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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Demography and Populations
The Cinereous Vulture reaches sexual maturity when three years old. Nesting rates of territorial pairs varies from 66.0–92.5%, with the highest proportion of nest failures at the egg stage. The number of fledglings per egg-laying pair varies from 0.25–0.92, and the number of fledglings per territorial pair/year ranged between 0.43 and 0.95. Maximum life span and lifetime reproductive success are both unknown. Annual survival rates of 0.830 for juveniles, 0.877 for immature and subadults (2‒5 years age), and 0.918 for adults (six years or older) have been calculated.
Measures of Breeding Activity
Age At First Breeding
In the Grand Causses (France), the species first bred after two to seven years (mean 4.41 years ± 1.27 SD, n = 17); breeding was successful in two birds that were three years old (281). In the Lozoya Valley (Madrid), the Cinereous Vulture returned to the natal colony to breed in their 5‒6th calendar year (187).
Intervals Between Breeding
There is little information on intervals between breeding events. It has been suggested that the species can reproduce every two years (10) but that some pairs breed every year (16). In western Sierra Morena (Spain), 56.52% pairs bred in two consecutive years (n = 23), 16.67% attempted to breed in three consecutive years (n = 12), but none laid in four consecutive years ( n = 5) (282).
There is information on the percentage of pairs that breed in Spain. In 2006, 84.8% of pairs laid in Alcudia (n = 99, Ciudad Real), 77.9% in the Lozoya Valley (n = 77, Madrid), 82.3% in the Sierra Pelada (n = 96, Huelva), and 81.8% in Valdemaqueda (n = 11, Madrid) (309). In Extremadura (Spain), the proportion of pairs that laid eggs was 92.5% (n = 562) in 2000 (161). In the Sierra de Andújar (Jaén), in 1999 85.7% of pairs (n = 49) laid and in 2004 some 90.4% (n = 52) laid (322). On Mallorca, 66% bred during 1975‒2005 (n = 237), which increased to 83% during the last seven years of this period (296).
Reproductive failures occur mostly during incubation. Of a total of 657 failures in Andalucía during 2002‒2009, 80.8% were during incubation (188).
Hatching success in the Nuratau Mountains (Uzbekistan) was negatively correlated with egg size (r = –0.53, n = 258) (303).
In the Lozoya Valley colony (Madrid), mean incubation failure during the period 1997‒2004 was 24.3% ± 6.1 SD (n = 391; 323). In the Sierra de Andújar (Jaén), in 1999 the hatching rate was 93% (n = 42), but in 2004 it fell to 62% (n = 47), attributed to an increase in the frequency of immature or inexperienced birds entering the nesting population (322). On Mallorca, hatching success for the period 1973‒2005 was 56% (n = 162; 296).
The number of fledglings per egg-laying pair per year appears to be related to climatic conditions, nest site, the age of the breeding pair, egg volume, and colony density. Climatic conditions influenced breeding success in the year 2000 in colonies of Extremadura (Spain). Higher mean temperatures in summer were linked to greater reproductive failure in Monfragüe, whereas increased rainfall in summer was associated with higher reproductive success in Monfragüe and the Sierra de San Pedro (161).
In Umbría de Alcudia (Ciudad Real), characteristics of successful nests (n = 50) were compared to those that failed (n = 39). Breeding success was higher in larger, less deteriorated nests in taller nesting trees, with greater scrub cover within a 100 m radius around the nest (324). No significant differences in success were observed between nests on rocks and those on trees in Ikh Nart (Mongolia) (174).
In the Sierra de Andújar (Jaén), in 1999 reproductive success was 0.93, declining to 0.49 in 2004, probably due to an increase in the number of immature or inexperienced birds in the nesting population (322). In the Nuratau Mountains (Uzbekistan), breeding success was 0.58 and was positively correlated with egg volume (r = 0.89, n = 258) (303). In Cabañeros National Park, Spain, during the period 1998‒2004, there was a significant negative correlation between the number of fledglings and the distance between successful nests (210).
The rate of breeding success varies across the this species’ range (all localities in Spain, unless otherwise stated): it is recorded as 0.25 in the Tien Shan Mountains (China) (228), 0.40‒0.95 in Dadia (Greece) (325), 0.5 on Mallorca (296), 0.5 in Ikh Nart (Mongolia) (174), 0.51 in Alcudia (254), 0.54 in Sierra Pelada (254), 0.54‒0.78 in the middle Sakarya (Türkiye) (284), 0.6‒0.7 in Lozoya Valley (254, 326), 0.62‒0.67 in Valdemaqueda (254, 326), 0.67‒0.73 in Köroğlu Dağları (Türkiye) (297), 0.69 in Sierra de San Pedro (327), 0.78 in Castilla y León (291), 0.76‒0.91 in Türkmenbaba Dağları (Türkiye) (328), and 0.92 in Extremadura (Spain) (161). In the south-central Caucasus, mean breeding success during the period 1976‒2001 was 0.53 ± 15.2 SD, range 0.33‒0.83 (235).
Estimates of Productivity
Estimates of the number of fledglings per territorial pair and year vary: it has been recorded as 0.43 in Alcudia (254), 0.44 in Sierra de Andújar, Jaén (322), 0.45 in Sierra Pelada (254), 0.47‒0.60 in Lozoya Valley (254, 326), 0.53‒0.55 in Valdemaqueda (254, 326), 0.54‒0.78 in the middle Sakarya (Türkiye) (284), 0.63 in Extremadura (161) and in Castilla y León (291), 0.8 in Sierra de Andújar (322), and 0.95 in Tuva Republic (Russia) (81). In the south-central Caucasus, mean productivity during the period 1976‒2001 was 0.42 ± 14.8 SD, range 0.25‒0.71 (235). According to Spanish national censuses, productivity increased from 0.51 (2006) (254) to 0.63 (2017) (255).
Lifetime Reproductive Success
Life Span and Survivorship
There is no detailed information on life span in the wild. In captivity the species reaches 39 years old (1). It has been suggested that birds can reach 25.5 years old in the wild (329), but possibly the true life span is ca. 40 years (102).
In wild-born Cinereous Vultures banded as nestlings (n = 47) in Grand Causses (France), monitored during 1992‒2008, survival estimates of 1‒3 years of age, four years of age, and five years of age or older were 0.848 ± 0.025 SE, 0.848 ± 0.026 SE, and 0.978 ± 0.018 SE, respectively (330). In those banded in the Causses and Alps (France) during 1992–2016, annual survival rates for juveniles (first year), immatures and subadults (2‒5 years age), and adults (six years or older) were 0.830 ± 0.029 SE, 0.877 ± 0.016 SE, and 0.918 ± 0.01 SE, respectively (331).
Disease and Body Parasites
Several types of disease have been identified in Cinereous Vultures but their effects are poorly known. In a sample of individuals (n = 106) received at rehabilitation centers in Castilla-La Mancha (Spain) between 1996 and 2005, detected salmonellosis (5.2%), Chlamidophila sp. (3.4%), aspergillosis, and candidiasis (5%) were all detected (332), with Salmonella sp. detected in 7.4% of sampled nestlings (n= 27) in the Sierra de Andújar (Jaén Province, Spain) (333).
Oral lesions were observed in 77.8% of sampled nestlings from Spain (n = 9), with 14 yeast species belonging to seven genera (Candida, Meyerozyma, Pichia, Yarrowia, Cryptococcus, Rhodotorula, and Trichosporon) were isolated from the lesions (334).
An avian trichomonad, Trichomonas gypaetinii, was identifed in the upper digestive tract of Cinereous Vultures from Spain (335, 336), and Mycoplasma gallinarum was detected in a bird from Córdoba Province (also Spain) (337).
In the Russian Far East (Siberia), positive samples of West Nile virus were detected in samples of the species collected during 2002‒2004 (338) and toxoplasmosis, caused by the apicomplexan Toxoplasma gondii, was detected in 25% of a sample of the species from Kazakhstan (n = 4; 339).
Oceanisphaera avium, a member of the bacterial family Aeromonadaceae, was isolated from the gut of Cinereous Vulture (340). Actinomyces tangfeifanii (family Actinomycetaceae) was isolated from rectal swabs of the species from Tibet, China (341).
Phthiraptera Amblycera: Aquilogogus trachelioti (Spain; 342, Türkiye; 343, 344, Mongolia; 345), Laemobothrion vulturis (Germany; 346, 347, Spain; 342, Mongolia; 345, Türkiye; 348, 344), Neocolpocephalum turbinatum ( Germany; 346, 347).
Phthiraptera Ischnocera: Aegypoecus brevicollis (347; Spain, 349), Falcolipeurus monilis (Germany; 346), Falcolipeurus quadripustulatus (Germany; 347, Spain, 350, India; 351, Afghanistan; 352, Mongolia; 345, Türkiye; 348, 344).
Diptera: Icosta meda (353).
Nematodes: Ascaridia columbae (China; 354), Cyrnea mansioni (Kyrgyzstan; 355), Porrocaecum depressum (Germany; 346, 356, India; 357), Procyrnea tulostoma (Germany; 346), Taufikia iranica (Iran; 358), Tetrameres aegypii (China; 359, 354), Tetrameres shaanxiensis (China; 360), and Tropisurus aegypii (China; 359).
Trematodes: Strigea falconis (361).
Pentastomida: Hispania vulturis was recorded in the abdominal air sacs of Cinereous Vulture in Spain (362).
Apicomplexa: Haemosporidian parasites of the genus Leucocytozoon were detected in 9.28% of nestlings examined in central Spain (n = 140) (363). Plasmodium sp. lineage AEGMO03 was identified in a Cinereous Vulture from Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand (148).
Causes of Mortality
Nest collapse as a cause of failed breeding attempts has been recorded at several sites in Spain, such as Huelva Province (312), the Lozoya Valley (323), Sierra de San Pedro, and Umbría de Alcudia (364). In France, 9% of breeding failures were due to nest collapse (n = 47 breeding failures) (281).
At nests on coastal cliffs on Mallorca, fledglings sometimes fall into the sea; indeed this was the greatest cause of mortality during 2009‒2021 (44.4%, n = 27) (365).
During migration or winter, starvation can occur. In Primoriye (southeastern Siberia, Russia), mass death, probably caused by starvation, accounted for 70 and 60 individuals found dead during winters 1999/2000, and 2000/20001, respectively (112). In a sample of birds found dead in South Korea during winter, severe emaciation was associated with 19 of the deaths (n = 20; 366).
Direct Human Impacts
The most common source of anthropogenic mortality is poisoning. Other sources were human disturbance of nesting birds, fires caused by humans, accidental trauma caused by collisions with wind turbines and power lines, and shooting; see Conservation and Management.
Population Spatial Metrics
See Degree of Sociality.
Cinereous Vulture is territorial at nesting sites; see Agonistic Behavior.
Home Range Size
Home range size varies with age, season, and between sites. In terms of seasonal variation, home range size increases during the breeding season and decreases in the non-breeding season. Home range size (95% kernel) of adults in the Sierra Pelada (Huelva) was larger during the breeding season (mean 1,354.3 km2 ± 611.9 SD, n = 14) than during the non-breeding season (mean = 777.7 km2 ± 383.6 SD, n = 6). During the former season, no significant differences were recorded in home range size between males and females (209). In the Sierra de San Pedro (Cáceres), the mean size of the home range (95% kernel) of adults was 667.5 km2 ± 713.9 SD (n = 6) in the breeding season and 155.2 km2 ± 42.4 SD (n = 4 ) in the non-breeding season (162). Another study carried in the Sierra de San Pedro suggested a trend towards smaller average home range area during the incubation period (349 km2) compared to when nestlings are being raised (602 km2, n = 3) (367).
In Mongolia, two studies with very different results on the size of the home range have been published. In one, home range size (minimum convex polygon) of two adults during the breeding season was 540.0–2,653.3 km2 (113). In another study, adults had a mean home range (minimum convex polygon) across the entire year of 43,301 km2 ± 12,387 SE (n = 9, 119). It is unknown if the very large home range size recorded in the second of these studies compared to the Spanish populations reflects the method used or was simply because the vultures foraged over larger areas.
Juveniles and immatures have larger home ranges than adults, which is probably due to their reduced experience and skill in scavenging, or because they are prospecting new areas.
During their stay in Mongolia prior to migration, juveniles had a mean home range of 76,209 km2 ± 27,486 SE (n = 33) (119). The same vultures during winter in South Korea had a mean home range of 6,127 km2 ± 1,385 SE (n = 33; 119). The mean size of the home range (95% kernel) of seven subadults in South Korea was 1,752 km2 ± 244 SE (192). Juveniles (n = 3) from the Caucasus had a mean home range size (95% fixed kernel) pre-migration of 3,847 km2 ± 3,120 SD, and 3,870 km2 ± 2,541 SD in their wintering areas in Saudi Arabia and Iran (102).
In Spain, the mean home range size (90% kernel) of juveniles banded as fledglings in Cabañeros National Park was 8,282 km² in males (n = 7) and 12,593 km2 in females (n = 2) (368). The mean size of the home range (95% kernel) of juveniles in Castilla-La Mancha (Spain) was 3,307 km2 (n = 12) (369).
During their dependency period, juvenile Cinereous Vulture have small home ranges. In Türkiye, fledglings had a mean home range (90% kernel) of 356 km2 ± 134 SE (n = 3) (101). Juveniles in Lozoya Valley (Spain) occupy a mean area of 189.4 km2 (n = 6) (187). In juveniles from the Sierra de San Pedro (Spain), mean home range size was 340 km2 (n = 4) (162).
Global population size has been estimated at 9,657–12,306 breeding pairs (157) or 15,600‒21,000 mature individuals (370). There are no specific estimates for Afghanistan and Iran, but the Chinese population has been estimated at 9,000‒15,000 individuals based in part on its distribution area (83), and more recently to be at least 8,000 individuals, including overwintering birds (R. MaMing, personal communication).
There are counts of 2,548 pairs in Spain in 2017, including 36 pairs on Mallorca (Balearic Islands) (255). Other populations include 30–40 pairs in Portugal (371), 53 pairs in France (371), one pair in Bulgaria (371), 31 pairs in Greece (371), 16 pairs in Azerbaijan (372), 15‒19 pairs in Ukraine (157), 80‒200 pairs in Türkiye (157), 63‒102 pairs in Russia (Caucasus) (157), 50 pairs in Georgia (157), 50 pairs in Armenia (157), 20‒100 pairs in Azerbaijan (157; 60‒80 pairs in late 1980s/early 1990s, 67), 150‒300 pairs in Kazakhstan (157), 50‒60 pairs in Kyrgyzstan (157), 10‒100 pairs in Tajikistan (157), 30‒32 pairs in Turkmenistan (157), 80‒120 pairs in Uzbekistan (157), 1,760 pairs in China (157), 5,000‒7,000 pairs in Mongolia (157), and 88 pairs in Russia (Altai-Sayan) (81).
The number of breeding pairs declined in Europe from the 1850s, reaching a nadir in the 1960s. For example, in Babadag (Romania) there were 100 pairs in 1911, 10‒12 pairs in 1950, and just one pair in 1964 (1). At Monfragüe (Cáceres Province, Spain), in 1965 and 1973 there were ca. 45 pairs and 18 pairs, respectively (16, 218, 373). More recently, the number of breeding pairs in Azerbaijan declined 27.3% between 2004 and 2016 (372).
The species’ critical situation in Europe has been reversed in large part due to the conservation measures taken in Spain, where there was an annual increase of 25.7% in the number of breeding pairs between 1973 and 2011, declining to a 13.3% increase between 1990 and 2011 (374). The Spanish population was estimated at 206 pairs in 1973 (375), 365 pairs in 1986 (376), 774 pairs in 1989 (377), 1,027 pairs in 1992–1993 (378), 1,845 pairs in 2006 (309), 2,068 pairs in 2011 (374), and 2,548 pairs in 2017 (255). On the island of Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Spain), the number of breeding pairs increased from at least 3 pairs in 1955 (379), 4 pairs in 1972 (184), 7 pairs in 1982 (380), 10 pairs in 2001 (71), 16 pairs in 2011 (381), to 36 in 2017 (255).
The population increase in Spain is due in large part to active conservation measures, but other factors may have also been responsible, including the availability of food. During 1973‒2011, the number of pairs did not correlate with estimates of carcasses of cows, sheep, goats and pigs available in the wild, or with the number of rabbits hunted. Traditionally, hunters take only the head of wild ungulates they kill, whereas the body is left for scavengers. The number of red deer (Cervus elaphus) and wild boar (Sus scrofa) hunted multiplied by 13.5 after 1973, and there was a significant positive correlation between the number of Cinereous Vulture pairs and the number of wild boar and deer that were hunted (r = 0.94, P <0.001). Regarding threats to the species, no correlation was observed between the number of pairs and the number of birds poisoned, or with the number of vultures received by wildlife rehabilitation centers (374).
There have been successful reintroduction projects in France and in several regions of Spain; see Historical Changes to the Distribution.
Density-dependent processes may be responsible for regulating vulture populations. Breeding pairs at each colony overlap in their foraging areas at distances greater than 50 km. Increasing the density of breeding pairs in colonies can lead to competition for food and a reduction in available carrion, with consequent effects on productivity. A study of 2,162 breeding attempts at four Sierra Morena colonies (Spain) during the period 2002‒2010 has shown that productivity is subject to density-dependent processes at both the colony and nest scales, explained by interference competition. There appears to be a trade-off between the benefits of colonialism and the disadvantages of close nesting between pairs, potentially mediated by aggressive interactions between pairs and the benefits of sharing information, which makes colonies widely spaced (382).