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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Conservation and Management
Near Threatened (370). Previously also considered Near Threatened (2000‒2017), Unknown (1994‒1999), or Threatened (1988) (383, 384, 370); see Demography and Populations for details of population status and trends.
The Cinereous Vulture is protected in all countries of the European Union under the Birds Directive of 2009, which required that member states classify Special Protection Areas for the species. Other legal instruments that protect Cinereous Vulture are the EU Habitats Directive, Bern Convention, Bonn Convention, Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia, and CITES Convention. The species is legally protected in other countries where it breeds, except Mongolia and China. Threats to the species remain across its distribution, mainly due to accidental poisoning, habitat degradation, collision with wind turbines and power lines, electrocution, illegal killing, and human disturbance (157).
Effects of Human Activity
Habitat Loss and Degradation
Mediterranean oak forests have been transformed in parts of Spain into eucalyptus and pine plantations, or intensive cropland (160). In Extremadura (Spain), between 1951 and 1984, ca. 89,000 ha of oak forest was replaced by eucalyptus trees. At Monfragüe, one of the world’s most important Cinereous Vulture colonies, eucalyptus began to be planted prior to its protection (218, 373). In Sierra Pelada (Huelva Province), another breeding area, ca. 70% of the species’ natural habitat was lost and eucalyptus and pines were planted (160).
Climate change may affect the distribution of the Cinereous Vulture. Bioclimatic models were developed using meteorological temperature and precipitation data obtained from Spain during the period 1961–1990. Under climate scenarios available for the 2000s, the models projected contractions in the current potential distribution in the Iberian Peninsula of 44–46% between 2041–2070 (385). In a study carried out in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (China), models projected an increase in the current potential distribution in 2050 (386).
Man-made fires are a cause of mortality among nestlings. In Sierra de Gata (Cáceres Province, Spain), totals of four and 14 nestlings were killed by fire in 1989 and 1991, respectively (387). In Sierra Pelada (Huelva Province, Spain), there were five fires during 1984‒2006 and a total of 17 nestlings was killed, or 1.5% of hatchlings, 3% of reproductive failures, and 14% of the total of dead chicks (388, 389). In the Tierra de Pinares colony (Ávila Province, Spain), three nestlings were killed by a fire in 2022 (390).
Shooting and Trapping
In the Mediterranean region, the ratio of the estimated number of Cinereous Vultures illegally killed to the global population (minimum/maximum) was 0.008 (0.004–0.013), and the ratio of the estimated number of individual birds illegally killed to the European population 0.027 (0.015–0.041). The country with the largest numbers of the species estimated to have been illegally killed/year (100‒250) was Spain (391).
Cases of death or gunshot wounds continue to be recorded in Spain. The number of Cinereous Vultures admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centers due to this cause was 3.41% (n = 410) in 1990‒2005 (364). In Andalucía, 6% of cases of death or admission to wildlife rehabilitation centers (n = 87) during 2002‒2009 were due to shooting (188). In birds of different species with gunshot wounds entered at rehabilitation centers in Castilla y León (Spain) during 1989‒2016 (n = 1,822), seven of them were Cinereous Vultures (392). In China, a vulture was shot in Yibin in 2003 (83). In Turyanchay National Reserve (Azerbaijan), five Cinereous Vultures were shot during the period 2004‒2014 (393).
Collection of eggs has probably affected several populations of the species. In Babadag forest (Romania), 377 eggs were collected by the Sintenis brothers during 1873‒1875 (18); J. Morales collected at least 200 eggs in Ávila Province (Spain) between 1928 and 1938 (16); and in Pakistan K. Eates took 52 eggs in the 1930s and early 1940s (300). There are at least 496 eggs in American and European museum collections (282, 394).
In Kazakhstan, the species often falls into traps placed for wolves near cattle carcasses (395). In Turyanchay National Reserve (Azarbaijan), two Cinereous Vultures were killed or injured by traps set for wolves and jackals, and five were captured for commercial purposes during 2004‒2014 (393).
Pesticides and Other Contaminants/Toxics
Of Cinereous Vultures found dead during 2008–2019 in southeast France (n = 17), 76% were positive for anticoagulant rodenticides (396). A second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide (Difenacoum) was detected in the blood of 6.25% of Cinereous Vultures examined (n = 16) from Cataluña and Aragón (Spain) (397).
Use of poisoned baits in the wild, generally in meat or carrion, is aimed to control predators on game estates or extensive livestock farms, but has massive and non-selective effects, and is the most important cause of unnatural death in the Cinereous Vulture in Spain (398, 399, 400, 291, 188, 401, 402).
In Dadia National Park (Greece), poisoning caused the death of 56% of Cinereous Vultures examined (n = 25) (400). In Spain, 241 cases, involving 464 individuals, of poisoning were recorded during 1990‒2006. Most cases (98%) were intentional illegal poisonings. Of the 11 types of poison reported, three—carbofuran, aldicarb and strychnine—were implicated in 88% of cases (403). Mortality from poisoning mainly affected (83%) adults in Spain (403), versus 56% in Greece (400). Two vultures were found dead in Israel in 2015 due to poisoning (404). Two Cinereous Vultures were admitted to a wildlife rescue center in part of Nepal during 2017–2021: one was dead on arrival and the other died shortly after (405), with the cause of death being poisoning and unknown, respectively (B. Adhikari, personal communication).
The lethal effect of poison on breeding adults also extends to the offspring. Between 1997 and 1999, 12 adults and six nestlings died of poison in Sierra Pelada (Huelva Province); in 2000, nine poisoned adults and at least 19 egg or chick losses coincided with the death of an adult (406).
Lead ammunition poisoning is a known threat to the species, which often ingests carrion of hunted ungulates and lagomorphs. One case of acute lead poisoning was recorded in Spain (403). In a sample of Cinereous Vultures admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centers in south-central Spain during 2006‒2007, mean lead in blood levels was 70.07 ng/ml (n = 13), and 23% had lead levels above 200 ng/ml (407).
Among Cinereous Vultures trapped in the field in Spain during 2016‒2017, the mean value of lead in blood was 22 ng/ml (n = 18). Among those admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centers during 2006‒2017, mean lead blood value was 88.6 ng/ml (n = 5), and 20% of individuals had lead values >200 ng/ml (408).
In individuals found dead in South Korea during winter, two had lesions compatible with lethal lead poisoning, with 19.7 ppm dry weight and 34.1 ppm dry weight, and 14 had a potentially toxic level of lead with > 6 ppm dry weight in the liver or kidneys (n = 20) (366). In Cinereous Vultures found dead in the Korean Demilitarized Zone, 15% had liver lead levels >25 mg/g dry weight (n = 76) (409). In the Sündiken and Türkmenbaba Dağları (Türkiye), mean lead levels in feathers of adults was 5.671 ± 3.884 μg/g dry weight (n = 53; 410).
Oral lesions caused by fungal and bacterial infections could indicate physiological alterations due to the chronic ingestion of pharmaceuticals via the consumption of medicated livestock carcasses (411). In a high-intensity farming area in central Spain (Segovia and Ávila provinces), 32.3% of dietary items in nests were pigs, and 25.8% were lagomorphs, whereas in a low-intensity farming area (Sierra Norte, Sevilla Province), 43.5% of the diet was represented by red deer (Cervus elaphus), wild boar (Sus scrofa), and European mouflon (Ovis aries). A higher (75%) proportion of Cinereous Vulture nestlings (n = 16) from the high-intensity area was affected by oral lesions, but the proportion with oral lesions (39%, n = 13) was lower in the low-intensity area (412).
Five Cinereous Vultures killed by diclofenac poisoning were found during February‒March 2012 at Jorbeer dump in Rajasthan (India) (413). The first case of diclofenac poisoning in the Cinereous Vulture was registered in a fledging found dead in a nest in 2020 in Cataluña (Spain). Concentrations of 26.5 ng/g in the liver and 51.4 ng/g in kidney were found (414).
Collisions with Stationary/Moving Structures or Objects
Known collisions with wind turbines are very few throughout the species’ range. In Spain two collisions have been reported, one each in Soria and Zaragoza provinces (415). More recently, 3,130 birds were found dead in wind farm collisions during 2001–2016 in Castilla y León region (Spain), of which three were Cinereous Vulture s (416). In Spain, 6,058 birds killed in wind farms were admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centers during the period 2008–2018, of which 19 corresponded to Cinereous Vulture (417). In Thrace (Greece), there is an estimated mortality rate of 0.02 Cinereous Vulture/turbine/year (418, 419).
Killing of birds of prey due to collision with power lines is a general concern. In northern Eurasia (Kazakhstan and Russia), during the period 1990‒2010, nine Cinereous Vultures were recorded dead under power lines and a rate of 0.029 birds per 10 km/power line was estimated (420). In central Mongolia, two Cinereous Vultures were killed by electrocution (total number of birds of different species, n = 388) and another two by collision (total number of birds of different species, n = 560) during 2007‒2009 (421). In Dundgovi Province (Mongolia), a Cinereous Vulture carcass was found near an electricity distribution line in 2010 (422). In Turyanchay National Reserve (Azerbaijan), three individuals were killed at power lines during 2004‒2014 (393).
In Spain, during 1990‒2006, 34 Cinereous Vultures were recorded as dead under power lines (423). During the same period, 7% of admissions of birds of different species to wildlife rehabilitation centers were due to collision/electrocution of Cinereous Vulture s on power lines (n = 400) (423). In Spain, 24 Cinereous Vultures were recorded dead due to electrocution during the period 1990–2019 (424).
With respect to mortality due to collisions with vehicles, one Cinereous Vulture was recorded among a total of 10,288 birds killed by such means in Spain (425). In South Korea, the Cinereous Vulture road-kill rate across a period of 15 months (June 2018‒September 2019) was 0.02% (n = 5,812) (426). An immature was killed in 2016 near Palma de Mallorca airport (Spain) (427).
The Cinereous Vulture is very sensitive to human disturbance while nesting, and this can have negative consequences for reproductive success (428). In Extremadura (Spain), breeding failure was greater the shorter the distance of the nests from the nearest track (429).
In Umbría of Alcudia (Ciudad Real), cork harvesting activities during May‒August in the vicinity of the nests caused disturbance and negatively affected nesting. Mean flight distance from the nest in the presence of people was 220.2 m (range 10–600, n = 23), and mean time of nest abandonment was 132 minutes (range 12–330, n = 22). As a result, breeding success in areas affected by cork harvesting was 0.55 chicks per pair (n = 51), whereas in a control area in the same general region it was 0.75 (n = 28, P = 0.06). Two nestlings died of dehydration in the cork harvesting area (430).
A study in the Sierra de Guadarrama (Spain) showed a negative influence of road traffic noise on nests, whereby vulture nests were all sited outside areas in which road traffic Leq24h (24-hour daily average noise) levels were in excess of 40 dB (431).
Aviation, helicopters, balloons, unmanned aerial systems, hang-gliders, and paragliders can disturb breeding Cinereous Vultures, but data are scarce. However, the species reduces flights near colonies in the presence of paragliders (432, 433).
Conservation Measures and Habitat Management
One of the most important conservation measures is strict protection of nesting colonies. The first important step in Spain in the species’ conservation was protection of the Monfragüe colony, in 1979 (434).
At colonies in pine forests subject to logging, such as those in the Lozoya Valley (Madrid) and Valsaín (Segovia), forestry is planned in relation to the reproductive phenology of Cinereous Vulture, to minimize disturbance during breeding, with forestry activities undertaken outside the nesting season, i.e., the months of October‒December. To protect nests, no logging or other forestry work is carried out in pine forests within a minimum radius of 50‒100 m of each nest. Additionally, a sufficient number of mature trees is maintained for nesting (435, 436, 437). In 2021, the Spanish governmental agency National Parks acquired Pinar de los Belgas, the site of the Cinereous Vulture breeding colony in the Lozoya Valley.
At colonies in oak and cork oak forests, the most important conservation measures are those aimed to make human activities such as cork exploitation or hunting compatible with conservation of colonies, by preventing such activity between February and August. Other conservation measures aim to maintain native trees in colonies, and eradicate eucalyptus and pines planted in these forests (438). To reduce disturbance, human activities including cork harvesting should be minimized within 500 m of active nests (430).
The species’ conservation also depends on maintenance of foraging areas. In Iberia, most populations obtain their food in large areas of open oak and cork oak forest (40‒50 trees/ha). A study of radio-tracked breeding adults (n = 14) at Sierra Pelada (Huelva) showed that their home ranges while foraging overlapped over a total of 592,527 ha around the colony (209). The species’ diet depends largely on the maintenance of extensive livestock in open oak forests, and since joining the European Union, Spain has received funds to develop its livestock capacity (439).
Lagomorphs are important in the diet of the Cinereous Vulture, especially rabbits in Iberia. Rabbits have undergone population variations since the 1950s related to viral diseases, but recovery programs for them have been established in Spain (440).
In 1998, the Antidote Program was started in Spain, with the participation of several NGOs and collaboration by regional authorities, with the aim of tackling poisoning. Environmental agents and civil guards also participate in the program, which is supported by specialized canine units (402).
To minimize collisions and/or electrocutions on power lines in Spain, those with the highest incidence of bird kills, including the Cinereous Vulture, have been identified, to prioritize their modification via the installation of safe structures. To do this, European Union national and regional funds have been invested to upgrade tens of thousands of pylons (423). In Russia, death of Cinereous Vultures due to electrocution with power lines can result in a fine of 100,000 rubles, which is intended to persuade the companies responsible to implement mitigation measures; however, fines are rarely enforced (441).
Feeding stations are now used across most of Europe to supplement the diet of scavengers, including the Cinereous Vulture (442). In Dadia Forest (Greece), a feeding station was established in 1987 to increase food availability (325); at Dörtdivan (Türkiye) a facility was established in 2012 (443); and in Ustyurt State Nature Reserve (Kazakhstan), three feeding stations were opened between 2016 and 2018 (444).
To establish new colonies of the species, it has been recommended to release adults to increase the probability of success, because of their higher survival but lower mobility than in juveniles (331).
In Spain, since the start of the 2000s there has been an increasing trend of establishing authorization requirements for overflights of protected areas. In addition, both the average minimum flight height and the number of sites where flight has been regulated or prohibited have increased in protected areas (445). The following protected areas in Spain with breeding colonies of Cinereous Vulture are subject to overflight regulations: Parque Nacional de Monfragüe, Parque Nacional de la Sierra de Guadarrama, Parque Natural Sierra de Hornachuelos, Parque Natural Sierra Norte de Sevilla, Parque Natural Sierra de Andújar, Zona de Especial Protección para las Aves Alto Lozoya, Parque Regional de la Cuenca Alta del Manzanares, Reserva Natural Valle de Iruelas, Parque Regional Sierra de Gredos, Parque Natural de Sierra Morena, Parque Natural de la Sierra de San Vicente, Parque Natural de los Montes de Toledo, and Parque Natural Ríos del Tajo y Berrocales del Tajo (F. Guil, unpublished data).
Effectiveness of Measures
Due to conservation measures, the Spanish population increased from 206 pairs in 1973 (375) to 2,548 pairs in 2017 (255). Some colonies such as that in Monfragüe National Park appear to have reached their maximum size—312 pairs in 2007—as no further increase was recorded between 2007 and 2015 (446). The Cinereous Vulture has recolonized Portugal from the nearby increasing Spanish populations; see Historical Changes to the Distribution.
Reintroduced populations in France, in the Grand Causses and southern Alps, started breeding four years after the first releases (156), reaching 31 pairs (157). Reintroduced populations in Bulgaria, in the Eastern Balkan Mountains and in Vrachanski Balkan Nature Park, started breeding in 2021, reaching 6-7 pairs in total (447).
The species has increased by ca. 35% in Ikh Nart (Mongolia) since its establishment as a nature reserve in 1996; the United Nations Development Program has designated the site a model protected area (448).
In the eastern Spanish Pyrenees, 20 supplementary feeding sites for avian scavengers, including the Cinereous Vulture, receive human visitors from Spain and multiple European countries. Scavenger-based tourism provides recreational activities such as birdwatching, education, and/or photography; it has been estimated that these sites produce an average US $4.9 million annually, including US $2.53 million in revenue for the local human population (449, 450).