Cape Vulture a vulnerable species in Southern Africa

The Cape Vulture (Gyps vulprotheres) is an Old World Vulture of the Gyps genus. Another name attributed to this vulture is Cape Griffon. At sizes between 95-105 cm, a weight of up to 9.5 kg and wingspans between 228-250 cm this bird really is a large vulture. The name says it all, this bird is a native to Southern Africa.

Also once a rather common vulture, changes in lifestock management lead to a decrease in available carcases and carrion subsequently leading to a decline in numbers for the Cape Vulture.

cape vulture old world vulture gyps vulprotheres south africa cape griffon
Old World Vulture in South Africa: Cape Vulture or Cape Griffon (Gyps vulprotheres) – source: by DelmeThomasPhotography/agency iStock

Characteristics of the Cape Vulture


Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Gyps
Species: Cape Vulture

Scientific Name: Gyps coprotheres

Names and Synonyms of the Cape Vulture

German: Kapgeier – Fahlgeier
French: Vautour chassefiente
Dutch: Kapsegier
Spanish: Buitre del Cabo
Portuguese: Grifo-do-cabo
Italian: Grifone del Capo
Czech: Sup kapský
Slovak: Sup plavý
Hungary: Fokföldi keselyű
Finland: Kapinkorppikotka
Danish: Kapgrib
Swedish: Kapgam
Polish: Sęp przylądkowy
Russian: Капский гриф

Distribution – Movements – Habitat

Distribution: Afrotropical. Used to be endemic to South Africa, central and eastern South Africa, Lesotho, adjacent southernmost Mozambique, north and east Botswana, Namibia.

Movements: Adults are mostly sedentary, immatures are nomadic. Forages over distances of up to 30 km.

Habitat: Mountain cliffs providing suitable ledges for breeding and roosting. Not to be found in dense woodland or forest. Settles in sea levels of up to 3,000 + m.


Gregarious birds. Colonial breeder. Search flights in groups over larges distances. At carcases Cape Vultures socialise with other vulture species. With its long neck the Cape Vulture is able to reach deep into the inside of a cadaver. In a group Cape Vultures are bound to adhere a pecking order. Each member of the group defends ist rank agressively.

Cape Vultures always take a bath after feeding thereby cleaning the bare parts at neck and head. Because of them being sociable, they tend to breed in colonies of up to 100 breeding pairs. Search flights can take them over 100 km from base. Immature vultures form bachelor groups outside the breeding colonies.

Field Characteristics of the Cape Vulture

The largest of the Gyps genus in Africa. Pale buff above, though cream whitish below. Quills are blackish to grey-brown. Neck is bare bluish with white downs on head. Dark primaries. Inner and outer seconaries shorter than middle secondaries. Adults show whitish wing linings on secondaries. Juveniles usually darker on coverts and wings, also with streaked whitish below and darker thighs.

Eyes: yellow
bill: blackish
Cere: blackish
Feet: blackish
Thighs: cream white like breast and belly

Measurements & Voice

Size: 95-105 cm
Tail: 30-35 cm
Weight: 7.000-9.500 g
Wingspan: 228-250 cm
Wing: 685-760 mm

Voice: generally silent, except when being at breeding colonie, roosts and carcases.


Sexually Mature: probably not before 3rd to 4th year, lifelong monogamous breeding pair.

Mating: Coincides with nest building.

Clutches per breeding season1 clutch

Breeding: generally between April and to January, there are also clutches starting in April and lasting to July

Nest: Small nest platform made of sticks, grass, heath, bracken and other plants available in the surroundings. Nest measuring 45-100 cm across and 20-30 cm deep; lined with grass and leaves. Nest sits on open or overhung ledges.

Clutch, Egg & Measurements

Clutch: 1 egg

Egg: white elliptical egg with reddish brown or brown staints.

Egg Measurements and Weights
Length x Width: 90.8×68.8 mm
Weight: ≈ ??? g

egg of cape vulture
Egg of Cape Vulture – source: by Didier Descouens – own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Incubation, Fledging and Dependency

Recurrent clutch: no recurrent clutches, not even with early loss of clutch (Balsac, cited in W. Fischer).

Incubation: ≃ 55 days on average, usually between 53-59 days; both parents share the task of incubating.

Fledging: the young Cape Vulture fledges after 140 days.

Dependency: Assumably the young vulture will be fed and educated by ist parents for a longer period. Though, no data firm data are available.


Food: The Vulture processes cadaver and depends on the abundance of large carcases and carrion. Consumes muscle and guts from cadaver, and even bones.

Longevity: in the wild Cape Vulture can reach about 15-20 years of age. Birds held in captivity can reach 70 years.

Mortality: unknown.

Threats: Rare and endangered species. Many threats. The changes in how live stock is managed lead to a decline in available cadaver. The Cape Vulture also fells victim to power lines and also targeted poisoning. Persecution because the vulture is used for traditional healing methods, administering small amounts of vulture brain are said to heal people.

Conservation Status

The Cape Vulture or Cape Griffon is the largest of all Gyps species in Africa. Unfortunately this species suffered a dramatic decline in population numbers over the last two decades. Because farmers still use to poison carcases to kill off predator such as leopards and jackals they also kill Cape Vultures in large numbers. The species is listed as vulnerable. Population size is down to 9,600 to 12,800 individuals, though declining rapidly (source BirdLife International)

cape vulture south africa
Cape Vulture – source: by nomis_g/agency iStock


Brown, Leslie, Die Greifvögel, Ihre Biologie und Ökologie, Paul Parey Verlag Hamburg und Berlin, 1979

Ferguson-Lees, James, Christie, David, 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

Glutz von Blotzheim, Urs et. al (HG), Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 4, Falconiformes, AULA-Verlag Wiesbaden, 2. durchgesehene Auflage 1989

Grzimek, Bernhard et al (HG), Grzimeks Tierleben, Band VII, Vögel 1, Kindler Verlag AG Zürich, 1968

Weick, Friedhelm, Die Greifvögel der Welt, Verlag Paul Parey Hamburg und Berlin, 1980

BirdLife International: Cape Vulture

The Beauty of ugly: Why is the Cape Griffon Vulture going to extinct?

Image Credits

Featured Image of Cape Vulture – source: by Hedrus/agency iStock

Post image of Cape Vulture flapping its wings – source: by nomis_g/agency iStock
Post image of Cape Vulture sitting on dead tree – source: by DelmeThomasPhotography/agency iStock

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Published by Raymond Loyal Photography

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

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