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Bearded Vulture Fact File

Gypaetus barbatus

Credit: Public Domain

Weight

4.5-7kg

(10-15.5lbs)

Length

1-1.2m

(3.25-4ft)

Lifespan

Wild 40 years

Captive 45 years

Diet

Carnivore

Carrion, Bone

Conservation Status

IUCN

Near Threatened

Watch Your Head!

The bearded vulture is known for its habit of dropping bones and animals on to rocks to crack them open so they can feed on the marrow or flesh inside.


These birds are named for the feathers on either side of their face which are said to resemble a beard. They are colored black.


This species will raise its young as a pair. On occasion a second male has been seen to join the pair and help raise their eggs providing extra protection and helping to scavenge for food.


A range of threats have seen the bearded vulture driven to extinction in a number of areas. One of the main factors in their decline was a perception that they would take children which led local people to hunt them.


Read on learn more about these beautiful birds.

Appearance

What does the Bearded Vulture look like?

Their name is taken from the moustache of black feathers which is present at the base of the bill.


Across the chest and head they have creamy colored feathers. It is common for this species to rub mud over its body which will turn their feathers a rusty color. A thick black band sits either side of the face.


These vultures feature an uncommon trait for vultures. Their face is covered by feathers unlike other species which lack feathers to prevent blood becoming caked on to the feathers while they feed. This is likely as their diet primarily centers on bone.


At the end of the body is a wedge-shaped tail.


An average bearded vulture will measure 1-1.2m (3.25-4ft) long with a weight of 4.5-7kg (10-15.5lbs). They have a wingspan of 2.3-3m (7.5-9.25ft) long across.


Both genders share a similar appearance though the female is often larger.

Adaptations

How does the Bearded Vulture survive in its habitat?


The wide wings of the bearded vulture allow them to glide with little effort. Where necessary they can use a single, deep wingbeat to either change direction or keep them going for a long period.

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Diet

What does the Bearded Vulture eat?

The bearded vulture is a carnivore which will feed on carrion and bone marrow. Small reptiles and turtles may also be consumed on occasion.


Unlike many vultures which seek out carrion these eagles will actively capture prey and then drop it from a height before going down and consuming it. This is also used to break up bones so they can consume them.


These food sources are unsuitable for other vultures giving bearded vultures unchallenged access to them. Their stomach PH is highly acidic giving them the ability to digest bone in as little as 24 hours.


It is rare for this species to enter in to confrontations at carcasses. Instead they will wait until the carcass is clear and eat the older meat and bones.


In urban areas it is common for this species to forage at rubbish dumps.

Learn more about the Bearded Vulture in this video from Animal Fact Files on YouTube

Range

Where do you find the Bearded Vulture?

The bearded vulture has a wide range covering parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. Here they can be found in the following countries – Afghanistan; Andorra; Armenia; Azerbaijan; Bhutan; China; Egypt; Eritrea; Ethiopia; France; Georgia; Greece; India; Iran; Iraq; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Kyrgyzstan; Lesotho; Mongolia; Morocco; Nepal; Pakistan; Russia; South Africa; Spain; Sudan; Tajikistan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Turkey; Turkmenistan; Uganda; Uzbekistan and Yemen.

They are regarded as a vagrant in a number of countries – Croatia; Cyprus; Czechia; Germany; Israel; Jordan; Democratic People's Republic of Korea; Lebanon; Mozambique; Namibia; Portugal; Romania; Somalia and Zimbabwe

This species has been driven to extinction in a number of countries including – Albania; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Bulgaria; Liechtenstein; Montenegro; North Macedonia; Serbia; Syrian Arab Republic. They may also be extinct in Saudi Arabia.

Bearded vultures have been reintroduced to the following countries following extinction – Austria; Italy and Switzerland.

While extinct in Mauritania and Palestine they may still be recorded here as a vagrant.

Habitat

Where can the Bearded Vulture survive?

This species is found in mountainous areas occurring mostly at high elevations. They will also make use of scrubland and grassland.


They occur alongside species such as wolves and golden eagles which will hunt prey that the bearded vulture can then use as carrion.

Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)

Credit: Public Domain

Reproduction

How does the Bearded Vulture produce its young?

Breeding season is variable being based on their location.


On occasion these birds will accept a second male in to their pair to create a polyandrous trio. This second male will help to protect the nest and to provide food increasing the chance that young are successful.


Their nest is large and formed from sticks. This is then lined with wool and skin from animals. In some areas dung and rubbish are also used to line the nest. They will locate the nest on a cliffside or in a cave. The nest is reused for multiple years.


In to the nest they will deposit between 1 and 2 eggs around 90 days after they breed. These are incubated for 53-58 days.


When food is scarce it is common for only one chick to survive. It will hatch first and become larger allowing it to outcompete its rival.


Parents do not regurgitate food like most carnivorous birds. Instead they will bring prey back to the nest for the chick to feed on. Chicks fledge after 106-130 days in the nest.


Sexual maturity is reached between 7 and 9 years old with males maturing later than females.

Behavior

What does the Bearded Vulture do during its day?

These birds will rub soil across their chest. No purpose has been agreed for this but a leading theory is that it acts as a status symbol. Older vultures with more knowledge of their environment and feeding patterns have more time to spend rubbing soil in to their feathers.


Another theory around this behavior is that the iron oxide in the soil will help to fend off bacteria.


These birds are active during the day.


They are most vocal during the breeding season. At this time they will make a clucking sound. A shrill twittering is also produced.

Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What stops the Bearded Vulture from surviving and thriving?

While this species has few predators it does experience kleptoparasitism. This is where one species will steal prey from one another.


These birds were hunted to near extinction by parents who believed that they would carry children away. At present they remain extinct in large portions of their range (For further details see the range section.).


Numbers of bearded vultures have been declining across their range. Their total population is estimated to be between 1,675 and 6,700.


A range of threats are faced by the bearded vulture. These include poisoning, persecution, disturbance while breeding, unavailability of food and collisions with man-made structures such as powerlines and wind turbines.


An increase in feral dogs has seen them outcompeted for food.


In some areas this species will be hunted for food and use in traditional medicine.

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Bearded Vulture facts

These birds may also be known as the lammergeier.


Lammergeier comes from German and means lamb-vulture. It is uncommon for this species to feed on lambs.


A tale from the time of the ancient Greeks says that dramatist Aeschylus was hit in the head by a turtle dropped by a bearded vulture. It is thought the bird mistook his bald head for a rock.

Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)

Credit: Noel Reynolds, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley

Alderton, D. and Barrett, P., 2019. The complete illustrated encyclopedia of birds of the world. Lorenz Books.

Tenenzapf, J. 2011. "Gypaetus barbatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed January 09, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Gypaetus_barbatus/

Mentalfloss.com. 2022. 11 Facts About the Bone-Eating Bearded Vulture. [online] Available at: <https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/58253/11-facts-about-bone-eating-bearded-vulture> [Accessed 10 January 2022].

BirdLife International. 2021. Gypaetus barbatusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T22695174A154813652. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-3.RLTS.T22695174A154813652.en. Accessed on 10 January 2022.

the Guardian. 2022. Mystery bird: lammergeier, Gypaetus barbatus. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/science/punctuated-equilibrium/2011/may/17/5> [Accessed 10 January 2022].

Purbita, S. 2022. The Lammergeier. [online] Available at: <https://www.audubon.org/news/the-lammergeier-0> [Accessed 10 January 2022].

Lauraerickson.com. 2022. Lammergeier | Bird | Laura Erickson's For the Birds. [online] Available at: <https://www.lauraerickson.com/bird/lammergeier/> [Accessed 10 January 2022].

BirdLife International. 2021. Gypaetus barbatusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T22695174A154813652. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-3.RLTS.T22695174A154813652.en. Accessed on 10 January 2022.

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