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Eurasian griffon vulture

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Eurasian griffon vulture
Flying griffon vulture photographed in Spain
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Gyps
G. fulvus
Binomial name
Gyps fulvus
(Hablizl, 1783)[2]
  • G. f. fulvus - (Hablizl, 1783)
  • G. f. fulvescens - Hume, 1869
Range of griffon vulture

Vultur fulvus

The Eurasian griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) is a large Old World vulture in the bird of prey family Accipitridae. It is also known as the griffon vulture,[4] although this term is sometimes used for the genus as a whole. It is not to be confused with the Rüppell's griffon vulture (Gyps rueppellii) and Himalayan griffon vulture (Gyps himalayensis). It is closely related to the white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus).


The griffon vulture is 93–122 cm (37–48 in) long with a 2.3–2.8 m (7.5–9.2 ft) wingspan. In the nominate race the males weigh 6.2 to 10.5 kg (14 to 23 lb) and females typically weigh 6.5 to 10.5 kg (14 to 23 lb), while in the Indian subspecies (G. f. fulvescens), the vultures average 7.1 kg (16 lb). Extreme adult weights have been reported from 4.5 to 15 kg (9.9 to 33.1 lb), the latter likely a weight attained in captivity.[5][6] Hatched naked, it is a typical Old World vulture in appearance, with a white head, broad wings and short tail feathers. It has a white neck ruff and yellow bill. The buff body and wing coverts contrast with the dark flight feathers.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Griffon vulture in Hai-Bar reserve mount Carmel

In Italy, the species has survived only in the island of Sardinia, but there have been recent attempts at reintroducing the griffon in the peninsula. As a result, several specimens were spotted in August 2006 on the Gran Sasso massif (central Italy). Populations in Italy are thought to be increasing thanks to reintroduction schemes in neighbouring countries and a ban on hunting the species.

In Croatia, a colony of griffon vultures can be found near the town of Beli on the island of Cres.[7] There they breed at lower elevations, with some nests just 10 m (33 ft) above sea level. Therefore, contact with people is common. The population makes frequent incursions in the Slovenian territory, especially in the mountain Stol above Kobarid. The bird is protected in an area called Kuntrep on the Croatian island of Krk.[8] In Ireland, the first record of a griffon vulture occurred in 1843 in Cork.[9] More recently, in 2000 a vulture took up residence on the Channel Island of Guernsey.[10]

Griffon vulture beside a white-rumped vulture.

In Cyprus, there was a colony of fewer than 30 birds at Episkopi, in the south of the island in 2006.[11]

In Israel, colonies of griffon vultures can be found in the north and the Golan Heights. A large colony breeds in the Carmel Mountains, the Negev desert and especially at Gamla. Reintroduction projects are being carried out at breeding centres in the Carmel and Negev.

In Greece, there are nearly 1000 birds. The majority of griffon vulture population in Greece resides in Crete, which hosts the largest insular population of the species in the world.[12] On Crete they can be found in most mountainous areas, sometimes in groups of up to 20.[13]

Griffon vulture beside a cinereous vulture.

Griffon vultures have been reintroduced successfully into the Massif Central in France; about 500 are now found there. Griffon vultures are regularly spotted over the Millau bridge, and since 2015 also in the Cantal Mountains.

  • In Belgium and the Netherlands, around 100 birds were present in the summer of 2007. These were vagrants from the Pyrenees population (see below).[14]
  • In Germany, the species died out in the mid-18th century. Some 200 vagrant birds, probably from the Pyrenees, were sighted in 2006,[15] and several dozen of the vagrants sighted in Belgium the following year crossed into Germany in search for food.[16] There are plans to reintroduce the species in the Alps. In September 2008, pieces of a griffon vulture bone, about 35,000 years old, were excavated from Hohle Fels cave in southern Germany, which are believed to form a flute.[17][18]

In Serbia, there are around 60–65 pairs of griffon vultures in the western parts of the country, around Zlatar mountain and also 35 birds in the canyon of the Trešnjica river.[19] They are under legal protection from hunting.[20]

In Austria, there is a remnant population around Salzburg Zoo, and vagrants from the Balkans are often seen.

Egyptian, cinereous, and griffon vultures in flight.

In Spain and France, in 2008, there were 25,000 birds, from a low of a few thousand around 1980. Spain has the biggest colony of Griffon vultures in all Europe. It is located at Hoces del Río Duratón Natural Park (Province of Segovia).

In Portugal a few hundred pairs of griffons nest, but their distribution is strongly asymmetric. The main areas of reproduction are located in the northeast (Douro International), which is home to more than half of the Portuguese population. Though permanently resident in the interior of the country, the griffon vulture often ventures west when the breeding season is over and can occasionally reach the Tagus Estuary and Cape St. Vincent.[21]

Griffon vultures eating the carcass of a red deer in the Pyrenees (Spain).

The Pyrenees population has apparently been affected by an EC ruling that due to danger of BSE transmission, no carcasses must be left on the fields for the time being. This has critically lowered food availability, and consequently, carrying capacity. Although the griffon vulture does not normally attack larger living prey, there are reports of Spanish griffon vultures killing weak, young or unhealthy living animals when they do not find enough carrion .[22] In May 2013, a 52-year-old woman who was hiking in the Pyrenees died after falling off a cliff. Griffon vultures devoured her corpse before rescue workers arrived and found only her clothes and a few bones.The story attracted attention to griffon vulture problems in Southern Europe.[23]

In Armenia there are 46-54 pairs according to last estimation of population; the trend demonstrates slight increasing.[24] In Russia, nests on the northern slopes of the Greater Caucasus.

Behaviour and ecology[edit]


Like other vultures, it is a scavenger, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals which it finds by soaring over open areas, often moving in flocks. It grunts and hisses at roosts or when feeding on carrion.

The maximum recorded lifespan of the griffon vulture is 41.4 years for an individual in captivity.[25]

It breeds on crags in mountains in southern Europe, north Africa, and Asia, laying one egg. Griffon vultures may form loose colonies. The population is mostly resident. Density Dependence in this colonial species has been shown to affect annual reproductive success with eyries in protected location (caves, potholes and sheltered ledges) producing more fledglings, and used preferentially, than low-quality eyries (exposed ledges and open crevices), which were only used when the number of breeding individuals increased.[26]


Griffon vulture in flight

Griffon vultures have been used as model organisms for the study of soaring and thermoregulation. The energy costs of level flight tend to be high, prompting alternatives to flapping in larger birds. Vultures in particular utilize more efficient flying methods such as soaring. Compared to other birds, which elevate their metabolic rate to upwards of 16 times their basal metabolic rate in flight,[27] soaring griffon vultures expend about 1.43 times their basal metabolic rate in flight. Griffon vultures are also efficient flyers in their ability to return to a resting heart rate after flight within ten minutes.[28]

As large scavengers, griffon vultures have not been observed to seek shelter for thermoregulation. Vultures use their bald heads as a means to thermoregulate in both extreme cold and hot temperatures. Changes in posture can increase bare skin exposure from 7% to 32%. This change allows for the more than doubling of convective heat loss in still air.[29] Griffon vultures have also been found to tolerate increased body temperatures as a response to high ambient temperatures. By allowing their internal body temperature to change independently of their metabolic rate, griffon vultures minimize their loss of water and energy in thermoregulating.[30] One study in particular (Bahat 1995) found that these adaptations have allowed the Griffon vulture to have one of the widest thermal neutral zones of any bird.[31]

Intraspecific competition[edit]

Griffon vultures have shown no age difference in their feeding rates. Feeding rates do tend to increase when more food is available. Studies connected with reintroduction of the vultures have found that older adults are more inclined to display aggressive behaviour and signs of dominance. The sexes have shown no difference in competitive behaviours. Reintroduced and wild-bred birds did not differ in dominance or feeding rate despite their differences in upbringing.[32]


The main cause of the rapid decline in the griffon vulture population is the consumption of poisoned baits set out by people. Wildlife conservation efforts have attempted to increase awareness of the lethal consequences of using illegally poisoned baits through education about the issue.[33]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2021). "Gyps fulvus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2021: e.T22695219A157719127. Retrieved 20 November 2021.
  2. ^ Hablizl, Carl (1783). "Bemerkungen in der persischen Landschaft Gilan und auf den Gilanischen Gebirgen". In Pallas, Peter Simon (ed.). Neue nordische Beyträge zur physikalischen und geographischen Erd- und Völkerbeschreibung, Naturgeschichte und Oekonomie (in German). Vol. 4. St. Petersburg and Leipzig: Bey Johann Zacharias Logan. pp. 1–104 [58–59].
  3. ^ Gill F, D Donsker & P Rasmussen (Eds). 2020. IOC World Bird List (v10.2). doi : 10.14344/IOC.ML.10.2.
  4. ^ "Griffon vulture". Birdlife international. Retrieved 20 September 2022.
  5. ^ Ferguson-Lees, James; Christie, David A. (2001). Raptors of the World. Illustrated by Kim Franklin, David Mead, and Philip Burton. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-618-12762-7.
  6. ^ Ali, Sálim (1996). The Book of Indian Birds (12th ed.). Bombay: Bombay Natural History Society. ISBN 978-0-19-563731-1.
  7. ^ Ettinger, Powell (2008). "Griffon vultures on Cres Island - Croatia". Wildlife Extra.
  8. ^ "Croatian Flora Fauna clear list".
  9. ^ "BTO BirdFacts | Griffon Vulture". app.bto.org. 16 July 2010. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  10. ^ UNWIN, BRIAN. "Guernsey welcomes its latest resident: the griffon vulture". www.independent.co.uk. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015.
  11. ^ "At last, some good news for Cyprus vultures". birdlifecyprus.org. BirdLife Cyprus. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  12. ^ Xirouchakis, Stavros M.; Mylonas, Moysis (December 2005). "Status and structure of the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) population in Crete". European Journal of Wildlife Research. 51 (4): 223–231. doi:10.1007/s10344-005-0101-4. S2CID 24900498.
  13. ^ Xirouchakis, Stavros (2005). "Selection of Breeding Cliffs by Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus in Crete (Greece)". Acta Ornithologica. 40 (2): 155–161. doi:10.3161/068.040.0211. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  14. ^ "Gänsegeier in Flandern" [Griffon vultures in Flanders]. n-tv (in German). 18 June 2007. Retrieved 20 June 2007.
  15. ^ "Großer Geier-Einflug über Deutschland" [Large vulture flight over Germany] (in German). Handelsblatt. 30 June 2006. Retrieved 20 June 2007.
  16. ^ "Gänsegeier in Deutschland" [Griffon vultures in Germany]. n-tv (in German). 22 June 2006. Retrieved 25 June 2007.
  17. ^ "Prehistoric flute in Germany is oldest known". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 29 June 2009. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
  18. ^ "Earliest musical tradition documented in SW Germany". Science Centric. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
  19. ^ "Canyon of river Trešnjica". Archived from the original on 12 December 2007. Retrieved 13 April 2009.
  20. ^ "Zlatar tourist organization, Serbia".[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ "Grifo (Gyps fulvus)". www.avesdeportugal.info. Retrieved 8 May 2021.
  22. ^ MacKenzie, Debora (1 June 2007). "Starving vultures switch to live prey". New Scientist. Retrieved 20 June 2007.
  23. ^ "Woman Eaten By Vultures After Fall From Cliff". inquisitr. 6 May 2013.
  24. ^ Armenian Bird Census. "The State of Griffon Vulture in Armenia". Armenian Bird Census. TSE NGO. Retrieved 3 February 2018.
  25. ^ Carey, James R.; Judge, Debra S. "Longevity Records: Life Spans of Mammals, Birds, Amphibians, Reptiles, and Fish". Monographs on Population Aging, 8. Odense University Press. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  26. ^ Zuberogoitia, I.; Martínez, J.E.; González-Oreja, J.A.; Pérez de Ana, J.M.; Zabala, J. (2019). "Factors affecting population regulation of a colonial vulture". Ibis. 161 (4): 878–889. doi:10.1111/ibi.12687. S2CID 92172949.
  27. ^ Gavrilov, V. M. (26 November 2011). "Energy expenditures for flight, aerodynamic quality, and colonization of forest habitats by birds". Biology Bulletin. 38 (8): 779–788. Bibcode:2011BioBu..38..779G. doi:10.1134/S1062359011080024. ISSN 1062-3590. S2CID 20637646.
  28. ^ Duriez, Olivier; Kato, Akiko; Tromp, Clara; Dell'Omo, Giacomo; Vyssotski, Alexei L.; Sarrazin, François; Ropert-Coudert, Yan (15 January 2014). "How Cheap Is Soaring Flight in Raptors? A Preliminary Investigation in Freely-Flying Vultures". PLOS ONE. 9 (1): e84887. Bibcode:2014PLoSO...984887D. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084887. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3893159. PMID 24454760.
  29. ^ Ward, Jennifer; McCafferty, Dominic J.; Houston, David C.; Ruxton, Graeme D. (1 April 2008). "Why do vultures have bald heads? The role of postural adjustment and bare skin areas in thermoregulation". Journal of Thermal Biology. 33 (3): 168–173. doi:10.1016/j.jtherbio.2008.01.002.
  30. ^ Prinzinger, Roland; Nagel, B.; Bahat, O.; Bögel, R.; Karl, E.; Weihs, D.; Walzer, C. (1 October 2002). "Energy metabolism and body temperature in the Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) with comparative data on the Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) and the White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)". Journal für Ornithologie. 143 (4): 456–467. Bibcode:2002JOrni.143..456P. doi:10.1046/j.1439-0361.2002.02039.x. ISSN 1439-0361.
  31. ^ Bahat O (1995) Physiological adaptations and foraging ecology of an obligatory carrion eater - the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) [PhD thesis]. Tel Aviv: Tel-Aviv University, p. 102.
  32. ^ Bose, Michela; Sarrazin, Francois (July 2007). "Competitive behaviour and feeding rate in a reintroduced population of Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus". British Ornithologists' Union. 149 (3): 490–501. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.2007.00674.x.
  33. ^ Demerdzhiev, D.; Hristov, H.; Dobrev, D.; Angelov, I. & Kurtev, M. (2014). "Long-term population status, breeding parameters and limiting factors of the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus Hablizl, 1783) population in the Eastern Rhodopes, Bulgaria" (PDF). Acta Zoologica Bulgarica. 66 (3): 373–384.

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