Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus - Alimoche Común

Egyptian Vulture – Neophron percnopterus – Alimoche Común

  • English: Egyptian Vulture
  • Scientific name: Neophron percnopterus
  • Spanish: Alimoche Común
  • French: Vautour percnoptère
  • German: Schmutzgeier
  • Italian: Capovaccaio
  • Portuguese: Abutre-do-egito
  • Status: Summer visitor, breeding in rocky areas.
  • Conservation Status: EN Endangered (12,000 to 38,000 estimated left in the wild). 1500 to 1700 breeding pairs in Europe. (1000 pairs in Spain)
  • Distribution: Southwestern Europe and northern Africa to southern Asia.
  • Similar species: Hieraaetus pennatus (Booted Eagle) But the easy way to tell the difference in flight is the fan tail of the booted eagle and the wedged tail of the Egyptian vulture

Description

Adult Egyptian Vulture – Neophron percnopterus – Alimoche Común have a white body, white wings with black flight feathers and a white tail. The head and legs are yellow. In flight the distinctive white and black, with characteristic wedge-shaped tail are key points to note. The young are brown.

One of the smaller vulture species, they measure 55-65 (21- inches), with a wingspan of 1.7 meters (5 feet 6 inches).

Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus - Alimoche Común
Egyptian Vulture – Neophron percnopterus – Alimoche Común – Note the wedged tail that helps to tell it apart from the pale phase booted eagle

Habits

Egyptian vultures normally fly solo or with their partner, but can sometimes be observed thermalling with other vulture species (Gyps fulvus). They begin to arrive in Spain in late February and during March set about finding a site for a nest, sometimes using the same as the previous year.

This vulture is usually one of the last animals to arrive at the carrion from which it feeds. When other larger species have already eaten most of the meat, the Egyptian vulture cleans the scraps from between the bones. Supplementing their diet with insects and small animals as well as all kinds of waste, even animal faeces.

Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus - Alimoche Común
Egyptian Vulture – Neophron percnopterus – Alimoche Común – Facial features

They nests in cliffs and caves in the mountains. The clutch consists of one or two eggs, incubation takes about 42 days and is carried out by both parents. The juveniles will fly to (and remain in Africa) for several years, usually until reaching reproductive maturity, when they will normally return to their countries of origin.

Migratory adults spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa returning via the Strait of Gibraltar in early March and leaving by the same route in late September.

Threats

This species is in decline for several reasons:

  • The intensive use of pesticides can reduce the brood to a single egg, as has occurred in several areas of Spain and Portugal.
  • The use of the NSAID Diclofenac (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) on domestic animals which ultimately die and become food for a variety of creatures, this has caused a drastic loss of Gyps species of vultures in India and is now a problem in Africa too.
  • Mortality from powerlines, pollution and poisoning, especially the illegal and indiscriminate use of prohibited poisons.
Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus - Alimoche Común

Sub species

There are three widely recognised subspecies of the Egyptian vulture. The nominate subspecies, Neophron percnopterus percnopterus, has the largest range, occurring in southern Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the north-west of India. Populations breeding in the temperate zone migrate south during winter. It has a dark grey bill.

A small population that is found only in the eastern Canary Islands was found to be genetically distinct and identified as a new subspecies is Neophron percnopterus majorensis in 2002. Known locally as the guirre they are genetically more distant from Neophron percnopterus percnopterus. Unlike neighbouring populations in Africa and southern Europe, it is non-migratory and consistently larger in size.

The Indian subcontinent is the range of subspecies Neophron percnopterus ginginianus, the smallest of the three subspecies, which is identifiable by a pale yellow bill.

Further reading

More information about the globally endangered Egyptian vulture (and other vulture species) can be found on the fantastic website of the Vulture Conservancy Foundation
https://4vultures.org/vultures/egyptian-vulture/

Wikipedia has an excellent and updated page about the Egyptian vulture
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_vulture


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