Gypaetus barbatus (Bearded vulture, Lammergeier) 

Baardaasvoėl [Afrikaans]; uKhozilwentshebe [Zulu]; Ntsu (also applied to Tawny eagle), Ntsu-kobokobo [South Sotho]; Lammergier, Baardgier [Dutch]; Gypačte barbu [French]; Bartgeier [German]; Quebra-ossos [Portuguese]

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Gypaetus barbatus (Bearded vulture, Lammergeier)  Gypaetus barbatus (Bearded vulture) 
Gypaetus barbatus (Bearded vulture, Lammergeier) 

Bearded vulture attacking a Cape vulture, Giant's Castle, South Africa. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Top right: Bearded vulture adult, Giant's Castle, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Bottom right: Bearded vulture juvenile, Giant's Castle, South Africa. [photo Neil Gray ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in Eurasia, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa from eastern Sudan to northern Tanzania. It has an isolated population in Lesotho and adjacent KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and eastern Free State, generally preferring alpine and mixed grassland on rugged mountains and escarpments.

Distribution of Bearded 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

The chicks have been recorded as prey of Corvus albicollis (White-necked raven).

Movements and migrations

Resident and sedentary, although young adults wander great distances in search of areas with few adults.

Food 

It is a scavenger, specialising in feeding on the bones of carcasses which most other animals find inedible. Its gape is particularly large (7cm), allowing it to swallow bones whole, and it's digestive juices are extremely acidic and capable of breaking down bone marrow. Like all scavenging birds, it spends most of its time soaring in the air, descending to the ground once it spots a carcass. If it is the first to spot to a carcass it becomes nervous, repeatedly circling, landing, then flying off again; other birds have learnt that this indicates there is a fresh carcass in the area. Once at the carcass, it rips of ligaments of the animal and swallows them; if a bone is to large it picks it up and takes it a favoured rocky outcrop, known as an ossuary. Once there, it glides down to 16-70 metres above the rocks, before diving and dropping the bone on to the rocks. If successful, the bone shatters into bite size pieces. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Carrion (percentage indicates approximate proportion in its diet)
    • bones (70%)
    • meat (25%)
    • skin (5%)

Breeding

  • Generally a monogamous, territorial solitary nester, although polyandry has been recorded in Europe (meaning that one female can have two mates).
  • The nest is a large, messy platform of twigs and branches, thickly lined with wool, hair and skin. It is typically placed on a cliff in a depression or cave, but sometimes on a ledge.
  • Egg-laying season is from May-August, peaking in July.
  • It lays 1-3 eggs, which are incubated for 56-58 days by both sexes in the day, but solely by the female at night.
  • The chicks are guarded constantly by their parents for up to 40 days, after which they are left alone at night but still guarded in the day. Both parents feed the young on a diet of bone fragments, often salivating on them, possibly to provide their strong digestive enzymes to help the young process the food. At about 4 weeks old, the chicks start flying up to 3 km to the local ossuary where they start to practice bone-dropping; even at two months old they are still clumsy fliers. The older nestling usually out-competes the younger one, which eventually starves. The remaining chick leaves the nest and becomes fully independent at about 120-130 days old.

Threats

Not threatened.

References

  • 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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