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White-backed Vulture

From Opus

Photo by Juninho
Photo by Juninho
Gyps africanus


[edit] Identification

Measurements: Length 90-98 cm; wingspan 212-220-228 cm; wing (27) 550-621, 9-680; tail (27) 225-258, 4-290; tarsus (27) 86-98, 3-118; culmen (25) 42, 3-47-50. Weight (293) 3550-5353,6-6700 g.
Bare Parts: Iris dark brown; bill and cere black; bare skin of head dark grey; skin of lower neck blackish; legs and feet black.
Large size; body plumage generally brown, faintly streaky; iris dark; face blackish, neck pink; white lower back conspicuous when flying away; buffy white under wing contrasts with dark remiges. Cape Vulture has pale yellowish iris; no white on back; paler coloration overall; larger size.
Immature: Darker than adult; lower back streaked brown and white; under parts streaked light and dark; under wing mottled brown and white.
Chick: Grayish brown; iris dark brown; cere and legs Grayish black.

[edit] Distribution

Sub-Saharan Africa: widespread and common from Senegal east to Sudan, Ethiopia and western Somalia and south to north-east Namibia, Botswana and north-eastern South Africa. Absent from most forested areas of West and Central Africa and decreasing in far north and south of range.

[edit] Taxonomy

This is a monotypic species[1], which is sometimes considered as conspecific with Asian White-backed Vulture G. bengalensis.

[edit] Habitat

Searches for carrion over savanna, roosting and nesting colonially on ledges on cliff-faces in mountains.

[edit] Behaviour

Gregarious; less so when breeding.
Roosts in trees at night, soaring out soon after sunrise to forage; gliding speed about 58-65 km/h, but can dive at up to 120 km/h; follows other vultures, crows, kites, Bateleur and hyenas or lions to locate food. Often rests on ground by day; drinks and bathes regularly at waterholes. Aggressive at carcass, new arrivals bounding in with wings and neck outstretched; may loaf on ground near carcass for hours after feeding.
White-backed Vultures are adapted to feeding on soft tissues (muscles, intestines etc) and cannot rip open the large carcasses. They are therefore reliant on other vultures or mammals to break into the carcass.

[edit] References

  1. Clements, JF. 2009. The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World. 6th ed., with updates to December 2009. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0801445019.

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