Light sandy-brown color. Weight is about 15 pounds. Has an eight-foot wing span, but short legs with weak, blunt toes. The horn-colored beak is slender and relatively weak. The long goose-like neck is thinly covered with down, with a distinct ruff of quill and down feathers at the base of the neck. Tail is rounded.
GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
Widely distributed around the Mediterranean, ranging east into India and south across the savannas of Africa. Sometimes found as far north as the Scandinavian countries. Prefers barren areas with few trees, mountain steppes and high plateaus.
Feeds on large dead mammals, taking only muscle meat and viscera. Their distended crops and gizzards can hold over 13 pounds of meat at a time.
LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
The friendliest and most social of the vultures. Non-territorial. There is some indication that pairs mate for life. They are "home" bodies and do not migrate. Nests are always placed on cliffs even when trees are available. They are built of twigs and grass and much excrement, often on the remains of previous years' nests and are found in a variety of sites, from well-protected rock caves to exposed ledges. 10-15 pairs may share nesting grounds. A single egg is hatched, occasionally two. Incubation period is unusually long, between 48-50 days. Young are covered with pale puffy down; when they leave the nest after 3-4 months they look almost like adults. Life span is 40 years.
Unlike New World vultures that rely on a sense of smell, Griffon Vultures rely on vision to search for food. The short down covering the head and neck is easy to keep clean. Dozens of griffon vultures gather by pools of water to bathe and then stand with wings extended to dry out. Built for soaring flight, griffons may cruise for 6 or 7 hours and 100 miles looking for food. When one vulture drops to a carcass, others see it and congregate. It's not unusual to have 50 vultures waiting around a kill for a chance to feed. This relatively weak vulture depends on Lappet Faced Vultures or Maribou Storks to open up fresh carcasses.
In Nepal and India the Griffon Vulture has been known to feed on bodies left on funeral pyres. Following the charge of The Light Brigade in the Crimea in 1854, shooting parties had to protect the wounded from these vultures.
STATUS IN WILD:
Populations decline in areas under development by humans. Human persecution and habitat destruction has caused schemes of transplanting young birds into France. On Appendix II (threatened) of CITES.