Rueppells Vulture (Gyps rueppellii)

Rueppells Vulture

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Gyps rueppellii | [authority] Brehm, 1852 | [UK] Rueppells Vulture | [FR] Vautour de Ruppell | [DE] Sperbergeier | [ES] Buitre moteado | [NL] Ruppells Gier


Monotypic species


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

Medium-sized vulture. Overall dark brown plumage with extensive pale creamy edging to body feathers. Dark flight feathers. Has a white ruff, dark neck and pale head. Distal half of the bill is pale. Juveniles have an all dark bill and paler body plumage. The centres to their body feathers are altogether less dark.

Listen to the sound of Rueppells Vulture

[audio: Vulture.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 230 cm wingspan max.: 250 cm
size min.: 100 cm size max.: 105 cm
incubation min.: 52 days incubation max.: 58 days
fledging min.: 140 days fledging max.: 160 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


Africa : East, Central, West. Gyps reuppellii occurs throughout the Sahel region of Africa from Senegal, Gambia and Mali in the west to Sudan and Ethiopia in the east. Also south through the savanna regions of East Africa in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. Formerly abundant, the species has experienced extremely rapid declines in much of its range, particularly West Africa. Although in Gambia it is apparently stable, comparative data have shown some colonies in Mali and Sudan have declined by up to 96% and 100% respectively. Surveys of the Sudano-Sahelian savannas of Burkino Faso, Mali and Niger, carried out in 1969-1973 and 2003-2004, indicate a drop in the species’s abundance from 61.3 birds/100 km to 2.5 birds/100 km. It has also declined in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, but may be stable in Ethiopia3. Now largely confined to protected areas throughout its range.


Open sub-Saharan habitats of arid steppe and grassland up to 4,500 m. Occurs in or around mountains for orographic lift, and cliffs and gorges for roosting and breeding.


It breeds in colonies on crags, occasionally as many as a hundred pairs together. Breeding colonies and roosting sites are usually the same, but it does not breed in every place in which it roosts, and roosts in breeding places outside the breeding season. The birds do not seem to have any form of nuptial display other than possibly some mutual stimulation from soaring about the breeding crag together, in slow circles with wing tips a few yards apart.
The nests are built on ledges, and are usually slight structures of sticks plastered with droppings and sometimes scarcely visible under this whitewash.
The breeding season in East and north-east Africa is elastic, and includes some breeding in most months of the year. However there is a tendency to concentrate in the dry season, and more birds will be found at breeding colonies at that time than at any other. Relative to its numbers it is an infrequent breeder. The young is in the nest for at least three months.

Feeding habits

Exclusively carrion, sometimes putrid, but usually fresh. It frequents open areas of Acacia woodland, grassland and montane regions, and it is gregarious, congregating at carrion, soaring together in flocks and breeding mainly in colonies on cliff faces and escarpments at a broad range of elevations. It locates food entirely by sight. This is a sociable vulture – roosting, feeding and breeding in large numbers. It usually roosts on crags, but sometimes on trees. Like other large vultures it gets on the wing about two hours after sunrise as soon as the thermals permit. It frequently spends much time, especially during the middle of the day, soaring round the hills on which it breeds, but at other times will be seen dotted about the sky. If several are seen travelling purposefully in one direction they are probably on their way to a carcase.
It is not one of the first birds to come to a carcase as a rule, and is attracted by the movements of other birds. In the plains and deserts of East and northeast Africa it outnumbers all other vultures seen at a kill, with the exception sometimes of the Whitebacked Vulture. When feeding they form a seething, squabbling mob round the carcase, getting right inside the body cavity if necessary. At a carcase adults, when alighting, will often perform a threat display which consists of bounding several feet vertically into the air with wings spread and head erect, while at the same time approaching the food. This seems to secure them a passage in the throng. These vultures will drive away a Tawny Eagle. Although a large number of these birds together will consume a carcase very quickly, it does not always follow that when a carcase is available vultures will come to it. Carcases sometimes lie in the open for days before being touched, even if other smaller scavengers are present such as crows, kites, Bateleur, and Tawny Eagles. On the other hand a throng of really hungry vultures will leave very little of a large antelope or dead cow after an hour or so’s work, gorging till they can only take off with difficulty.

Video Rueppells Vulture


copyright: Peter van Dam


This long-lived vulture has experienced a moderately rapid reduction in its global population which is likely to continue. For these reasons it is listed as Near Threatened.
The species is threatened by habitat loss through agricultural conversion, incidental poisoning, persecution and at least historically, the loss of wild ungulates. In 2007, Diclofenac, a non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drug often used for livestock, and which is fatal to Gyps spp. when ingested at livestock carcasses, was found to be on sale at a veterinary practice in Tanzania. In addition, it was reported that in Tanzania, a Brazilian manufacturer has been aggressively marketing the drug for veterinary purposes and exporting it to 15 African countries. The West African population has been heavily exploited for trade, with birds commonly sold in fetish markets. For example, the Dogon, of central Mali, climb the Hombori cliffs to take eggs and chicks of this species. It is apparently also captured for international trade. In 2005, 30 birds were reportedly confiscated by the Italian authorities. Disturbance, especially from climbers, is a particular problem for this species. In Mali, the Hombori and Dyounde massifs are dotted with at least 47 climbing routes, on which expeditions take place every year, mainly during the species’s breeding season. However, the impact of these activities is not known.
Rueppells Vulture status Near Threatened


Not migratory but may wander ion search of food. Juveniles may move outside the breeding range.

Distribution map

Rueppells Vulture distribution range map

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