Bearded Vulture

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Common Name: Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture
Scientific Name: Gypaetus barbatus

Size: 37-49 inches (94-125cm); Wingspan: 90-112 inches (231-283 cm) Habitat: Europe, Africa and Asia; found in mountainous regions from Europe through much of Asia and Africa. In Eurasia, it’s found in the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Caucasus region, the Zagros Mountains, the Alborzs, the Altai Mountains, the Himalayas, western and central China, Israel and the Arabian Peninsula. In Africa, it is found in the Atlas Mountains, the Ethiopian Highlands and down from Sudan to northeastern Zaire, central Kenya and northern Tanzania. An isolated population inhabits the Drakensberg of South Africa.

This species is almost entirely associated with mountains and inselbergs with plentiful cliffs, crags, precipices, canyons and gorges. They are often found near alpine pastures and meadows, montane grassland and heath, steep-sided, rocky wadis, high steppe and are occasional around forests. They seem to prefer desolate, lightly-populated areas where predators who provide many bones, such as wolves and Golden eagles, have healthy populations. In Ethiopia, they are now common at refuse tips on the outskirts of small villages and towns. Although they occasionally descend to 300–600 m (980–2,000 ft), Bearded Vultures are rare below an elevation of 1,000 m (3,300 ft) and normally reside above 2,000 m (6,600 ft) in some parts of their range. They are typically found around or above the tree line which are often near the tops of the mountains, at up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft) in Europe, 4,500 m (14,800 ft) in Africa and 5,000 m (16,000 ft) in central Asia. They even have been observed living at altitudes of 7,500 m (24,600 ft) on Mount Everest and been observed flying at a height of 24,000 ft (7,300 m).

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: 1300-6700 mature individuals. Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion. Poisoning, both accidental and targeted, as well as habitat degradation, disturbance of breeding site and collision with power lines are considered to be the main threats.

Diet: Wide variety of carrion. It usually disdains the actual meat, however, and lives on a diet that is typically compromised at 85-90% by bone marrow. This is the only living bird species that specializes in feeding on marrow. The Lammergeier has learned to crack bones too large to be swallowed by carrying them in flight to a height of 50–150 m (160–490 ft) above the ground and then dropping them onto rocks below, which smashes them into smaller pieces and exposes the nutritious marrow. They can fly with bones up to 10 cm (3.9 in) in diameter and weighing over 4 kg (8.8 lb), or nearly equal to their own weight. After dropping the large bones, the Bearded Vulture spirals or glides to down to inspect them and may repeat the act if the bone is not sufficiently cracked. This learned skill requires extensive practice by immature birds and takes up to seven years to master. Its old name of Ossifrage ("bone breaker") relates to this habit. More seldom, these birds have been observed to try to break bones (usually of a medium size) by hammering them with their bill directly into rocks while perched.

Nesting: In Eurasia, vultures found around the Himalayas tend to be slightly larger than those from other mountain ranges. Females are slightly larger than males. Bearded Vultures do not have a bald heads. This species is relatively small headed, although its neck is powerful and thick. It has a generally elongated, slender shape, sometimes appearing bulkier due to the often hunched back of these birds. The gait on the ground is waddling and the feet are large and powerful. The adult is mostly dark gray, rusty and whitish in color. It is gray-blue to gray-black above. The creamy-colored forehead contrasts against a black band across the eyes and lores and bristles under the chin, which form a black beard that give the species its English name. Bearded Vultures are variably orange or rust on their head, breast and leg feathers but this is actually cosmetic. This coloration may come from dust-bathing, rubbing mud on its body or from drinking in mineral-rich waters. The tail feathers and wings are gray. The juvenile bird is dark black-brown over most of the body, with a buff-brown breast and takes five years to reach full maturity.

The Lammergeier is silent, apart from shrill whistles in their breeding displays and a falcon-like cheek-acheek call made around the nest.

The Bearded Vulture occupies an enormous territory year-around. It may forage over two square kilometers each day. The breeding period is variable, being December through September in Eurasia, November to June in the Indian Subcontinent, October to May in Ethiopia, throughout the year in eastern Africa and May to January in southern Africa. Although generally solitary, the bond between a breeding pair is often considerably close. In seldom cases, polyandry has been recorded in the species. The territorial and breeding display between Bearded Vultures is often spectacular, involving the showing of talons, tumbling and spiralling while in solo flight. The large birds also regularly lock feet with each other and fall some distance through the sky with each other. The nest is a massive pile of sticks, that goes from around 1 m (3.3 ft) across and 69 cm (27 in) deep when first constructed up to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) across and 1 m (3.3 ft) deep, with a covering of various animal matter from food, after repeated uses. The female usually lay a clutch of 1 to 2 eggs, though 3 have been recorded on rare occasions which are incubated for 53 to 60 days. After hatching the young spend 100 to 130 days in the nest before fledging. The young may be dependent on the parents for up to 2 years, forcing the parents to nest in alternate years on a regular basis. Typically, the Bearded Vulture nests in caves and on ledges and rock outcrops or caves on steep rock walls, so are very difficult for nest-predating mammals to access.

Cool Facts: It is the only member of the genus Gypaetus. Traditionally, the Lammergeier has been considered an Old World vulture, but it actually forms a minor lineage of Accipitridae (Hawk family) together with the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), its closest living relative. They are not much more closely related to the Old World vultures proper than to, for example, hawks, and differ from the former by their feathered neck. Although dissimilar, Egyptian and Bearded Vultures both have a lozenge-shaped tail that is unusual among birds of prey.

Found in Songbird Remix Vultures2

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