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Aug 27 2011

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Indian Vulture (Gyps indicus)


Indian Vulture

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Gyps indicus | [authority] Scopoli, 1786 | [UK] Indian Vulture | [FR] Vautour indien | [DE] Dunnschnabel-Geier | [ES] Buitre Picofino | [NL] Indische Gier

Subspecies

Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Gyps indicus OR se Pakistan, s India

Genus

Members of the genus Gyps are vultures varying in size from medium to large. They have an elongated head with a long and heavy beak. The head and neck are bare, but for a covering of woolly down. At the base of the neck is a ruff of long, narrow, pointed feathers. This is a social genus, usually nesting in colonies in trees or on rocky crags. There are seven species, covering much of Africa, southern Europe and into Asia. Of there, two (the African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus and the Indian White-backed Vulture Gyps bengalensis ) are arguably more logically places in a genus of their own. They differ in that they have 12 tail feathers (not the 14 that all other Gyps have), their nesting habits differ, and they have a distinctive coloration that differs significantly from the rest of the genus.

Physical charateristics

There are two races. Some authorities consider them seperate species. Gyps indicus indicus is found in northern India and further east, and Gyps indicus tenuirostris is found in the plains of the Indus and Ganges rivers.
In the adult of the northern race, the bare skin of head and neck is a dirty grey-brown, sparsely powdered with white down and terminated with a buff ruff. The feathers of the back and upper-wing coverts are sepia brown, with paler edges, producing a generally pale upper-side with darker mottlings. The tail and primary quills above and below are black/brown, the secondaries being more sepia. The crop patch is dark brown with white down around it. The feathers of the under-side are light brown with dark shafts, darker brown on the axillaries. The under-wing coverts are light brown with buff edges. The eyes are brown, the cere dull grey/green, and the legs dark grey.
The head and neck of immatures has a scattering of white down over a brown ruff. Above is mostly brown with pale rufous edges to the feathers and distinct rufous/buff shaft streaks. The crop patch is brown. Te under-side is light brown, with cream streaks. The thighs, abdomen and under-tail coverts are paler, and the under-wing coverts are almost white.
The southern race is similar, but the head and neck are completely naked, and it is somewhat smaller.


wingspan min.: 205 cm wingspan max.: 229 cm
size min.: 80 cm size max.: 100 cm
incubation min.: 47 days incubation max.: 53 days
fledging min.: 0 days fledging max.: 0 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  

Range

Oriental Region : Southeast Pakistan, South India. Breeds in south-east Pakistan (where it is rare although a 200-250 pair colony was discovered in 2003 in Sindh Province, Pakistan) and peninsular India south of the Gangetic plain, north to Delhi, east through Madhya Pradesh, south to the Nilgiris, and occasionally further south. It was common until very recently, but severe population declines (>90%) have been noted since the late 1990s.

Habitat

It is found in cities, towns and villages near cultivated areas, and in open and wooded areas. Gyps indicus indicus has much the same habits as other rock-loving Griffons, while Gyps indicus tenuirostris behaves very much like Gyps bengalensis. It leaves its roost in the morning when the sun has warmed the air enough to create thermal currents, and then spends much of the day soaring, descending to find food. At a carcase it is at a disadvantage against larger and heavier vultures such as the Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus ) or the Himalayan Griffon Vulture (Gyps himalayensis), but is able to hold its own with White-backed and Indian Black Vultures (Sarcogyps calvus ), with which it normally comes in contact. It may roost in company with these other vultures in the neighbourhood of a carcase and, like them, will occasionally feed on moonlit nights.

Reproduction

it nests either on crags (G. i. indicus), or on trees (G. I. tenuirostris). When on crags the colonies are usually small, but may be larger – sometimes up to twenty pairs. When in trees it nests in loose colonies, one nest per tree, usually high up. and showing a preference for mango trees when available. Nests built on rocks are small, two to three feet across and six inches deep, but on trees they are more solid structures, 30 inches wide by fifteen to twenty inches deep, sometimes even larger. In either case the site is used for many years. The nests are made of sticks, lined with green leaves, and with pieces of skin, rags and other rubbish.
One egg is laid, oval, white, sometimes lightly spotted and blotched with reddish brown. Eggs are laid from mid-November to early March. G. i. tenuirostris may breed on average a little earlier than G. i. indicus. Both sexes incubate and attend the young. Incubation takes about 50 days. Only about 50% of occupied nests produce young in any year.

Feeding habits

The diet of the Long-billed Vulture consists of carrion, usually putrid, but sometimes fresh. It is customary in some parts of their range for human corpses to be placed in high places, from where the Long-billed Vulture will feed. This practise has a deep cultural and religious significance.

Video Indian Vulture

copyright: J. del Hoyo


Conservation

This species is classified as Critically Endangered because it has suffered an extremely rapid population decline as a result of feeding on carcasses of animals treated with the veterinary drug diclofenac.
By mid-2000, Gyps vultures were being found dead and dying in Pakistan and throughout India, and major declines and local extirpations were being reported. Early evidence suggested that a viral disease may have been the causal agent, but there is now strong evidence that Gyps vultures are fatally susceptible to veterinary painkillers containing diclofenac. Further research is required.
Indian Vulture status Critically Endangered

Migration

Sedentary throughout its range.

Distribution map

Indian Vulture distribution range map

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