Lammergeier (Beared Vulture)

The Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is a large Old World vulture and the only member of the genus Gypaetus. It is different from other Old World vultures I that is doesn’t have the characteristic bald head.

This resident species can be found on high mountains in southern Europe, Africa, India and Tibet. It been successfully re-introduced into the Alps, but is still one of the rarest raptors in Europe.

Like other vultures it is an expert scavenger, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals. It will drop bones from the sky in order to crack them so they can get at the bone marrow. Its old name of Ossifrage (or Bone Crusher) relates to this habit. Live tortoises are also dropped in similar fashion to crack them open.

This huge bird has a wingspan of 2.5m and is quite unlike most other vultures in flight due to its long narrow wings and wedge shaped tail.


Adults have a buff-yellow body and head, the latter with the black moustaches which give this species its alternative name. Tail and wings are grey. Immature birds are completely dark and take 5 years to reach full maturity.

Lammergeiers are silent apart from shrill whistles at the breeding crags. They have a length of 37-41 inches (95-105 cm), with a wingspan of 98-110 inches (250-280 cm), they weigh between 11-15 pounds (5000 and 7000 grams). They can live up to 40 years in captivity.

Their habitat is spread over Southern Europe, Africa, the Middle-east, India and Tibet, inhabiting exclusively mountainous terrain (between 500 and 4,000 meters, 1,300-13,100 feet). They breed from mid December to mid February, laying 1 to 2 eggs, which hatch between 53 and 58 days. After which the young spend 106 to 130 days in the nest, before flying out on their own.


The name of the Lammergeier originates from German Lämmergeier, meaning “lamb-vulture”.


According to legend, the Greek playwright Aeschylus was killed when a tortoise was dropped on his bald head by a Lammergeier which mistook it for a stone.

A common phrase used in cryptography is “squeamish ossifrage”.