White-backed Vulture

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Common Name: White-backed Vulture
Scientific Name: Gyps africanus

Size: 31-39 inches (78-94 cm); Wingspan: 72-84 inches (196-225 cm) Habitat: Africa; occurs from Senegal, Gambia and Mali in the west, throughout the Sahel region to Ethiopia and Somalia in the east, through East Africa into Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa in the south.

The white-backed vulture is primarily a lowland species of open wooded savanna, particularly areas of Acacia forests.

Status: Endangered. Global Population: 270,000 mature individuals. Gyps africanus is the most widespread and common vulture in Africa, although it is now undergoing rapid declines. Declines have exceeded 90% in West Africa, and have also occurred in other parts of the range including Sudan and Kenya, but populations are apparently stable in Ethiopia and Tanzania. Scientists documented an apparent decline of c.52% over c.15 years in the numbers of Gyps vultures present in the Masai Mara (Kenya) during the ungulate migration season, while in central Kenya an apparent decline of 69% was noted in the numbers of Gyps vultures between 2001 and 2003. As these are visiting individuals from a wide-ranging population, declines observed in the Masai Mara study may be representative of declines in Gyps populations ranging across East Africa from Southern Ethiopia to Southern Tanzania. Overall trends are difficult to quantify but are suspected to have exceeded 50% decrease over three generations (55 years).

Diet: Wide variety of carrion. White-backed Vultures are a gregarious species congregating at carcasses.

Nesting: Brownish to cream colored as an adult. Contrasting dark tail and flight feathers, especially from below. White rump patch and ruff. Dark neck and paler head with an all dark bill. Juvenile birds are darker. Within its range most likely to be confused with G. rueppellii or G. fulvus. Both of these species have a pale outer half to their bill and do not show such a marked contrast between the under wing-coverts and flight feathers from below.

It requires tall trees for nesting and nests in loose colonies. Nests are approximately 3 feet in diameter and contain one egg.

Cool Facts: Once the most widespread and most common vulture in Africa, scientists determined it to be rarer than previously believed and its conservation status was reassessed from Least Concern to Near Threatened in the 2007 IUCN Red List. In 2012 it was further uplisted to Endangered.

The Shona tribe of southern Rhodesia uses the heart of the White-Backed vulture in a ritual for predicting the future. A diviner grinds the heart of the vulture along with special plants, and, with divining bones, predicts future events over the concoction. Why the vulture? The Shonas recognize the incredible ability of this bird to find its way to fresh food almost anywhere, and believe that they can do this because of an ability to visit the future. They believe that the heart of the White-Backed vulture will allow them to foresee the future as well.

Found in Songbird Remix Vultures2

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