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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 5:50 EDT

Egyptian Vulture

The Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is a small Old World vulture and the only member of the genus Neophron. Egyptian Vultures are scavengers, feeding off carrion for the most part. However, they will occasionally prey on small mammals and eggs when the opportunity presents itself.

Adult birds measure 85 cm from the point of the beak to the extremity of the tail and 1.7m between the tips of the wings. Weight reaches about 2.1 kilograms.

The adult’s plumage is black and white. Its facial skin is yellow turning orange during nesting periods and devoid of feathers. The tail is wedged and easily notable in flight. The nestlings are dark brown and gradually go light until they reach adulthood at the age of 5.

The Egyptian Vulture is also known as Pharaoh’s Chicken because it looks like a scruffy chicken.

Egyptian Vultures are quite widely spread throughout India, south west Asia, the Iberian Peninsula, and central and north Africa. They are occasional migrants, depending on the local climate. If the Egyptian Vulture can endure the local winter it will not migrate. It is not well adjusted to cold weather conditions, mainly because of its surface area-volume ratio that causes a quick loss of heat.

Nesting

The Egyptian Vulture reaches sexual maturity at the age of 5 and breeds like most other birds of prey. They are known to be monogamous for life. The nests are built in areas of cliffs and slopes on inaccessible ledges or niches in rocky walls. Both the male and the female take part in the nest construction, using branches for the frame and padding it with garbage and food remains (skeletons of small mammals, turtle shells, etc.). They carry the nesting materials in their mouths, unlike most other raptors which use their talons instead. The nest is continually upholstered throughout the nesting and brooding periods. The female lays 2 white eggs with dark brown spots (measurements: 94 grams in weight, 65×55 millimeter length and width) with a few days interval between them. This usually happens between the end of March and the end of April.

Food

The Egyptian Vulture feeds mainly off carrion. Because of its relatively small size, it will wait until other scavengers (such as the larger Gyps vultures and hyenas) finish their meal before it starts feeding. Its head and beak are well fitted for this situation. Like other vultures, it is believed that the bare skin prevents food remains from sticking to it. (If a vulture did have feathers, remains could stick to them and interrupt take-off and flight.) Using its long beak an Egyptian Vulture can tear small pieces of meat left by larger scavengers. The thin beak can also fit through narrow spaces between bones to get food that large-beaked vultures cannot reach.

The Egyptian Vulture sometimes preys on small and slow mammals and reptiles, especially turtles. It lifts the turtle to high elevation and drops it on rocky surface, smashing its shell. The Egyptian Vulture is one of a few bird species that are known to use tools. It uses small stones to crack ostrich eggs by lifting a stone with its beak and hitting the egg in a strong swing of head and neck.

Egyptian Vulture