Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus Scientific name definitions

Alfredo Salvador
Version: 2.0 — Published May 12, 2023

Diet and Foraging


The Cinereous Vulture generally feeds on vertebrate carrion, although hunting of small live mammals and the theft of prey from predators have also been recorded. Movements to follow sheep and cattle drives have been observed. Generally forages solitarily, moving slowly by circling, then gliding in a more or less straight direction over variable distances, then circling again. The estimated height above ground during foraging is generally below 175 m.

In Spain, it forages within the vicinity of forests, open oak forests, and pastures, whereas in Asia it forages over steppe, high-elevation grassland, and the steep slopes of hills and mountains. The Cinereous Vulture requires visibility around sources of carrion in order to detect other terrestrial carnivores, enable their escape flight, and avoid human disturbance. The species feeds mainly on skin and tendons, and to a lesser extent on mixed remains and meat/viscera.


Main Foods Taken

The Cinereous Vulture generally feeds on vertebrate carrion with a live body mass of 0.9‒90 kg (204, 205), although hunting of small live animals and the theft of prey from predators have also been recorded (77, 80).

The species has been observed following cattle drives, in both autumn and spring, in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan (206). Groups of Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) and Cinereous Vulture were seen in July‒August 1958 at several locations associated with the beginning of a mass epizootic mortality event among saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) herds (207). During censuses in 1972‒1980 and 1988‒1998 in Kalmykia Republic (Russia), groups of this species and the Eurasian Griffon were seen near the corpses of dead antelopes between 15 April and 14 July in places where saiga antelope concentrated (208).

Microhabitats for Foraging

In the Sierra de San Pedro (Cáceres, Spain), radio-tracked Cinereous Vultures (n = 6) selected forests, open oak forests, and pastures over which to forage (162). Among radio-tracked vultures (n = 14) at the Sierra Pelada colony (Huelva, Spain), open oak forests were positively selected for foraging, irrespective of their distance from the colony (15‒85 km), whereas agricultural fields were shunned (209). In Mongolia, the species usually forages over steppe, high-elevation grassland, and steep slopes of hills and mountains (80). In Spain, dispersing juveniles positively selected open oak forests and pastures (210).

Food Capture and Consumption

The Cinereous Vulture generally searches for food alone, in slow circling flight, then gliding in a more or less straight line over a variable distance, before starting to circle again; estimated height above ground during foraging was less than 175 m (205).

During a study in Georgia, Cinereous Vultures mostly (92.3%) fed on carcasses no more than four days old (range 1‒7 days, n = 25). The probability of a carcass being visited by this species was positively correlated to visibility within 100 m of carcass, mean distance to roads within 5 km, and open areas within 5 km of carcass, but negatively with mean annual rainfall total within 5 km of carcass. This suggests that the species uses the space around carrion to detect other terrestrial carnivores and because it requires sufficient escape flight distance, and is sensitive to human disturbance (211).

In a study in Spain, the mean time present at carrion was 34.5 minutes ± 10.7 SD in adults and 34.4 minutes ± 6.0 SD in non-adults, and time spent actually feeding was 12.4 minutes ± 3.2 SD (n = 30) and 11.7 minutes ± 2.4 SD (n = 63), respectively (212).

The species has a strong bill and a broad skull, which permit the neck muscles to be used to twist and rip flesh (213, 214), but makes just a few pecks at prey over a moderate amount of time. The mean number of feeding pecks was 2.5 pecks/minute ± 0.5 SD (n = 30) in adults and 1.8 pecks/minute ± 0.3 SD (n = 63) in non-adults (212).

To a lesser extent direct predation is also used to obtain food. In western Siberia (Russia), the capture of marmot, steppe tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii) and domestic lambs has been mentioned (215). In Central Asia, hunting of live prey has been recorded, with observations of attacks on Mongolian gazelle (Procapra gutturosa), newborn goitered gazelles (Gazella subgutturosa), newborn lambs, Macqueen's Bustard (Chlamydotis macqueenii), and steppe tortoise (77, 80). In China predation of young mammals and large birds also has been mentioned (175).

There are also known cases of kleptoparasitism by the Cinereous Vulture on the Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) and the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), with prey such as tarbagan marmot (Marmota sibirica), ground squirrels (Spermophilus undulatus), and red fox (Vulpes vulpes) being seized from these other raptors (77, 80). A case of cannibalism has been recorded in South Korea: three Cinereous Vultures were seen pinning down a conspecific and pecking at the other vulture, which was calling with spread wings, and had been overturned on the ground; after 20 minutes, the movements and calls ceased, and at least nine Cinereous Vultures were observed feeding on the dead bird (216).

To provision the nestlings, Cinereous Vultures carries food in their crop, and rarely food is transported in its claws; however, there is an observation on Mallorca (Spain) of an individual carrying food in its claws (217) and a Cinereous Vulture was observed in the Sierra Morena (Spain) taking an ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus) in its talons (205).


Major Food Items

In Iberia, food items include domestic sheep and goats, domestic pigs, cattle, donkeys, horses and dogs, domestic chickens, European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), Iberian hare (Lepus capensis), red deer (Cervus elaphus), European fallow deer (Dama dama), wild boar (Sus scrofa), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), European badger (Meles meles), wildcat (Felis silvestris), red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), Graylag Goose (Anser anser), Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus), Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa), large psammodromus lizard (Psammodromus algirus), Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus), European eel (Anguilla anguilla), Coleoptera, and Orthoptera (16, 176, 218, 204, 205, 219). On Mallorca (Spain), it feeds on sheep, feral goats, horses, cattle, and European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) (184).

In Grands Causses (France), the species has been observed feeding on European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), red fox, European badger, beech marten (Martes foina), and European hare (Lepus europaeus) (220). In Ukraine it feeds on carcasses of domestic chickens, sheep, rabbits, horses, goats, pigs, dogs and cats, as well as European hare, European roe deer, wild boar, European badger, red fox, European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), European glass lizard (Pseudopus apodus), and unidentified fish (166). Carcasses of unidentified swans were recorded as food in Crimea (221).

In Armenia, livestock, spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca), smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), spotted whip snake (Hemorrhois ravergieri), Persian jird (Meriones persicus), bezoar goat (Capra aegagrus), wild boar, red fox, crab, and beetles have been recorded being eaten by the Cinereous Vulture (171, 222).

In Azerbaijan, food items include domestic cattle, buffalo, horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, dogs and cats, red deer, mouflon (Ovis orientalis), Dagestan tur (Capra cylindricornis), chamois (Rupicapra rupricapra), bezoar goat, goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa), European roe deer, wild boar, saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica), brown bear (Ursus arctos), gray wolf (Canis lupus), golden jackal (Canis aureus), red fox, European badger, American raccoon (Procyon lotor), marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna), European hare, southern hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor), beech marten, least weasel (Mustela nivalis), Caucasian squirrel (Sciurus anomalus), Indian porcupine (Hystrix indica), mountain jerboa (Alactaga williamsi), mouse (Mus sp.), unidentified birds, spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca), grass snake (Natrix natrix), European glass lizard, unidentified fish, common toad (Bufo bufo), and unidentified insects (67, 223, 224). The species has also been observed feeding on a buffalo carcass in India (225).

In Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), carcasses of domestic livestock, domestic dogs, saiga antelope, wild sheep (Ovis ammon), wild boar, Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica), Siberian roe deer (Capreolus pygargus), red deer, marmot (Marmota sp.), corsac fox (Vulpes corsac), Tolai hare (Lepus tolai), and yellow ground squirrel (Spermophilus fulvus) are visited by this species (77). At nests (numbers in parentheses) in Mongolia remains of Mongolian marmot (Marmota sibirica) (n = 3), Tolai hare (n = 2), Siberian ibex (n = 1) and onager (Equus hemionus) (n = 1) were found (173). At least 57 individuals of this species were counted at a camel carcass near Hovd, Mongolia, on 7 October 2010 (226). Feeding on sika deer (Cervus nippon) has been recorded in eastern Siberia (Russia) (227).

In China, it feeds on wild yak (Bos mutus), bharal (Pseudois nayaur), Tibetan gazelle (Procapra picticaudata), argali (Ovis ammon), kiang (Equus kiang), woolly hare (Lepus oiostolus), Himalayan marmot (Marmota himalayana), domestic yak, and sheep carcasses (175). In the Tien Shan Mountains (China), Spermophilus sp., Mustela sp., and Marmota sp. were recorded (228). A Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) was found in the stomach of a Cinereous Vulture from South Korea (229).

It has been noted that the species occasionally feeds on human corpses in sky burials (jhator) on the Tibetan Plateau (175), but recent studies indicate that the predominant avian beneficiary of such traditional practices is the Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis) (230, 231).

Quantitative Analysis

The first detailed study of diet was conducted in Spain, in which pellets found at nests in four different areas were examined (Huelva, Salamanca, Badajoz, and Sierra de Gredos, n = 1,107 prey). European rabbit was the most important prey item (42%), followed by sheep (39.20%), goats (4.61%), Iberian hare (4.06%), pigs (2,19%), cattle (1.53%), horses (1.35%), dogs (1.17%), red fox (0.99%), wildcat (0.45%), Coleoptera (0.45%), chickens (0.45%), Orthoptera (0.36%), Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) (0.27%), Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) (0.18%), unidentified birds (0.18%), large psammodromus lizard (0.18%), Montpellier snake (0.09%), ocellated lizard (0.09%), European badger (0.09%), and wild boar (0.09%) (204, 205).

At the Guadalquivir marshes (Spain), wintering Cinereous Vultures were observed feeding on red deer (21.42%), European fallow deer (14.28%), horse (14.28%), cattle (14.28%), donkey (7.14%), wild boar (7.14%), European eel (7.14%), Graylag Goose (Anser anser) (7.14%), and remains of hunted animals (7.14%) (176). Also in Spain, at Cabañeros National Park (Ciudad Real), frequency of occurrence (in pellets) of European rabbit was 66.0% in June‒July and 55.5% in October‒December, with red deer in 64% and 61.1%, respectively, as well as sheep (24.0% and 16.6%), goats (24.0% and 16.6%), wild boar (22% and 5.5%) Iberian hare (0% and 5.5%) (232). A study in Extremadura (also Spain), in which 378 prey were identified in pellets from three colonies (Sierra de Gata, Granadilla, and Sierra de San Pedro), showed that sheep was the main prey (46.2‒58.1%, variations between sites), followed by pigs (10.6‒21.7%), red deer (1.9‒14.4%), carcasses from poultry farms (0.6‒22.1%), Iberian hare (2.9‒5.4%), and unidentified mammals (7.2‒12.5%) (219).

In a sample from the Türkmenbaba Dağları, Türkiye (n = 120 pellets, n = 412 prey) obtained during the breeding season, frequency of occurrence (percentage of pellets) of sheep was 76.6%, followed by wild boar (44.1%), chicken (22.5%), gray wolf (Canis lupus) (10.83%), red fox (10.83%), dogs (5.0%), horses (5.0%), unidentified snakes (3.33%), cats (2.5%), red deer (2.5%), Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca) (2.5%), and European hare (Lepus europaeus) (1.6%) (233). In Greece, frequency of occurrence (percentage of pellets) of pigs was 35%, followed by sheep/goats (30.5%), and tortoise (14.9%) (234).

In Caucasus (Georgia), the principal carrion visited by this species were sheep (n = 193), cattle (n = 17), goat (n = 16), east Caucasian Tur (Capra cylindricornis, n = 16), dog (n = 12), red deer (n = 4), horses (n = 4), donkeys (n = 4), pigs (n = 3), west Caucasian Tur (Capra caucasica, n = 2), wild boar (n = 2), badger (n = 1), brown bear (n = 1), red fox (n = 1), and chamois (n = 1) (235).

Seasonal differences in diet appear to be related to prey availability. In the Sierra Morena (Spain), rabbit consumption was lower during February‒April than at other times of the year (205). Significant differences in diet between years were observed in Andújar Natural Park (Jaén, Spain): European rabbit and red deer represented 74.84% of total biomass consumed in 1999 (n = 44 pellets) and 77.53% in 2000 (n = 45 pellets); however, European rabbit represented 46.61% in 1999 and 23.91% in 2000, whereas red deer constituted 28.23% in 1999 and 53.62% in 2000 (236).

In Azerbaijan, variation between years has been observed in the importance (percentage of food items) of different types of prey, probably related to food availability. In 2008‒2009, the main prey was sheep (58.0%), but in 2010 it was gray wolf (31.5%), golden jackal (22.8%), and red fox (18.5%). In 2011‒2012, horse predominated (59.4%), and in 2014 it was red fox (25.0%), golden jackal (22.0%), and gray wolf (10.0%) that were the main carrion visited. In 2015, golden jackal (23%), red fox (19.0%), and gray wolf (11.0%) predominated, and in 2016 red fox (26.0%) and golden jackal (23.0%) were the main prey (223, 224).

Differences have been observed in the diet of pairs at the same colony in Huelva (204, 205) with intra-colony dietary variation observed in Extremadura (Spain), which might reflect the search for food in different areas or varying abilities to find prey (219).

Plant material has been recorded in pellets, and some (2.5%) consisted exclusively of plants (205). Unidentified plant material was found in 94.16% of pellets examined in the Türkmenbaba Dağları, Türkiye (233). Pine cones (n = 14) were found in 5.0% of pellets at the latter site, with the stomach contents of a dead bird containing two entire pine cones (233). An adult at a nest has been observed to vomit a 3‒4 cm grass pellet that was then ingested by the nestling (10, 237). Stones and human refuse were found in 6.6% and 2.5%, respectively, of pellets examined in the Türkmenbaba Dağları (233).

Food Selection and Storage

The Cinereous Vulture feeds mainly on skin/tendons and to a lesser extent on mixed remains and meat/viscera (212), mainly (> 75%) tearing off coarse muscles, sinews, and skin scraps. To a lesser extent (20%), feeds on large chunks dragged away from the carcass by others (n = 37) (238). According to observations in southern Spain, the species feeds mainly (> 80%) on muscles attached to the body with a much smaller proportion (20%) of viscerae, scattered remains, and meat taken from natural openings and wounds (239). At supplementary feeding sites, the Cinereous Vulture mostly feeds on medium-sized pieces of muscle and small remains and peripheral scraps and tendons (240).

Nutrition and Energetics

Daily food requirements of 0.57 kg have been estimated (241).

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Information needed.

Drinking, Pellet-Casting, and Defecation

Pellets are found in or around nests and can reach a size of 96 × 57 mm (18) or 120 × 140 mm (16).

Recommended Citation

Salvador, A. (2023). Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (G. M. Kirwan, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.cinvul1.02