Vultures of the World


Vultures are the largest birds of prey in the world. They are distributed nearly across all continents and we devide them into two main groups: Old-World Vultures and New-World Vultures. This page is specially dedicated to Vultures because they are unique and special. For me vultures are very close to my heart since my first encounter with these huge birds.

vultures - bearded vulture
Bearded Vulture

Vultures and what they usually have in common

Upon first sight it is clear that Vultures are birds of prey. Although, they do not catch living prey. Only when standing in front of a vulture one realises how massive these birds really are. The two main differences between vultures and all other birds of prey is not just the enormous size but the fact that they cannot hunt out of flight, they are simply unable to catch any living prey.

Vultures have long and broad wings, giving them enormous gliding abilities. They can glide through the air for hours without having to flap their wings. Though, it is their long and broad wings that disables vultures from flying at high speed over short distances and they cannot abruply switch from gliding into nosedive.

Main Characteristics Vultures have in Common

  • large and massive birds
  • long and broad wings
  • mainly long neck, often scarcely feathered
  • most of the species have a ruff of feathers on the neck base
  • a rather smallish head, compared to the overall body size
  • massive bill
  • they are absolutely resistant to corpse poison and pathogens
  • they are the most expert gliders (updraft gliders)
  • they can glide over very long distances without having to flap their wings at all

It is interesting to know that vultures can be divided into two groups: the waste collectors (Bearded Vulture and Egyptian Vulture e.g.) and the waste processors (Monk Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Rüppell’s Vulture, White-rumped Vulture et al. e.g.). The waste collectors simply process the leftovers of carcases and corpses, such as animal hide and bones; whereas the waste processors deal with offals, meat and carrion. The waste collectors are the first to feed on the carcas / cadaver while Bearded Vulture and Egyptian Vulture waite on the sidelines for their turn.

rueppells vulture
Rueppell’s Vulture

Vulture in Europe – A Story of Decline

I must say, that vultures are not very popular with many humans. In other words, most people are somehow afraid of them. On the one hand, this is the result of their huge size, on the other, most people don’t know anything about vultures at all. Over centuries, especially in Europe, fake stories and legends had been spread which ultumately lead to vultures nearly became extinct throughout Europe.

Their near extinction was brought about simply through fear and listening to false stories among the people of Europe. The introduction of increased hygiene standards in livestock farming in Europe led the decline in suitable food, meaning, carcases were no longer allowed to rot away where the animal died. Carecases had to be removed which ultimately led to a huge decline in the food supply for vultures.

Althouhg the decline of suitable food also played a role, by the 1970s the Bearded Vulture, Egyptian Vulture and Monk Vulture (Cinereous Vulture) had become extinct in the Alpine region, France and Central Europe mainly by way of direct persecution.

monk vulture
Monk Vulture / Cinereous Vulture

Vulture Conservation in Europe

In the 1970s some people decided to do something about our European vultures. A vulture conservation programme was set up. The idea was to help vulture not only to recover but also to help them occupy their former ranges and to help establishing self-sustaining populations throughout Europe. A breeding programme, in which zoos and falconeers played a pivotal role, provided young vultures that where released into the wilderness with human support.

The programme started in 1978 as a joint venture between the WWF and the Frankfurt Zoological Society, later to become the Vulture Conservation Foundation (With regard to the Bearded Vulture ( With regard to the Bearded Vulture, the first birds were released in 1978 in the Austrian Krumltal, and since then about 227 vultures have been released and existing breeding pairs reproduce enough offspring to produce a sustainable population.

rueppells vulture
Rüppell’s Vulture
rueppells vulture
Rueppell’s Vulture

Vulture Taxonomy

With regard to their native origins, vultures are divided into Old World Vultures and New World Vultures. The latter ones are the Vultures of the Americas (=North, Latin and South America). Old World Vultures are native to Europe, Africa and Asia, their group consits of 16 species in 9 genera, whereas there are only 7 species around in the Americas.

Taxonomy of Old World Vultures

Order: Birds of Prey
Family: Accipitridae

monk vulture
Monk Vulture / Cinereous Vulture
turkey vulture
Juvenile Turkey Vulture

Taxonomy of New World Vultures

Order: Birds of Prey
Familiy: New World Vultures (Cathartidae)

  • Black Vulture (Coragyps)
    • Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
  • Turkey Vulture (Cathartes)
    • Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
    • Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes burrovianus)
    • Greater Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes melambrotus)
  • King Vulture (Sarcoramphus)
    • King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa)
  • Andean Condor (Vultur)
    • Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus)
  • California Condor (Gymnogyps)
    • California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)
turkey vulture
Juvenile Turkey Vulture
turkey vulture

The Daily routine of Vultures

What is the daily routine of vultures? Good question. Basically it is all about going on search flights to find suitable cadaver, carcases and carrion, then eat and rest. Resting is quality time for vultures. When vulures are not on search flights or feeding on something, they bathe, preen their plumage, sit on perches or have a ly down to find some sleep or simply doze off, when there is nothing to watch or going on in the vicinity. View my post on Vulture life, feeding and daily routines.

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