Eurasian Griffon Vulture, Gyps fulvus

Eurasian Griffon Vulture

Eurasian Griffon Vulture, Spain, December 2007, © Markus Jais

Names

English: Griffon Vulture, Eurasian Griffon Vulture
Scientific: Gyps fulvus
German: Gänsegeier
Spanish: Buitre leonado
French: Vautour fauve

Taxonomy and Subspecies

Currently two subspecies recognized: G.f. fulvus and G.f. fulvescens. fulvescens may be a separate species [GRIN 2009].
In Europe only G.f. fulvus occurs.

Size

Length: 95-105 cm
Wingspan: 240-280 cm
Weight: 6,000-11,000 g

Huge bird. Females not bigger than males (in contrast to most other raptors).

Maximum Age

55 years in captivity. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]

Habitat

Needs cliffs for nesting and abundant food in form of carrion of large and medium-sized animals (livestock like cows or sheep and wild mammals like deer).
The landscape should support the building of thermals [Mebs & Schmidt 2006] as the large vultures prefer the energy-saving gliding and soaring over active flight.

Distribution

In Europe occurs in most countries around the Mediterranean. In many countries, only occurs in low densities. More widespread in Spain. Outside of Europe Griffon Vultures occur in Asia (Turkey, Arabia and eastwards to India including in Iran, Kazakhstan, Georgia).

Migration

Most adults are sedentary but young and immature birds often disperse over longer distances (incl. to Africa) [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
In recent years, more Griffon Vultures have been seen in central Europa (incl. Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany). This may be due to food shortage in Spain after the closing of traditional feeding sites. The recent increase in Griffon Vulture populations in France may also increase the likelihood of seeing Griffon Vultures in central Europa.

Breeding and Reproduction

First breeding with 4 or 5 years. Griffon Vultures normally breed in colonies in cliffs. In some places like the Monfragüe National Park in Spain, the Griffon Vulture also breeds in tree nests build by the Cinereous Vulture.
Only 1 egg is laid. Incubation time is between 47 and 57 days and the young spends between 113 and 159 days in the nest [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Like most raptors, the young is dependent on it's parents for a few weeks after fledging.

Food and hunting

Feeds only on carrion of large and medium-sized animals. When one bird finds a dead animals, other vultures often see the bird going down and follow it. In areas with healthy populations, a dead animals can attract large numbers of vultures within a short time.
Griffon Vultures also visit landfills in search of food.

Population

By far the largest population in Europe lives in Spain with about 25,000 pairs. In France the population increased dramatically from only 75 pairs in 1999 to 796 in 2007.
For Greece [BirdLife 2004] reports 173-194 pairs . In Portugal there are more than 400 pairs [Mebs & Schmidt 2009]. In most other European countries there are only small populations, often below 100 pairs.

Threats

Illegal persecution, especially through poisoning is a serious threat in some areas, for example on the Balkan but also in Spain.
Food shortage as a result of removing dead livestock (cows, sheeps, pigs) from the countryside can also threaten populations.

Conservation

Extensive farming that keeps livestock in the open (instead of keeping them in stables all the time) and leaves dead animals there for vultures is important, at least in some areas where there are not enough dead wild mammals like deer, boars or chamois.
European laws that forced all farmers to remove dead animals that died on their farmland have now been changed so that it is again possible - under certain rules - to leave dead animals in the countryside for vultures and other raptors like eagles or kites.
Illegal shooting and poisoning must be stopped.
Reintroduction programs can be very successful. In France, there are successful reintroduction programs in the Alps and in the Massif Central and the Griffon Vulture is now established there again as a breeding species.

Status IUCN/BirdLife

Least Concern (LC)

Status Global Raptor Information Network

Lower risk

Interviews about the Eurasian Griffon Vulture

Interview with Emilian Stoynov about the Eurasian Griffon Vulture in Bulgaria

Interview with Fulvio Genero about vultures in Italy

Interview with Stavros Xirouchakis about Vultures on Crete

References

[BirdLife International 2004] BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife Interntional. Cambridge, UK. (Griffon Vulture species account available at: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/BirdsInEuropeII/BiE2004Sp3378.pdf)

[GRIN 2009] Global Raptor Information Network. 2009. Species account: Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 5 Apr.

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

Books

Donázar, José Antonio & Margalida, Antoni & Campión (2009).
Buitres, muladares y legislación sanitaria: perspectivas de un conflicto y sus consecuencias desde la Biología de la Conservación.
Vultures, feeding stations and sanitary legislation: a conflict and its consequences from the perspective of conservation biology.
Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi.

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.

Websites

BirdLife Species Factsheet for the Eurasian Griffon Vulture

GRIN species account for the Eurasian Griffon Vulture

Balkan Vulture Action Plan

Green Balkans - Vultures in Bulgaria

Eurasian Griffon Vulture Working Group EGVWG

Re-introduction of Griffon Vulture in Pirin Mountain (Bulgaria)