Himalayan Vulture (Gyps himalayensis)

Himalayan Vulture

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Gyps himalayensis | [authority] Hume, 1869 | [UK] Himalayan Vulture | [FR] Vautour de l’Himalaya | [DE] Schneegeier | [ES] Buitre del Himalaya | [NL] Himalaja-gier


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Gyps himalayensis OR Himalayas


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

The Himalayan griffon is an Old World vulture belonging to the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, buzzards, kites and hawks. The species is closely related to the European Griffon (Gyps fulvus). It is a huge bulky creature, about 115-122 cm in length, and 7-10 kg in weight. The wingspan is around 260 cm. The head and upper neck are covered with soft white down feathers while the lower neck has a sandy-brown ruff. The bird has a sandy-brown body with grey-brown primaries and secondaries and a short, square black tail. The whitish coverts contrasts sharply with the dark brown flight feathers. The underparts are tawny with white streaks. It has a large heavy yellow bill, yellow eyes, and fleshy pink legs. There is no sexual dimorphism and the juvenile members are generally dark brown with whitish streaks with brown neck ruff and a black beak. They attain full plumage after 5-6 years

wingspan min.: 260 cm wingspan max.: 310 cm
size min.: 116 cm size max.: 150 cm
incubation min.: 45 days incubation max.: 55 days
fledging min.: 120 days fledging max.: 150 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


Oriental Region : Himalayas. The population is mostly resident and distributed in the high mountain ranges of Central and South Asia in the following countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Mongolia, Bhutan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation. In India, it is found in Ladakh, frequenting altitudes up to 5000 m, and descending to lower valleys during winter.


This vulture can be observed soaring over mountain slopes and cliffs, singly or in small flocks, with hardly any wing motion. In pairs, they fly one immediately above another, so that it looks like the one on top is sitting on the other with its wings stretched out. They fly so evenly and close to each other that from below only one bird is visible. The griffon makes grunting and hissing noises while roosting and also when feeding. They are quite wary and shy and take flight if they are disturbed during their feeding sessions. The birds make massive nests on the ledges of inaccessible cliffs. These nests are made of branches, sticks and trash heaped into a loose untidy pile. The same nests are used for several years, the pairs repairing them with new material every year. These nesting sites can be easily recognized as the surrounding rock faces get ?whitewashed? with the faeces of the birds over several years.


Inhabits mountains of main ridges at 1700-3100 m. The known colonies of 3-5 pairs situated on big rock. Nests were in holes at 100-400 m above ground, they are built of dry twigs lined with grass and hair, and used some years in succession. Nests in April and early May contain on one egg. Chicks hatched in end-May and in mid-July. Clutch Size: 1 egg with an incubation period of about 50 days, the young Fledgein about 4-5 months.

Feeding habits

Feeding mainly on carrion, like its other griffon relatives, this species fall in the middle of the pecking order at a carcass. Dominated by the Cinereous vulture, it still is able to eat ahead of the Lammergeier.

Video Himalayan Vulture


copyright: Stefan Behrens


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
The Himalayan griffon vulture plays a very imporant role in the history of the Tibetan culture. For most of the year, it was not possible to bury the dead in the rocklike frozen soil. Neither could bodies be cremated, as wood was both rare and expensive. After funeral rites were performed in the home, the body of the dead was taken to the “disposer of bodies.” This individual was responsible for feeding the body to the vultures, and ensuring that every last bit of it was consumed. With the Griffons and Cinereous to take care of the meat, and the Lammergeiers to finish off the bones, there was never any problem disposing of the dead. It was also key to the Buddhist reincarnation theory that souls could not be born into a new body until their old one was destroyed. This method is still practiced today, though on a much smaller scale.
Himalayan Vulture status Least Concern


Sedentary, with limited altitudinal movements; a few juveniles wander South onto plains of Northern India in winter. Vagrant to Afghanistan and Turkestan.

Distribution map

Himalayan Vulture distribution range map

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