered. It has become extinct in some local ranges. Apparently, only 5,500 individuals are left in the wild.

old world vulture white-headed vulture trigonoceps occipitalis africa
African Old World Vulture – White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) in arid zone – source: Steve Adams/agency iStock

Characteristics of the African White-headed Vulture


Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Trigonoceps
Species: White-headedd Vulture

Scientific Name: Trigonoceps occipitalis

Names and Synonyms of the White-Headed Vulture

  • German: Wollkopfgeier
  • French: Vautour à tête blanche
  • Dutch: Witkopgier
  • Spanish: Buitre Cabeciblanco
  • Portuguese: Abutre-de-cabeça-branca
  • Italian: Aavviltoio testabianca
  • Finnish: Kirjokorppikotka
  • Danish: Hvidhovedet Grib
  • Swedish: Vithuvad gam
  • Polish: Sęp białogłowy
  • Russian: Африканский белогорлый гриф
  • Afrikaans: Witkopaasvoël
  • Swahili: Tumbusi Kichwa-cheupe
  • Swazi: Lingce
  • Hebrew: נשרון לבן-ראש, עזנית הציצית

Distribution – Movements – Habitat

Distribution: Afrotropical. Endemic to sub-saharan Africa: Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bisseau, from southern Mali, Upper Volta, northern Ivory Coast eastwards to southern Sudan, Ethiopia, western Somalia, south through East Africa to Zimbabwe, southern Angola, northern Namibia, Botswana, eastern parts of South Africa and Swaziland.

Movements: Mostly nomadic movements from immatures.

Habitat: Savannah, thornbush, lightly wooded grassland, forages also on open countryside and semi-desert areas; sea-levels of up to 4,000 m.


Solitary, breeding als single pair. No more than 8 individuals at carcases. Search flights to detect useful carcases. After detecting a carcas the vulture glides down and firstly perches on next tree. White-headed Vultures love to feed on carcases without any company of other vultures. When feeding they take a chunk off the carcass and than walk to the side to consume.

Field Characteristics of the White-headed Vulture

The White-headed Vulture is a medium-sized vulture that can be confused with the Lappet-faced Vulture. Adults have a dark brown back with edged buff on coverts. White belly. Below: dark primaries, light brownish outer secondaries but white inner secondaries. Face shows bare pink skin with white downs on peaked crown (only with ♀) but darker downs with male. Thighs white. Immature and juveniles individuals are much darker with no white inner scondaries below.

Bill: red
Cere: blue
Iris: dark
Legs: greyish

Measurements and Voice

Size: 72-82 cm
Tail: 27-30 cm
Weight: 3,300-5,300 g
Wingspan: 207-223 cm
♂: 582 mm
♀: 600-612 mm

Voice: mostly silent, utters squeaks, hisses and grunts.


Sexually mature: Probably not before 3rd to 4th year.

Mating: Monogamous breeding pair, lifelong pair; mating coincides with nest building.

Clutches per breeding season1 clutch

Breeding: depends on geographical region, in general December to September, mostly February to March: Sudan from November to December, Somalia from Oktober, Kenya from July, Tanzania (Usambara-mountains) from June, Zimbabwe from August, South Africa from May.

Nest: Mostly large platform made from sticks measuring 80-170 cm across and 20-60 cm deep. Often conspicuously in crown of high trees. Lined with grass. Colonial, nest in the top of thorny trees but also in steep cliffs.

Clutch: 1 egg

Egg: elliptical whit egg and brown staints.
Egg Measurements and Weights
Length x Width: 82.0×65.0 mm
Weight: ≈ ??? g

Recurrent clutches: no data recorded.

Incubation: ≃ 43-54 days, both parents share the task of incubating.

Fledging: Chicken is fed by both parents. Fledging after c. 110-120 days.

Dependency: Most probably the young White-headed Vulture is cared


Food: The White-headed Vultures mainly depends on the abundance of mostly large carcases. Also lifes of freshly cut Flamingos, small mammals, lizzards, dead fish being washed up; termites, locusts if available. From carcases everything is processed except for the skin.

Longevity: unknown.

Mortality: unknown.

Threats: Loss of habitat because of changes introduced in how agricultural and forestal areas are being managed. Targeted poisoning by laying out poisoned carcases.

Conservation status: Since 2015 the White-headed Vulture is listed as criticylla endangered as it has become extinct in some local ranges. There are only about 5,500 individuals left of this species in the wild. It must be said that all species with reproduction rates <1 cannot compensate for losses larger than the survival rate of immatures left to begin with breeding.

white-headed vulture on carrion
White-headed Vulture on carrion – source: slowmotiongli/agency iStock


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
Ferguson-Lees, James and Christie, David A., Raptors of the World, A Field Guide, Christopher Helm London, 2019

Information on conservation status on site INGWELALA: site link

Image Credits

Featured Image of White-headed Vulture – source: Martin Leber/agency iStock

Post Image of the White-headed Vulture – source: Steve Adams/agency iStock
Post Image of White-headed Vulture at carcas – source: slowmotiongli/agency iStock

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Published by Raymond Loyal Photography

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

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