Species names in all available languages
|Albanian||Shkaba e zezë|
|English (UK)||Black Vulture|
|English (United States)||Cinereous Vulture|
|French (French Guiana)||Vautour moine|
|Spanish (Spain)||Buitre negro|
Alfredo Salvador revised the account. Peter Pyle contributed to the Plumages, Molts, and Structure page. Todd E. Katzner reviewed the draft. Audrey Su and Arnau Bonan Barfull curated the media. Eliza R. Wein updated the distribution map. Leo Gilman copyedited the account.
Aegypius monachus (Linnaeus, 1766)
The Key to Scientific Names
Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus Scientific name definitions
Version: 2.0 — Published May 12, 2023
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The Cinereous Vulture searches for food 7–11 hours each day. Birds feeding at carcasses exhibit agonistic behavior towards other individuals, to maintain their position at a carcass. The species is typically monogamous, but breeding trios have been recorded. It congregates in loose colonies, although some pairs breed alone. Territorial at nesting sites, the species can be aggressive towards conspecifics. Courtship flights occur at the colony.
Walking, Running, Hopping, Climbing, etc.
The Cinereous Vulture will circle using thermals, soar in a straight line, and glide with periodic short series’ or single wingbeats; both slope soaring and thermal soaring are used. In thermals, the species has been observed reaching altitudes of ca 500 m above ground, from where it descends until the bird reaches another thermal, but in searching for food this vulture employs gliding flight at altitudes of up to 175 m (205). Turning radius in thermals is estimated at 30 m (246). Flight altitude in South Korea was below 100 m in 21.6% of measured flight time, 101‒200 m for 25.3%, and 201‒300 m for 19.0% (n = 11) (247). In Spain, mean flight altitude above ground among immatures was 317.9 m ± 245.7 SD ( n = 9) (248).
For the characteristics of flight during migration, see Migratory Behavior. For the functional characteristics of stripped composite hemoglobins of the Cinereous Vulture used for high-altitude flight, see Weber et al. (249).
Swimming and Diving
Preening and Bathing
Preening occurs in the morning at nests or roosts, before commencing its foraging flights. There is also preening after returning to the nest. The daily time dedicated to preening has not been studied.
Cinereous Vulture often visits fountains and high-elevation lakes in the Central System of Spain to drink and bathe, drying out on the shore with open wings (16). One was observed in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (Western Ghats, southern India) using a waterhole multiple times, for both bathing and drinking, during a period of almost six weeks (127). The species has also been observed near water in Altyn-Emel National Park (Kazakhstan), with the birds staying 2–3 hours, bathing and drying their plumage (250). In Armenia, it drinks at water sources in high plateaux forests (171).
Daily Time Budget
Daily foraging time varies over the course of the year, from seven hours in January to 11 hours in June; the species maximizes foraging time in winter by starting out as near sunrise as possible. Rain influences flying, forcing the birds to remain perched and thereby reducing foraging capacity (251). While in the nest or at nearby roosts, adults rest during daylight hours.
Physical and Communicative Interactions
The Cinereous Vulture is very aggressive at carcasses, towards both conspecifics and individuals of other species, erecting the feathers of the back, neck, and chest, while half-extending the wings at a 45° angle from the body, raising the tail, curving the neck downwards, and raising the feet with toes stretched out. Another posture adopted in agonistic interactions is the threatening march, in which the bird, with open and then closed and lowered wings, and head up, jumps from one foot to the other, and moves sideways; if the opponent does not retreat, then it is pecked, and in submission, the defeated vulture will lower its own back feathers, raise its leg, lower its tail, and raise its head while moving it sideways (10, 252).
The Cinereous Vulture is territorial at nest sites, where the species can be aggressive towards conspecifics; paired individuals defend the nest and the area within ca. 50 m radius around it, with aerial attacks including long descents with interlocked talons observed between pairs at adjacent nests (2).
Mating System and Operational Sex Ratio
The first courtship flights start in December, with up to 46 individuals observed flying at the same time in a colony of 45 pairs. Most fly in pairs, one above the other, very close, or side by side, sometimes grappling with their claws in flights that tumble down 60 m. Juveniles that approach adults too closely are likely to be chased off. These concentrations end in late January or early February (205).
In the south-central Caucasus copulations were seen between 27 February and 16 April, either on the nest (n = 25), near it (n = 3), or 120 m from the nest (n = 1, 235), and 29 of 36 observed copulations were successful (235). Duration of copulation has been estimated at 30‒60 seconds (1, 2). Recorded events in Crimea lasted 15‒20 seconds (221), versus 10‒30 seconds in central-southern Caucasus (235) and 12‒22 seconds in Uzbekistan (77).
Extra-Pair Mating Behavior/Paternity
Brood Parasitism of Conspecifics
Brood Parasitism of Other Species
Social and Interspecific Behavior
Degree of Sociality
The nest is the center of activity for nesting pairs throughout the year (18, 16). On returning to the nest, the adult that is there welcomes the arriving bird with a greeting display. First, it adopts a threatening display, ruffling the feathers of the back, neck, and scapulars, then turns and rhythmically raises the legs and tail, and spreads the wings. Then the bird adopts a posture of appeasement, raising its bill, places its body horizontally, stretches the neck obliquely upwards, and rotates the head rhythmically sideways. The arriving adult adopts the same display with ruffled feathers and raised tail. Then both lower their tails and continue to ruffle their feathers, turn their heads left to right and touch the sides of their partner’s head with the bill, gently nibbling the down on the cheeks. These movements can be repeated up to 12 times. Duration of the process is ca. 4 minutes (10).
The Cinereous Vulture breeds in loose colonies, rarely as solitary pairs. In Spain 35 colonies and five solitary pairs were recorded in 2006 (254) and 43 colonies and six solitary pairs in 2017 (255). In Spain, two nests were seen on the same tree in March 1965, each occupied by a pair; six weeks later only one was occupied (16). Shortest recorded distance between nests is 15 m (171) or 20 m (256). In a colony of 45 occupied nests, the minimum distance between nests was 100 m and most were sited on a 3 km slope (16). In two Spanish colonies the mean distance between nests was 446 m and 175 m, respectively (205). In colonies in Extremadura (Spain), the mean distance was 490.6 m ± 372.3 SD (n = 249 nests) in Sierra de San Pedro, versus 418 m ± 558.9 SD (n = 169 nests) in Monfragüe, 935.7 m ± 564.4 SD (n = 11 nests) in Cíjara, and 1,605 m ± 1,365.5 SD (n = 19) in Granadilla (161). In Hornachuelos Natural Park (Córdoba, Spain), mean distance was 1,031 m ± 927 SD (range 59–5,353 m, n = 43 nests) (164). In two colonies located in Madrid (Spain), the mean distances were 379 m ± 205 SD (n = 16 nests) and 1,362 m ± 930 SD (n = 13), respectively (257). In Dadia Nature Reserve (Greece), the median nearest neighbor distance between nests was 646 m (n = 25 nests) (258). In Armenia, distance among nests ranged from 15 m to 3,000 m (171, 259). Mean nearest neighbor distance among nests in Georgia was 1,104.4 m ± 795.5 SD (n = 12 nests) (256). In Mongolia, the distance ranged from 41 m to 6,935 m (80), and in Tuva Republic (Russia) from 800 m to 1,800 m (260).
Nonpredatory Interspecific Interactions
When feeding at a carcass, vultures of many species exhibit a despotic dominance gradient from larger species to smaller ones (261), as well as from adults to subadults and juveniles. In a study in Spain, vulture hierarchy based on successful interactions at carcasses (percentages in parentheses) was in the following order of species/age class: adult and subadult Cinereous Vulture (75.4%), adult Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) (70.6%), juvenile Cinereous Vulture (69.5%), juvenile Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) (68.4%), juvenile Eurasian Griffon (60.9%), subadult Eurasian Griffon (60.7%), adult Bearded Vulture (55.1%), subadult Bearded Vulture (53.2%), and adult Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) (33.3%) (n = 1,049 agonistic interactions) (262). As part of establishing this dominance gradient, agonistic interactions for access to food are common among these species (263, 252, 238). In one instance, violent physical aggression was recorded, with a Cinereous Vulture causing a serious neck wound to a juvenile Eurasian Griffon (264). In Tibet (China), the Cinereous Vulture is dominant over the Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis) and the Bearded Vulture (265).
In winter, the Cinereous Vulture has been observed with other vulture species in various regions. One was observed near a waterhole in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (Western Ghats, India) with a flock of White-rumped Vulture (Gyps bengalensis), Indian Vulture (Gyps indicus), and Red-headed Vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) (127). In Senegal, the species has been observed together with the Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) and the White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) (266). The Cinereous Vulture has been observed at roosts with Eurasian Griffon in Spain (16). At Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area (Saudi Arabia), the Cinereous Vulture is observed roosting with Lappet-faced Vultures in winter (267). A Cinereous Vulture roosted together with five Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis) at Singapore Botanic Gardens on 29–30 December 2021 (268).
Unoccupied nests constructed by the Cinereous Vulture can be used for nesting by other species. In Andalucía (Spain) the following species have been recorded nesting in Cinereous Vulture nests: Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Eurasian Griffon, Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus), Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), and Spanish Eagle (Aquila adalberti) (188). In Madrid (Spain) Eurasian Griffon has nested in old Cinereous Vulture structures (269, 270), whilst in Dobrogea (Romania), unoccupied nests of the present species have been used by the Eurasian Griffon and the Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) (271).
The proximity between nests of the Cinereous Vulture and the Spanish Eagle sometimes leads to the eagle harassing the vulture, and cause the egg or chick to be lost, which has occurred on three occasions in Spain at nests of the two species sited less than 50 m from each other (272). A Spanish Eagle has been observed to kill a Cinereous Vulture that flew over its breeding territory (273). A Cinereous Vulture nestling was attacked by a Golden Eagle in Altai Republic (Russia) (274).
Other types of interactions have been seen. In South Korea, a Cinereous Vulture was pursued in flight and kleptoparasitized by a Steller's Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) (275). Visits by other species to active nests of the present species could be related to foraging: at nests in the Tien Shan Mountains (China) Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica), and Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo) were all observed (228). Finally, Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia) nests at Montes de Toledo (Spain) are usually heavily decorated with feathers belonging to different species, including the Cinereous Vulture (276).
Kinds of Predators
No predators of adults are known, although one case of cannibalism has been documented (see Diet and Foraging). Predators of eggs and small nestlings include the Common Raven (Corvus corax) (271, 15, 205). In the Sagly Valley (Republic of Tuva, Russia), a nestling was predated by an Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo) that was nesting 60 m from the Cinereous Vulture nest (81). In Khosrov (Armenia), a nestling was predated by a Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) (222).
Aykurt and Kiraç (277) observed a Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) that perched on the same tree as a nest of a Cinereous Vulture with an adult and a nine-week old chick. The adult Cinereous Vulture clapped its wings to chase the Bearded Vulture, which Aykurt and Kiraç (277) thought was a possible predator, but alternatively Margalida and Heredia (278) suggested that the Bearded Vulture was attempting to steal food from the nest.
Manner of Depredation
Coordinated harassment by two Common Ravens of an incubating Cinereous Vulture has been observed. One of the ravens pecked at the vulture while the other, on the opposite side of the vulture, waited for it to move away to access the egg; harassment by up to seven Common Ravens went on for 12 minutes (205).
Response to Predators
In the case outlined just above, the incubating adult vulture stretched its head towards the Common Raven and adopted a threatening posture, hitting the sides of the nest with its open wings to scare away the crows (205).
In the Sündiken Dağları (Türkiye), the mean flight distance from the nest in response to approaching people was 281.3 m (range 32.1–755.9, n = 43) (279). In Tuva Republic (Russia), flight distances of three incubating Cinereous Vultures in response to approaching human observers were 200–300 m, 80–100 m, and just 5 m, respectively; another incubating vulture permitted approach to within 3 m of the nest, but flew away when the observer was just 2.5 m away (280).