Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppelli) is an Old World Vulture belonging to the genus Gyps. At sizes of only 85-97 cm it is rather a largish vulture, with a wing span measuring 228-250 cm. Compared to the much larger Monk Vultures and Griffon Vulture this one looks a bit small.
As an adult Rüppell’s Vulture bears a blackish or creamy plumage. Head and neck look bare. It is always remarkeable watching the ease at which the vulture can walk and run on its feet. They do much less hopping than the larger species.
Although Rüppell’s Vulture has been more a native to Africa, we nowadays record inflights of them into Portugal and Spain, mostly in tandem with the much larger Griffon Vultures, with with they usually socialise.
Rüppell’s Vulture Conservation or a Vulture settling in Europe
Rüppell’s Vulture used to be endemic in Africa and amongst the most common vulture species. Alas, this is no longer the case. In fact this species has had to endure a dramatic drop in population numbers and lost up to 97 % of its population. The Rüppell’s Vulture is only another indicator of decreasing living conditions, persecution, poisonning and loss of habitat. It is not just loss of food because changes made in livestock management. No, it is worse. Apparently some people believe that vulture organs and body parts are some sort of medicine. Vultures are simply killed because their dead bodies are valuable sources for questionable medicine and Rüppell’s Vultures are amongst the species to suffer most from that sort of trade.
In the south of Europe, Rüppell’s Vultures have always been no more than rare sightings. Though up to the 1980s that species appeared at least on a regular basis in Spain and Portugal. It was found out that Rüppell’s Vultures socialised with Griffon Vultures. Meanwhile the Rüppell’s Vulture is no longer a vagrant species or rare guest sithing but a regular guest. Since 2010 immature Rüppell’s Vultures from north Africa regularly cross the Mediterranean Sea to spend some time in Spain and Portugal. In Andalusia the species was now officially recognised as a native to Spain. Even in the South of France we can watch these vultures nowadays. It appears that living conditions, food base and habitat are more suitable to the Rüppell’s Vulture than in northern Africa. Although, it was established that juveniles and immature Rüppell’s Vultures follow the Griffon Vulture during Winter only to return home for the summer.
Charactersitics of Rüppell’s Vulture
Species: Rüppell’s Vulture
Scientific Name: Gyps rüppelli
Names and Synonyms of Rüppell’s Vulture
French: Vautour de Rüppell
Dutch: Rüppells Gier
Italian: Grifone di Rüppell
Spanish: Buitre Moteado
Portuguese: Grifo de Rüppell
Czech: Buitre Moteado
Slovak: Buitre Moteado
Hungarian: Buitre Moteado
Corat: Pjegavi sup
Serbia: Pegavi sup
Greek: Στικτός Γύπας
Danish: Rüppells Grib, Svannengrib
Polish: Sęp plamisty
Russian: Африканский сип
Arabian: نسر روبل
Hebrew: נשר דרומי
Distribution – Migration – Habitat
Distribution: Afrotropical, partly in West Africa. Endemic to the narrow belt of arid sub-Saharan Africa, thereby covering a belt starting in Senegambia and Ginea and eastwards to Ethiopia, south Sudan and Somalia; from there down south to Kenya and Tanzania. Der Sperbergeier ist in Afrika und dort nördlich des Äquators verbreitet. Das Verbreitungsgebiet beginnt in Westafrika im Senegal und ostwärts über Niger und Nordkamerun zum Sudan / Nubien (Bajuda-Steppe), nach Äthiopien und Somalia und im Süden bis nach Uganda und Kenia. Das Verbreitungsgebiet deckt sich somit zu einem großen Teil mit der Sahelzone.
Migration: Mostly seen as non-migratory. When foraging the vulture covers distances between 150 to 200 km from base. Currently young Rüppell’s Vultures continue to migrate to Portugal and Spain and settling there.
Habitat: Dry open country, cliffs, gorges solitary mountains. Forages in open savannah, thornbush and subdeserts. Avoids human settlements. Lives in mountain ranges up to altitudes of 4,000 m.
Field Description of Rüppell’s Vulture
Large Gyps vulture but smaller than Griffon Vulture. Plumage brownish-black, boldly cream-scaled. Blackish squills. White downy head and neck. Head and neck similar to Griffon. White feathery ruff. Dark primaries, secondaries and tail feathers. Wing linings contrast to primaries and secondaries but show 2-3 broken bars with adults and immatures.
Iris: yellowish to grey
Measurements and Voice
Size: 85-97 cm
Tail: 26-30 cm
Weight: 8.000-9.000 g, when well fed up to 11 kg
Wingspan: 228-250 cm
Wing: 645-700 mm
♂: ≈ 665 mm
♀: ≈ 680 mm
Voice: Mostly silent. Utters hisses and grunts not only when feeding but also intraspecific and also towards humans. I conclude that hisses, grunts and squawks are a general way of communication.
Breeding: Colonial. The start of breeding depends on the geographical region, but mostly between November to September.
Nest: A newly built nest is a rather small platform of sticks, measuring 60 cm across and only 20 cm deep. After continuous use over many years such a nest can reach dimensions of 1.5 m by 1 m. Decoration and lining with green leaves. Nest usually sits on rock ledges or hidden in crevices.
Clutch, Eggs and Measurements
Clutch: (rarely 2) 1 Egg
Eggs: elliptical eggs with white shell and faint light brown staints
Egg Measurements:: 86,5×63,4 mm
Egg Weight: 204,7 g
Recurrent Clutches: ???.
Laying – Incubation – Fledging and Dependency
Laying Interval: probably 4 days.
Begin of Breeding: In case of two eggs, most probably directly after laying the first egg.
Incubation: ca. 55 days
Fledging: feeding by both parents, fledges after ca. 150 days.
Dependency: After fledging, the young vulture remains dependent on ist parents for up to 150 days (= 5 months). During this period both parents continue to feed and educate the offspring.
Food: As a cadaver processing vulture, Rüppell’s Vulture depends on widely available medium to large cadaver and carrion, which is, especially in EU countries, is hard to come by. From the cadaver guts and muscle is used. Als Kadaververwerter ist der Sperbergeier auf größere bis große Kadaver angewiesen. Aus dem Kadaver werden vor allem Muskelfleisch und Eingeweide genommen. When feeding the vulture can consume a mass of up to 1.4 kg.
Longevity: Rüppell’s Vultures do have a life expectation of up to 30-40 Years.
Threats: Human persecution, loss of habitat, reduced feeding opportunities, death by colliding with power lines and wind turbines.
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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, Verlag A. Ziemsen Lutherstadt Wittenberg, 1963
Forsman, Dick, Flight Identification of Raptors of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, Bloomsbury Christopher Helm London, 2016
Glutz von Blotzheim, Urs et. al (HG), Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 4, Falconiformes, AULA-Verlag Wiesbaden, 2. durchgesehene Auflage 1989
Svenson, Lars et. al, Der Kosmos Vogelführer, Franck-Kosmos Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Stuttgart, 2. Auflage 2011
Vultures Conservation Foundation – European Vulture Protection and Conservation
Featured image of Rüppells’s Vulture by: ©Raymond Loyal
Egg of the Rüppell’s Vulture – Source: by Didier Descouens – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16928406
All other post images of Rüppell’s Vulture by: ©Raymond Loyal