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Lappet-Faced Vulture Fact File

Torgos tracheliotos

Weight

5.4-9.4kg

(11.9-20.7lbs)

Length

115cm

(45in)

Lifespan

Wild 30 years

Captive 50 years

Diet

Carnivore

Carcasses

Conservation Status

IUCN

Endangered

The lappet-faced vulture is considered the largest species of vulture in Africa with a wingspan reaching up to 2.9m (9.5ft) across. Their head is bare of feathers to protect against bacteria building up in their feathers.

Lappet-faced vultures are carnivores. They primarily seek out carcasses which they can feed on. At a carcass they are the the most dominant individual and will have first access to the carcass.

They build a massive nest out of stick which reaches up to 2m (6.5ft) across.

These birds are declining across their range and are already considered extinct in some areas. They are threatened by poisoning, collection of eggs, reduction in food and electrocution.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds below.

Appearance

These birds feature a bare head which shows the pinkish skin. Their head is not entirely bare unlike other vultures with some small downy feathers on the crown.

The lack of feathers is an adaptation due to feeding on carcasses which could contaminate feathers with bacteria. The head is difficult to clean and as such this is necessary. The sun will bake off any bacteria or parasites.

Along the back the feathers are black while the feathers on the underside of the body and on the thighs are white.

They have a curved beak with a sharp hook at the tip. It is adapted for tearing in to flesh. This is colored horn at the tip and becomes darkish grey at the base. In the north of their range this portion is colored darker.

These animals have strong claws on their feet which are colored grayish.

An average lappet-faced vulture will measure 115cm (45in) long with a weight of 5.4-9.4kg (11.9-20.7lbs). Their wingspan is up to 2.9m (9.5ft) across. Females tend to be larger than males.

Diet


Lappet-faced vultures are carnivores. These animals are primarily scavengers which seek out large carcasses on which they can feed.

To locate these carcasses they can use their sense of smell. They will also look out for other birds circling which indicates a nearby carcass.

They will also actively hunt prey such as small reptiles, fish, birds and mammals. Occasionally they feed on insects and will sit at termite mounds picking them off as they emerge from the hole.

When feeding they can strip a carcass to the bone in just 20 minutes.

Lappet-Faced Vulture

Range

Africa is the native home of the lappet-faced vulture. Here they can be found in Algeria; Angola; Benin; Burundi; Burkina Faso; Botswana; Central African Republic; Cameroon; Chad; The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire; Djibouti; Egypt; Eswatini; Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gambia; Kenya; Libya; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Mozambique; Morocco; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Oman; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Tanzania; Togo; Uganda; United Arab Emirates; Yemen; Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The species is considered to be extinct in Irasel; Jordan; Palestine and Western Sahara. They may potentially be extinct in Syria.

Habitat

Lappet-faced vultures are found in dry savannas, arid plains, desert and mountain slopes. In parts of their range they live a forest edges.

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Reproduction

Pairs remain together for several years and then may switch to a different partner.

Breeding occurs across their range from March to mid-August with some variation of these timings across their wide range.

The lappet-faced vulture will build a nest which is up to 2m (6.5ft) across in diameter. This is formed out of sticks.

In to this nest the female will deposit a single egg. Both adults work to incubate this over a 55 day period. Nests are built away from other pairs of birds.

At hatching the chick is covered by downy, white feathers. The head and neck are colored grey.

Fledging occurs at 18 weeks old but the chicks may remain with their parents for up to a year.

Sexual maturity is reached at 6 years old.

Behavior

These birds are mostly silent.

Most of their life is spent living as part of a pair. At a carcass or around water they may join together in groups with up to 50 other raptors.

At food they are dominant over any other bird which may be present.

At night while they sleep they will reduce their metabolism which also drops their body temperature. This reduces the calories which they use while they sleep.

In the morning they will stretch out their wings and point towards the sun. This increases the surface area available for the sun to hit. When it is too warm they perform a similar behavior to help lose heat.

Lappet-Faced Vulture

Predators and Threats

Predators such as the crow will take eggs and young. Newborns are also preyed upon by secretary birds and leopards.

The current population of mature individuals is estimated at just 5,700 and is suggested to be in a rapid decline. They have already been declared as extinct in parts of their range.

Their main source of their decline has been through poisoning mainly from secondary poisoning when they feed on carcasses which have themselves died from poisoning.

In parts of their range they are seen with their beaks removed after death and it is thought these are traded for traditional medicine.

Further threats to the species include nest predation by humans, reduced availability of foods and electrocution. Nesting birds face disturbance from vehicles and fire. Their nesting trees may also be destroyed by elephants.

Quick facts

Lappet-faced vultures may also be referred to as the king vulture (not to be confused with the species of the same name in South America). This is due to them being dominant when at a carcass.

They are also known as the Nubian vulture.

These birds are considered the largest species of vulture in Africa.

A group of lappet-faced vultures is referred to as a 'committee,' 'venue,' or 'volt.'

Lappet-Faced Vulture

Photo Credits

Top

Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Middle One

Dominic Sherony, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Middle Two

Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom

gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

BirdLife International. 2019. Torgos tracheliotos (amended version of 2017 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T22695238A155542069. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T22695238A155542069.en. Downloaded on 02 August 2021.

Oiseaux-birds.com. 2021. Lappet-faced Vulture. [online] Available at: <http://www.oiseaux-birds.com/card-lappet-faced-vulture.html> [Accessed 2 August 2021].

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden®. 2021. Lappet-faced Vulture – Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden®. [online] Available at: <http://cincinnatizoo.org/animals/lappet-faced-vulture/> [Accessed 2 August 2021].

Seaworld.org. 2021. Lappet-Faced Vulture Facts and Information | SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. [online] Available at: <https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/birds/lappet-faced-vulture/> [Accessed 2 August 2021].

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