Rüppell's Vulture

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Common Name: Rüppell's Vulture
Scientific Name: Gyps rueppellii

Size: 33-41 inches (85-103 cm); Wingspan: 87-102 inches (226-260 cm)

Habitat: Africa; occurs throughout the Sahel region of Africa from Senegal, Gambia and Mali in the west to Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia in the east. Also south through the savanna regions of East Africa in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. Formerly abundant, the species has experienced extremely rapid declines in much of its range, particularly West Africa.

It frequents open areas of Acacia woodland, grassland and montane regions, and it is gregarious, congregating at carrion, soaring together in flocks and breeding mainly in colonies on cliff faces and escarpments at a broad range of elevations.

Status: Endangered. Global Population: Unknown amount of mature adults. This species faces similar threats to other African vultures, being susceptible to habitat conversion to agro-pastoral systems, loss of wild ungulates leading to a reduced availability of carrion, hunting for trade, persecution and poisoning. In East Africa, the primary issue is poisoning (particularly from the highly toxic pesticide carbofuran), which occurs primarily outside protected areas; the large range sizes of this and G. africanus puts them both at significant risk as it means they inevitably spend considerable time outside protected areas. In addition, the ungulate wildlife populations on which this species relies have declined precipitously throughout East Africa, even in protected areas. In 2007, diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug often used for livestock, and which is fatal to Gyps spp. when ingested at livestock carcasses, was found to be on sale at a veterinary practice in Tanzania. In addition, it was reported that in Tanzania, a Brazilian manufacturer has been aggressively marketing the drug for veterinary purposes and exporting it to 15 African countries.

The West African population has been heavily exploited for trade, with birds commonly sold in fetish markets. For example, the Dogon of central Mali climb the Hombori cliffs to take eggs and chicks of this species. The decline and possible extirpation in Nigeria appears to be entirely attributable to the trade in vulture parts for traditional juju. It is apparently also captured for international trade. In 2005, 30 birds were reportedly confiscated by the Italian authorities. Disturbance, especially from climbers, is a particular problem for this species. In Mali, the Hombori and Dyounde massifs are dotted with at least 47 climbing routes, on which expeditions take place every year, mainly during the species’ breeding season.

Diet: Wide variety of carrion. They are silent as a rule, but become vocal at the nest and when at a carcass, squealing a great deal.

Nesting: Overall dark brown plumage with extensive pale creamy edging to body feathers. Dark flight feathers. Has a white ruff, dark neck and pale head. Distal half of the bill is pale. Juveniles have an all dark bill and paler body plumage. The centers to their body feathers are altogether less dark. Within its range this species could be confused with G. fulvus or G. africanus. However, both of those species are less mottled and have uniform light brown body plumage. G. adricanus has an all dark bill.

Lays a single egg on a cliff perched nest.

Cool Facts: Rüppell's Vulture is named in honor of Eduard Rüppell, a 19th-century German explorer, collector, and zoologist. Rüppell's Vulture is considered to be the highest-flying bird, with confirmed evidence of a flight at an altitude of 11,000 m (36,100 ft) above sea level. The birds have a specialized variant of the hemoglobin alphaD subunit; this protein has a high affinity for oxygen, which allows the species to take up oxygen efficiently despite the low partial pressure in the upper troposphere. A Rüppell's Vulture was confirmed to have been ingested by a jet engine of an airplane flying over Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire on November 29, 1973 at an altitude of 11,000 meters (36,100 ft). In August 2010 a Rüppell's Vulture escaped a bird of prey site in Scotland, prompting warnings to pilots in the area to keep an eye out due to the danger of collision.

Rüppell's Vultures have several adaptations to their diet and are specialized feeders even among the Old World vultures of Africa. They have an especially powerful build and, after the most attractive soft parts of a carcass have been consumed, they will continue with the hide, and even the bones, gorging themselves until they can barely fly. They have backward-facing spines on the tongue to help remove meat from bone. Despite their size, power and adaptations, they are not the most dominant vulture in their range, which is considered to be the even larger Lappet-faced Vulture.

Found in Songbird Remix Vultures2

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