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Animal Detail ViewՄանրամասն` նրանց մասին

27.02.2012

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus)


Scientific classification 

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Subfamily: Accipitrinae
Genua: Neophron
Species: Neophron percnopterus

 

Description

The Egyptian vulture is a bird belonging to the group of Old World vultures. Other names are White Scavenger Vulture or Pharaoh's Chicken. Its plumage is white colored with black flight feathers at the wings. Typical of a vulture is its pale and unfeathered face with a long slender bill whose upper tip is hooked. The delicate beak is perfect to clean bones of prey from last bits of tissues and the naked face provides thermoregulation as well as hygiene. The skin of the head shifts from yellow to orange. In general Egyptian vultures are built lighter and smaller than most Old World vultures. The weight ranges between 1,5 and 2 kilogram while female birds mostly achieve a higher body mass than their male conspecifics. All in all the Egyptian Vulture is a quite small vulture with a length up to 70 centimeter and a wingspan up to 1, 70 meter.

Range and Habitat

Birds that breed in the temperate region migrate south in winter while tropical populations are relatively sedentary. Populations of this species have declined in the 20th Century and some isolated island forms are particularly endangered.

Main part of the resident population is found in Ethiopia and East Africa, Arabia and the Indian Subcontinent. Small populations also occur in Morocco, parts of West Africa, on the Cape Verde and Canary Islands, Angola and Namibia. Migratory Egyptian vultures breed in Southern Europe, Caucasus and central Asian countries as for example in Turkmenistan or Afghanistan.

Egyptian vultures live in open landscapes with several elevations due to their use of thermal updrafts. According to the fact that flapping flight is exhausting for them, they prefer to take off from higher levels. Therefore they nest in high trees, on cliffs or even on the top of old buildings from where they can easily start their soaring flight. Scavenges can sometimes also be observed near human settlements for example at garbage dumps.

Behavior

Vultures are often solitary or form a strong pair bond with another bird. Depending on food and space availability individuals congregate with other birds and carnivores. In the hierarchy at feeding sites the Egyptian vulture is above crows and kites but below larger griffons. The animals have territories which they defend and especially males are sometimes involved in aerial battles to save their nesting area.

The longevity in nature is hard to determine, because the birds do not always return to the same locations between the seasons. In captivity the average lifespan is 37 years.

Purely the Egyptian vulture uses its eyesight to discover prey and carrion. Amn individual will discover food because it notices individuals of its own or of other species, flying lower in the sky above a dead animal.

Egyptian vultures do not have natural predators. They are endangered by human activities and habitat destruction. Often the carcasses of animals are poisoned because of unnatural diets or consuming to much medicine, which leads to an indirect poisoning of the vulture.

Diet

Egyptian vultures eat predominately carrion of dead animals. Their strong immune system supports them while eating stale meat without getting ill. Sometimes they hunt small and weak mammals, reptiles, insects and birds. Their delicate beaks aren't adapted at catching healthy and large animals, but shaped to remove scraps of meat remaining on the carrion after more dominant species have eaten. Egyptian vultures are also well known for egg-eating. They are among the only known birds in the world to use stones as tools. They will repeatedly strike at an abandoned ostrich egg with stones, than use their beak to enlarge the hole and penetrate membrane. This behavior is not instinctive, but learned from other vultures, as the species is very intelligent.

Vultures never know when they will find their next food. Therefore they have a so called corp – a throat pouch – where they can store food and eat it whenever they want to or bring it to their hatchling safely.

Reproduction

Egyptian vultures are monogamous and between breeding seasons they migrate with their mate. They build a huge nest in a tree or on a high building using also old hair and fur. Once a year the birds breed. Depending on the region, the breeding season is between March and May in which beginnings the male bird performs displays to impress the female. 1 to 3 eggs are laid and in the first days only the female incubates before duties as incubation, defending and feeding are shared between the partners. After around 42 days the chickens hatch. Often one of the young vultures is some days older than its siblings because the eggs are not all laid at the same time. They are fed with regurgitated food as well as whole pieces milled by their parents. After nearly 85 days the grayish-white downed nestlings fledge and learn to hunt on their own within the next month. They stay in the family group but with the beginning of the migration season they separate from their parents at the latest. In an age of 6 years an Egyptian vulture becomes mature.

Conservation Status

The species is qualified as Endangered on the Red List of Threatened species of IUCN. In the last years the species underwent a drastic decline. It faces a number of threats as disturbance, direct and indirect poisoning and electrocution by power lines. In Europe also new introduced regulations controlling the disposal of animal carcasses, reduced food availability. The vulture population declined here more than 50% over the last three generations. Similar declines are reported from the Middle East. Furthermore also the resident populations within Africa seem to decline. The situation is worst in India: Since 1999 the decline is estimated to be 35% a year.

Meanwhile there are some monitoring programs and campaigns in India against illegal use of the dangerous poison and the government banned the blamable veterinary drug Diclofenac.

Ecosystem Roles

Vultures have an important role in the recycling of organic waste. They prevent potential diseases caused by carcasses. They also help to control the population sizes, on the one hand through its hunt for small animals, on the other through the fact that it eats eggs of other birds.

Differences between New World Vultures and Old World Vultures

There are two families of vultures: The New World and the Old World Vultures. Egyptian Vultures belong to the Old World Vultures, but what are the differences?

One aspect is their habit: New World Vultures are from North, Central and South America, whereas Old World Vultures live in Africa, Asia and Europe. In contrast to Old World Vultures, the New World ones don't have a voice box and can only hiss. They don't built nests but hide their eggs in holes of high and rocky areas or in cavities of trees. With their horizontal nostrils, which have a space between them, they own a good sense of smell that Old World Vultures don't have. Their feet aren't built for grabbing while their older relatives have powerful feet.

Vultures in cultures

For many people vultures symbolize death and doom, predominately because of its eating habits. Nevertheless also many cultures admired this bird:

For the old Egyptians the vulture was a symbol for royalty, love and motherhood, because they stay in pairs and have a strong bond to their children. Their wide wingspan was a symbol for the ability to protect. The Egyptian Vulture was even used as representative for the goddess Nekhbes and as a hieroglyph which was used to compose words like mother and grandmother. The vulture developed to the symbol of Upper Egypt.

In the Hindu mythology two semi-gods appear in form of two vultures named Jatayu and Sampaati. Their legend is about courage and self-sacrifice. Sampaati loses his own wings saving his brother's life and later Jatayu dies when he tries to rescue Sita, the wife of the god Rama.

When sky burial took place in Tibet, vultures ate the human corpses, which were placed on mountaintops.

In the western world mainly the negative image exists. If one sees the importance of vultures for ecosystem as cleaners and providing doctors, this reputation is actually quite unfair.

Short Facts

  • The Egyptian vulture is among the few birds that make use of tools. For example it opens ostrich eggs by dropping stones on them.

  • When a vulture is upset its head turns red.

  • The Egyptian vulture is part of the ancient Egyptian alphabet.

  • Without a sense of smell, the Egyptian vultures rely on their keen eyesight to find food. Their vision is twice as refined as that of a human, allowing them to see an object 4 to 8 centimeters in diameter from as high as 1000 meters.



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