Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus Scientific name definitions

Alfredo Salvador
Version: 2.0 — Published May 12, 2023


Identification Summary

The Cinereous Vulture is a very large vulture with relatively uniform dark coloration.

Field Identification

The Cinereous Vulture is very large (total length 102‒112 cm; wingspan 250‒295 cm; mass: 7.0‒12.5 kg); see Measurements. It has a large head and bill, a relatively short neck and short wedge-shaped tail, plus very long, massive, and broad wings. The species’ plumage is generally relatively uniform dark brown or blackish, except the head in adults which is paler (1, 2, 3).

Similar Species Summary

The Cinereous Vulture is similar to a few other large birds of prey that share at least parts of the same range, but is distinguished by a combination of even larger size, generally dark coloration, a short tail, and a large head.

Similar Species

Throughout its range—Europe, Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East—the Cinereous Vulture is generally the largest raptor species. Nevertheless, it can be confused with other very large birds of prey, such as the immature White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) and adults of the Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga) and the Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis), due to their also having generally uniformly dark coloration. However, the Cinereous Vulture has longer and broader wings, a shorter tail, and a less protruding head than in either of these species (3).

In North Africa and the Middle East, an additional potential confusion risk is represented by the immature Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos), but the Cinereous Vulture is uniformly dark over the lower parts of the body and wings, whereas the Lappet-faced Vulture has some paler feathers on the body and larger wing-coverts (4, 3). As an example of probable confusion between these two species, Rothschild and Wollaston (5) reported that the Cinereous Vulture was more common around Shendi in Sudan than either the Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) or Rüppell's Griffon (Gyps rueppelli), but Nikolaus (6) postulated that the species involved must have been the Lappet-faced Vulture (nevertheless, the Cinereous Vulture has now been recorded in Sudan; see Distribution).

Is possible to confuse the Eurasian Griffon with the Cinereous Vulture, especially when observed from a distance and with low light conditions. The Cinereous Vulture is larger with broader, more rectangular wings. Coloration of the Cinereous Vulture is darker and more uniform than in the Eurasian Griffon. The Eurasian Griffon has a more curved wing profile than the Cinereous Vulture; the Eurasian Griffon also has a slightly shorter, not clearly wedge-shaped tail, and usually shows one or two light bands in the area of the underwing coverts (7).

The Cinereous Vulture can be mistaken with the Rüppell's Griffon. The Rüppell's Griffon has relatively short wings and are less rectangular than in the Cinereous Vulture. In the Cinereous Vulture, general coloration is dark uniform, whereas in the Rüppell's Griffon greater coverts and primary coverts are black with pale tips without a lateral fringe. The upperwing is scaled with series of black pale-tipped feathers in the Rüppell's Griffon. In the Rüppell's Griffon, underwing pattern is dark with little contrast between flight feathers and coverts, although the underwing coverts do have pale edges, creating a scaled appearance which contrast against the dark centers, and juveniles have a narrow pale bar across the underwing coverts. The juvenile Rüppell's Griffon is mostly streaked and brown (3, 7).

The Cinereous Vulture could be confused with the immature Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), which also has dark coloration. The most important difference lies in the tail, which is longer and diamond-shaped in Bearded Vulture (2, 3).

The Cinereous Vulture could be confused with the immature Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus). They are distinguished by the much smaller size and by the very conspicuous wedge-shaped tail of the Egyptian Vulture (2).

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