Cinereous Vulture, Aegypius monachus

Cinereous Vulture

Cinereous Vulture, Spain, December 2007, © Markus Jais

Names

English: Cinereous Vulture, Eurasian Black Vulture, Monk Vulture
Scientific: Aegypius monachus
German: Mönchsgeier
Spanish: Buitre negro
French: Vautour moine

Taxonomy and Subspecies

Only species in the genus Aegypius. No subspecies [GRIN 2009]. Closely related to the Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus [Bauer et al. 2005].

Size

Length: 100-110 cm
Wingspan: 250-295 cm
Weight: Males 7,000-11,500 g, Females 7,500-12,500 g

Largest raptor in Europe!

Maximum Age

39 years in captivity. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]

Habitat

Can be found in lowland areas as well as mountainous areas. Prefers breeding on slopes with forests [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. In Spain, pine and oak forests are used for nest sites.

Distribution

In Europe, the Cinereous Vulture can be found in some Mediterranean countries. By far the largest population occurs in Spain. Other countries with mostly only small populations are France, Portugal, Greece, maybe Macedonia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey.
Outside Europe, the Cinereous Vulture occurs in the Caucasus, China, Russia, Mongolia, Iran, Pakistan, India, Korea and Japan [GRIN 2009].

Migration

The adults are mostly sedentary while the juvenile birds disperse over larger areas. In Spain, the movements of the juveniles are mostly in the western part of the Iberian peninsula and in the surroundings of the breeding colonies [Moreno-Opo 2009].
Two birds have been seen in Africa south of the Sahara in Senegal and Mauritania [Moreno-Opo 2009].

Breeding and Reproduction

The Cinereous vulture has the longest breeding period of all raptors in Europe. The incubation period is on average 57 days but can vary from 50-68. Only one egg is laid. The young spends between 110 and 120 days in the nest (with extrem ranges from 88 to 137 days) [Moreno-Opo & Guil 2007].
After leaving the nest, for a while, the young still returns to the nest to obtain food from the adults and also for spending the night [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
In Spain most eggs are laid during the end of February and the first half of March with some eggs laid earlier and the last eggs in April. [Moreno-Opo & Guil 2007]
The nest is normally built on trees, sometimes in cliffs or even on the ground [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. In Spain, nests are built either on different species of oaks or different species on pines [Moreno-Opo & Guil 2007].
The nest is huge and can have a diameter of up to 254cm and a height of 129cm though normally they are a little smaller. In one study in Spain, nests on oaks where on average 160 in diameter and 93cm high [Moreno-Opo & Guil 2007].

Food and hunting

Searches food mostly from flight. Dependent on good weather. Feeds on carrion of all sizes from small animals like rabbits up to large mammals like Red Deer or cows.
The Cinereous Vulture is also capable of killing small prey like rabbits if those animals are already sick or injured.
Important food for the Cinereous Vulture in Spain are rabbits, large wild mammals like Wild Boar or Red Deer and livestock like cows, sheep or pigs.
The decline of the rabbit has led to a decline in it's importance as food for the Cinereous Vulture while the percentage of wild ungulates has increased [Moreno-Opo 2009].

Population

The Cinereous Vulture is one of the rarest and most endangered raptors in Europe. The European population is only about 1.900 pairs with the majority of about 1.600 pairs in Spain [Moreno-Opo & Guil 2007].
The trend in Spain is positive and the population has increased dramatically from only 206 pairs in 1973 to the above mentioned 1.600 pairs in 2006 [Moreno-Opo & Guil 2007]. The real increase may be a little less as in 1973 the monitoring didn't cover all areas in Spain and some pairs may have been overlooked. Nonetheless the development in Spain is very encouraging (despite birds still dying because of human causes like electrocution or poisoning).
The development in other European countries is mixed. The reintroduced population in France is slowly growing and has reached 20 pairs in 2007.
On the Balkan there is only one colony which increased from 10 pairs in 1980 to 19 in 2003 [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
The world population is currently estimated at between 7.200 and 10.000 pairs [Moreno-Opo & Guil 2007].

Threats

Illegal poisoning is a serious threat. Since 1990, about 500 victims of poisoning have been found [Moreno-Opo 2009].
The target species of the poisoning are normally mammals like foxes or wolves, but often the Cinereous Vulture as well as other vultures, eagles or kites suffer from the poisoning. On the Balkan, the poisoning of wolves has nearly lead to the extinction of the Cinereous Vulture population [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
Legislations that don't allow dead livestock to remain in the countryside as food for vultures can reduce the availabilty of food. There are feeding places in Spain, called "muladares" but there are not enough to meed the food requirements of vulture populations. Since 2009 a new EU legislation allows for more possibilities for vulture feeding.
Electrocution has also killed some Cinereous Vultures but does not seem to be such a serious problem for the species as it is for other raptors like the Spanish Imperieal Eagle or the Bonelli's Eagle.
Disturbance during the breeding season (which is estremely long for this species, see above) can have a negetive effect on the breeding success. Disturbance can have many causes like forestry work, hunting activities, cork harvesting or the construction of roads and firebreaks.
The logging of large trees or whole parts of Mediterranean forests can also be a serious problem [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
Forest fires, often caused by humans can kill juveniles in the nest before they can fledge.
The development of wind farms can be a serious threat in the future. In Spain, so far, only 2 victims have been found [Moreno-Opo 2009], but one reason for this low number is the fact, that most wind farms in Spain have been built outside the core areas of the species' distribution. This may change in the future as more wind farms are planned in Spain, including in areas where many Cinereous Vultures occur like Extremadura.

Conservation

The increase in Spain and the successful reintroduction in France is encouraging but the future of Europe's largest raptor is far from secure. Illegal killing (mostly by poison) must be stopped. Windfarms should not be placed close to the breeding colonies or other areas with high numbers of vultures. The small population in Greece can hopefully increase in the future and establish more colonies. That would reduce the risk of one serious poisoning incident to take out the whole colony.
The reintroductions in France and the Pyrenees in Spain are an important step to increase the range of the species and to connect the European populations in the east and west. Hopefully the populations in France and the Pyrenees increase in the future and spread to other places like Italy or other countries on the Balkan.
Disturbance during the very long breeding season, e.g. by forestry work, must be kept at a minimum.
Habitat and traditional farming and livestock practices, e.g. the Dehesas in Spain, must be protected and farmers should be encouraged and financially compensated to continue the traditional and vulture friendly practices.

Status IUCN/BirdLife

Near Threatened (NT)

Status Global Raptor Information Network

Near Threatened

Interviews about the Cinereous Vulture

Interview with Fulvio Genero about vultures in Italy

Interview with Rubén Moreno-Opo about the Cinereous Vulture in Spain

Interview with Simeon Marin from Green Balkans about the conservation of Eastern Imperial Eagles, Lesser Kestrels and Cinereous Vultures in Bulgaria

References

[Bauer et al. 2005] Bauer, H.-G., Bezzel, E. & Fiedler, W. 2005. Das Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas. Aula-Verlag

[GRIN 2009] Global Raptor Information Network. 2009. Species account: Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 23 Mar. 2009

[Mebs & Schmidt 2006] Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel 2006. Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

[Moreno-Opo & Guil 2007] Moreno-Opo, Rubén y Guil, Francisco (Coords.) 2007. Manual de gestión del hábitat y de las poblaciones de buitre negro en España. Dirección General para la Biodiversidad. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente. Madrid.

[Moreno-Opo 2009] Moreno-Opo, Rubén. Interview on europeanraptors.org: Interview with Rubén Moreno-Opo about the Cinereous Vulture in Spain

[SEO 2007] SEO/BirdLife Spain, Juan M. Vaerla Simó 2007. Aves Amenazadas de España, Lynx Edicions.

Books

Forsman, Dick (1999). The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East. A Handbook of Field Identification. Poyser

Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Moreno-Opo, Rubén y Guil, Francisco (Coords.) 2007. Manual de gestión del hábitat y de las poblaciones de buitre negro en España. Dirección General para la Biodiversidad. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente. Madrid.

Websites

BirdLife Species Factsheet for the Cinereous Vulture

GRIN species account for the Cinereous Vulture

La Fundación para la Conservación del Buitre Negro / Black Vulture Conservation Foundation (BVCF)

Balkan Vulture Action Plan

Green Balkans - Vultures in Bulgaria

Cinereous Vulture conservation work done by GREFA in Spain