Aegypius occipitalis (White-headed vulture) 

[= Trigonoceps occipitalis

WitkopaasvoŽl [Afrikaans]; Ekuvi (generic term for vulture) [Kwangali]; Gora (generic name for vulture) [Shona]; Lingce (generic term for vulture) [Swazi]; Koti (generic term for vulture) [Tsonga]; Witkopgier [Dutch]; Vautour ŗ tÍte blanche [French]; Wollkopfgeier [German]; Abutre-de-cabeÁa-branca [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Falconiformes > Family: Accipitridae > Genus: Aegypius

Aegypius occipitalis (White-headed vulture)  Aegypius occipitalis (White-headed vulture) 
White-headed vulture. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

White-headed vulture with titbit. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Aegypius occipitalis (White-headed vulture) 

White-headed vulture fighting over titbit. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in isolated patches around the Red Sea and across sub-Saharan Africa. In southern Africa it is uncommon in north-west-Zimbabwe, Botswana, northern Namibia, Mozambique and eastern South Africa, generally preferring semi-arid woodland, such as Mopane (Colosphermum mopane), miombo (Brachystegia) and mixed woodland.

Distribution of White-headed vulture in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Nestlings have been recorded as prey of Aquila verreauxii (Verreauxs' eagle).

Movements and migrations

Resident but probably nomadic in the non-breeding season.


Aegypius occipitalis (White-headed vulture) 

White-headed vulture at a carcass. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

It is an adaptable carnivore, not only feeding on carrion but also catching its own prey and stealing the food of other birds (kleptoparasitism). When scavenging, it is often the first at the carcass, dominant over most other vultures excluding the larger Lappet-faced vulture, but generally staying away from the frenzy at the carcass, instead stealing from other scavengers and feeding on the food they drop. It hunts a variety of prey, including the following animals:


  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester; the male collecting sticks and hands them to the female, who incorporates them into the large nest platform (see image below), which is lined with dry grass. It is typically placed in a large tree, especially a Baobab (Adansonia digitata) or Acacia, such as Knob-thorn (A. nigrescens), Umbrella thorn (A. tortilis) or Monkey acacia (A. galpinii), but also in a Purple-pod cluster-leaf (Terminalia prunioides).

White-headed vulture at its nest, Central Kruger Park, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is from May-October, peaking from June-July.
  • It lays a single egg, which is incubated by both parents for about 55-56 days.
  • The chick is brooded constantly by both adults for the first 50-60 of days of it's life, after which the adults only visit the nest to give the chick food; it eventually leaves the nest at about 115 days old.


Not threatened globally, but Vulnerable in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, as its population in these countries is estimated to be just 80-120 breeding pairs. Its global population is approximately 7000-12 500 individuals, and its southern Africa population is thought to be around 500 breeding pairs.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 



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