Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus Scientific name definitions

Alfredo Salvador
Version: 2.0 — Published May 12, 2023



Habitat in breeding range shows great variation between open oak forest, montane pine forest, mountain plateaux and forested slopes, steppes, semi-deserts, deserts, open montane juniper woodland, and semi-arid alpine meadows and grassland.

In the non-breeding range, the species uses various open/dry habitats, mainly barren or sparsely vegetated ones, including grassland, closed shrubland, woody savanna, and open shrubland, steppe, plains and desert areas, arid and semi-arid steppe, marshland mixed with scrubland, pasturelands, pine forest and sandy areas.

Habitat in Breeding Range

In Spain, the most extensive breeding habitat is formed by open oak forests (40–50 trees/ha) in Mediterranean regions, at elevations below 1,600 m. In Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha, and Andalucía, natural or semi-natural habitats used by breeding birds are mainly evergreen oak parkland, open areas, scrub, and woodland, at 200‒800 m. The most important trees in such areas are cork oak (Quercus suber) and holm oak (Quercus ilex). In the north of Iberia, it is also found in pine forests of the Central Ranges, below 1,900 m (16, 160, 161, 162, 163, 164).

In France, it breeds in the Grands Causses region, a mountainous karstic area with level-ground open areas and cliffs with steep forested slopes (165). Breeding habitat in Crimea is in mountains (up to 1,545 m above sea level) with plateaux and slopes forested with Crimean pine (Pinus pallasiana), oak (Quercus petraea), beech (Fagus orientalis), and hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) (166). In Türkiye, the species is typically found in montane forest below 900 m (167), e.g., in the Turkmenbaba Dağları (Türkiye) it occupies steppe and forest with black pine (Pinus nigra), Turkish oak (Quercus cerris), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), and Oriental beech (Fagus orientalis) (168).

In Georgia, breeding habitats include steppe and semi-desert with small arid woodlands and strips of riparian forest (169). In Azerbaijan, it is present in forests of oak (Quercus longipes), juniper, and pistachio (Pistacia sp.) on steep slopes of the Bozdag Mountains, and river canyons with junipers and pistachios at 2,000‒2,200 m above sea level (170). In Armenia, the Cinereous Vulture occurs in forest and arid mountain steppe, open juniper woodland, and scrubby grassland (171). In Altai-Sayan (Russia), it nests in montane steppe at low elevations ( 81).

In Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), it breeds in low- or mid-elevation mountains or hills near open habitats, and on montane slopes near open plateaux at higher elevations. Other breeding habitats include higher-elevation slopes with pistachios (Pistacia vera), almonds (Amygdalus sp.), and junipers (Juniperus zeravschanica), and in canyons (77).

In Mongolia, the species occurs in steppe, semi-desert, desert, and mountain ranges (172, 173, 174). Habitat at Ikh Nart Nature Reserve (Mongolia), one of the species’ breeding areas, is an upland (1,200 m) semi-arid region characterized by steppe vegetation, scattered trees, and rocky outcrops; permanent springs are available in some shallow valleys (174). In China, breeding habitats include montane forest and scrub at 780‒3,800 m, and semi-arid alpine meadows and grasslands between 3,800 and 4,500 m elevation (175).

Roost Sites

Roosts near to nests are used between October and January, and the species may also roost within nesting areas together with the Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) (16, 176). During the breeding season, the adult Cinereous Vulture selects older trees (Pinus nigra) for roosting, at a colony in the Turkmenbaba Dağları (Türkiye). Mean distance to the nearest occupied and unoccupied nests was 189 m ± 138.9 SD and 83 m ± 74.4 SD, respectively (n = 17) (168). The Cinereous Vulture, mainly immatures, has been observed roosting on old oak trees at Biala Reka (Macedonia) (177).

Habitat in Nonbreeding Range

Habitats used outside the breeding range and season have not been studied in detail, but field observations and movements of vultures equipped with GPS transmitters have provided some data. In the Middle East, movements by migrant juveniles were recorded in open/dry areas, mainly in barren or sparsely vegetated habitats (31.7%), grasslands (26.4%), closed shrublands (10.4%), wooded savannas (10.1%), and open shrublands (9.1%) (102). The Cinereous Vulture has been observed in the Mesopotamian Marshes of southern Iraq (178) and a juvenile spent the winter in Sudan near the Nile River, often close to rural villages and agricultural fields (106).

In summer, the species is observed in the steppes of western Siberia, with observations in forest steppes further north (1). In Pakistan and India, wintering birds occur in plains and desert areas (75, 179). In Uttar Pradesh (northern India), wintering vultures are mostly observed in the Terai ecozone, characterised by tropical moist deciduous forest and a combination of lower temperature and higher precipitation compared to the rest of the state; other areas used include Vindhyan-Bundelkhand, Gangetic and semi-arid ecozones (180). In southern Kazakhstan, the species has been observed in winter in arid and semi-arid steppe, low-elevation ecosystems (120‒375 m above sea level), with level-ground grassland and Artemisia shrubs, rocky outcrops, low hills, Saxaul (Haloxylon ammodendron) forests, and some wetlands (110).

In Spain, wintering Cinereous Vultures have been observed in Doñana National Park, a region of marshland, scrub, pastures, pine forest, and sandy areas (176).

Roost Sites

In Pakistan, the species is observed roosting in flocks on cliff escarpments (75). Juveniles on autumn migration across the Middle East prefer to roost at higher-elevation sites with steeper slopes and woodland (101). During the winter in Sudan, a Cinereous Vulture roosted mainly at elevated sites in desert (106). In Doñana National Park, roosts were on cork oaks together with Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) (176).

After fledging, four Cinereous Vultures from Sierra de San Pedro (Cáceres, Spain), used a mean number of 42.2 roosts ± 20.7 SD (range 28‒73 roosts) over 386.7 days ± 135.7 SD (range 239‒502 days); mean distance between roosts and the natal nest was 38.26 km ± 65.17 SD (range 0.18‒347.21 km, n = 170) (162).

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