Himalayan vulture or Himalayan griffon vulture (
Old World vulture
Old World vulture in the family Accipitridae. Closely related to
the European griffon vulture (G. fulvus) and once considered a
subspecies of it, this species is found along the
Himalayas and the
adjoining Tibetan Plateau. It is one of the two largest Old World
vultures and true raptors.
3 Behaviour and ecology
6 Other sources
7 External links
1,030–1,150 mm (40.6–45.3 in)
71–77 mm (2.8–3.0 in)
755–805 mm (29.7–31.7 in)
355–405 mm (14.0–15.9 in)
110–126 mm (4.3–5.0 in)
This is a huge vulture, and is perhaps the largest and heaviest
bird found in the Himalayas. Adults have a ruff that is long and pale
brown with white streaks. The ruff feathers are long and spiky. The
head is covered in down which is yellowish in adults but whitish in
immature vultures. The underside and under-wing coverts are quite pale
brown or buff, being almost white in some specimens. The legs are
covered with buffy feathers and the feet can vary from greenish grey
to white. The upperside is unstreaked, pale buff with the tail quills,
outer greater coverts and wing quills being a contrasting dark brown.
The inner-secondaries have paler tips.
Adult spotted in
Juvenile in flight
The pale blue facial skin is lighter than the dark blue in
with this species having a yellowish bill. In flight the long fingers
are splayed and there is a pale patagial stripe on the underwing. The
wing and tail feathers are dark and contrast with the pale coverts and
body, one of the best methods to distinguish this species from the
slightly smaller griffon vulture. The feathers on the body have
pale shaft streaks. They are distinguished from the Indian
vulture (G. indicus), which can somewhat similar in color by being
much larger with a stouter, more robust bill. Younger birds have a
pale parts to the bill and tend to have buffy-white streaks on the
scapulars and wing coverts contrasting with dark brown underparts.
They are similar in size to the cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus),
which has a slightly shorter overall length but in large specimens can
weigh more than the Himalayan vulture. Weight in Himalayan
vultures can range from reportedly as little as 6 kg
(13 lb) to as much as 12.5 kg (28 lb). A field
study estimated an average of 9 kg (20 lb) for the Himalayan
vulture, but weights can vary with conditions from 8–12 kg
(18–26 lb). The wingspan of birds varies greatly
depending on the method used to measure them and published
measurements vary from 2.56 to 3.1 m (8.4 to 10.2 ft), a
similar wingspan range as a cinereous vulture.
Himalayan griffon (
Gyps Himalayensis) in Spiti
The species is found mainly in the higher regions of the Himalayas,
Kazakhstan and on the
Tibetan Plateau (technically in
China), with northwestern limits of the breeding range being in
Afghanistan and southern limits in Bhutan. Juvenile birds may
however disperse further south and vagrants have been recorded in
Singapore and Cambodia.
Behaviour and ecology
Himalayan vulture perches on crags, favourite sites showing white
marks from regular defecation. They tend to not range below an
elevation of 1,215 m (3,986 ft). Himalayan vultures often
bask in the sun on rocks. They soar in thermals and are not capable of
sustained flapping flight. Flocks may follow grazers up the mountains
in their search for dead animals. This vulture makes a rattling sound
when descending on a carcass and can grunt or hiss at roosts or when
feeding on carrion. They have been recorded eating carrion
exclusively, some which is fed on even when putrid. On the Tibetan
Plateau 64% of their diet is obtained from dead domestic yak (Bos
grunniens). They feed on old carcasses sometimes waiting a couple
of days near a dead animal. They disdain offal, which is
readily eaten by other vultures, and instead typically eat only fleshy
parts. Historically, Himalayan vultures regularly fed on human
corpses left out on Celestial burial grounds. This species is
fairly contentious around other scavengers and typically dominates
other meat-eaters at carrion, though is subservient to Gray Wolves
(Canis lupus), snow leopards (Panthera uncia) and cinereous vultures
at carcasses. In a large party, these vultures can reportedly strip
a human or sheep carcass of all meat in 30 minutes and do the same to
a yak carcass in roughly 120 minutes. Himalayan vultures have been
observed feeding on pine (Pinus roxburghii) needles, an unexplained
behaviour that cannot be for obtaining nutrition.
The breeding season begins in January. The nest is a platform of
sticks placed on an inaccessible ledge on a cliff. Nest in
northeastern India have been recorded at between 1,215 and
1,820 m (3,986 and 5,971 ft) in elevation, but those in
Tibet have been as high as 4,245 m (13,927 ft). Several
pairs may nest on the same cliff face, with between five and seven
pairs being a typical colony size. The nests are relatively small
for the large size of these birds and, although grow larger with
repeated uses, do not generally get as massive as the nest of other
large accipitrids. There is at least one recorded instance of
Himalayan vultures using a nest made by bearded vultures (Gypaetus
barbatus). On the Tibetan Plateau, Himalayan and bearded vultures
were observed nesting in close proximity without conflict, which is
notable because in several other cases of adjacent interspecies
nesting by Old World vultures (including some involving bearded
vultures) have resulted in high aggression and interspecies
attacks. A single white egg marked with red splotches is the usual
clutch. Egg laying dates in northern India have ranged from
December 25 to March 7. The egg is coarse and oval and can measure
from 87 to 103.6 mm (3.43 to 4.08 in) in height and 65 to
74 mm (2.6 to 2.9 in) in width, with an average of 94.8 by
70.1 mm (3.73 by 2.76 in). In captivity the incubation
period was about 54–58 days. The young birds stay on with the
parents for six to seven months.
Indian vulture crisis
Himalayan vultures are susceptible to toxicity induced by diclofenac,
a drug whose residues in domestic animal carcasses has led to rapid
declines in populations of other
Gyps vultures across Asia. The
Himalayan griffon vulture populations have however not shown signs of
rapid decline although reductions in nesting birds have been noted
in some parts of its range in Nepal.
BirdLife International (2012). "
IUCN Red List
IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for
Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
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Diclofenac Is Toxic to the Himalayan
Gyps Himalayensis". Bird
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