Gypohierax angolensis (Palm-nut vulture) 

WitaasvoŽl [Afrikaans]; Gungwa, Ngungwamawala [Tsonga]; Palmgier, Gierarend [Dutch]; Palmiste africain [French]; Palmengeier [German]; Abutre-das-palmeiras [Portuguese]

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Gypohierax angolensis (Palm-nut vulture)  Gypohierax angolensis (Palm-nut vulture) 

Palm-nut vulture, Gambia. [photo Tristan Bantock ©]

Palm-nut vulture, Gambia. [photo Martin Goodey ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, from Gambia to the DRC, with isolated populations further east and south. In southern Africa it is uncommon and localised in coastal and northern Mozambique, and KwaZulu-Natal, while more scarce in the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), northern Botswana, Limpopo Province and the Eastern and Western Cape. Its distribution is strongly linked to that of the Kosi palm (Raphia australis) which it is dependent on for food and nest sites; it may also occupy edges of freshwater lakes, estuaries and swamps.

Distribution of Palm-nut 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.  

Movements and migrations

Largely sedentary, although there are widespread vagrant records across the region, which suggests that it might be nomadic.

Food 

It is mainly frugivorous, largely feeding on the fruit of the Kosi palm (Raphia australis) supplemented with small mammals, frogs, fish and invertebrates. When feeding on palm fruit it breaks off an individual fruit from the cluster and takes it to a branch or palm frond, where it flicks off the scales with its bill so that it can feed on the flesh; once finished it drops the kernel to the ground and returns to the cluster for more. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Plants
    • fruit
      • Raphia australis (Kosi palm)
      • Phoenix reclinata (Wild date palm)
    • seeds of Acacia cyclops (Rooikrans)
  • Animals
    • small mammals
    • tree frogs
    • snails
    • sea-lice
    • crabs
    • insects

Breeding

  • A monogamous solitary nester, it strongly defends its territory against other Palm-nut vultures and raptors, chasing them away.
  • The nest is built by both sexes, consisting of a large platform of sticks lined with dry grass, other plant fibres and dung. It is typically placed in the upper fronds of Raphia palms, although it may rarely use a Eucalyptus tree instead.
  • Egg-laying season is from August-September.
  • It lays one egg, which is mainly incubated by the female for about 42-47 days.
  • The chick is fed by both parents on a diet of mainly animal food at first, but in the last month before it leaves the nest it is weaned onto palm fruit, until at about 85-91 days old it leaves the nest and is capable of collect fruit for itself. It remains in the vicinity of the nest for about three more months, before becoming fully independent.

Threats

Not threatened internationally, but habitat destruction in Mozambique is though to be seriously impacting its population there. In the 1970s it was one of the rarest birds in South Africa, with just a few breeding pairs, but since then it has recovered steadily to at least 12 pairs in 2003. It is now thought to be under no immediate threat.

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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