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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Movements and Migration
Breeding pairs are apparently sedentary or elevational or short-distance migrants throughout the species’ range, but in autumn juveniles and immatures can move south, returning in spring. Breeders at Spanish colonies generally remain year-round, with only a few individuals absent for short periods, before returning (16). Adults fitted with GPS transmitters in Mongolia (n = 9) stayed year-round in the country (119). In Crimea (181) and Turkmenistan (182) breeders do not leave their colonies in winter, and in Russia (Greater Caucasus, Altai-Sayan and southeast Transbaikalia) the situation is basically similar, with breeding pairs spending the winter in the nesting areas (70). However, a Cinereous Vulture banded as a nestling in Mongolia on 2006 was recorded in Primorsky (Russia) during winter 2018 (183).
The population on Mallorca is considered sedentary, only making movements to the neighboring islands of Menorca (184, 185) and Ibiza (184). None of the Cinereous Vultures banded on these islands has been recorded elsewhere. The Crimean population is also considered sedentary (1); however, a case of possible migration was witnessed on 26 November 2018, when a flock of 14 Cinereous Vultures flew southwest from Cape Sarich (44°23′N, 33°44′E), directly into the wind ca. 900 m above sea level, and were seen to continue out to sea for about 15 km (186).
Dispersal and Site Fidelity
Three males that hatched in the Lozoya Valley (Madrid, Spain) were observed breeding in the same colony by their 5‒6th calendar year, nesting between 1,818 and 4,697 m of their natal nest. Of two females at the same colony, one was seen breeding in its fifth calendar year 879 m from its natal nest and the other was found nesting in its sixth calendar year 75 km away, in the Iruelas Valley (Avila, Spain) (187).
Recruitment has been recorded in Andalucía (Spain) between 1 and 139 km from the natal nests (n = 20), with 65% of these birds remaining in their natal colony and the remainder in different colonies (188).
There are several migratory routes, along which birds move south in autumn and return north in the spring. On the one hand, there is a route in East Asia between Mongolia and South Korea and neighboring regions. Much further west, there is another route in the Middle East; Cinereous Vultures from Türkiye and the Caucasus can migrate to Israel and continue to wintering sites in the Arabian Peninsula and northeast Africa.
Obviously, the Himalayas present a significant barrier to raptor migration; however, the Cinereous Vulture is a regular migrant to the western Himalayas (Pakistan and northwest India), and in the central Himalayas (Nepal), whereas there are no data for the ornithologically more poorly covered eastern Himalayas (northeastern India and Bhutan) (189).
Finally, there is a westerly migration route between southwest Europe, crossing via the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa, and wintering in the Sahel region. Formerly, only a few juveniles from southern France and Iberia move south in autumn across the Strait of Gibraltar, but the numbers increased during the period 1972–2020, probably related to the increase in the Spanish population during this period (190).
Migration by the same individual can occur in successive years. Round-trip migrations between Mongolia and South Korea by two juvenile Cinereous Vultures was recorded in two years (119). Another vulture tagged as a nestling in southeast Mongolia, on 20 July 2006, was recorded in South Korea during the winters of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 (183). In the Middle East, one juvenile reappeared in Sudan during two different migratory cycles (106). However, individual variation in seasonal movement patterns is apparent among some vultures from the Caucasus after their first migration cycle (102).
Timing and Routes of Migration
Migration south occurs in autumn, mainly in October and November (191, 102, 119, 90, 106). Northbound movement takes place in March, April, and early May (119, 90, 106). Migrants are seemingly always juveniles (119) or immatures (192). No adults were recorded crossing the Strait of Gibraltar (190).
In East Asia, Cinereous Vultures from Mongolia migrate southeast, crossing northeast China and North Korea to winter in South Korea, northeast China (191, 113, 193, 192, 119), and Primorsky in southeast Siberia (112). Some individuals tagged in Mongolia have been sighted in eastern Russia: one tagged on 20 July 2006 in Ikh Nart National Park (Mongolia) was recorded on 28 January 2018 in Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve (43°05′53″N, 131°33′10″E, Primorsky, Russia); and another tagged at the same site on 8 August 2018 was recorded on 6 April 2019 near Barabash (43°05′40″N, 131°15′53″E, Primorsky, Russia) (194).
Cinereous Vulture s were comparatively common on migration in spring and autumn in the mid-19th century in northwest Türkiye (195), and there are also records of birds thought to be on passage in northeast Türkiye (105, 196).
In the Middle East, Cinereous Vultures from Türkiye and the Caucasus migrate south in autumn, crossing Iraq and Iran, and winter in Saudi Arabia (68, 102). Also in the Middle East flyway, a Cinereous Vulture from Türkiye moved south to Israel, from there crossed to Egypt, and eventually wintered in Sudan, returning to Türkiye in spring (106). At the Besh Barmag bottleneck (Azerbaijan), a 3 km-wide coastal plain between the Greater Caucasus and Caspian Sea, 60 and 35 individuals were counted in autumn 2011 and spring 2012, respectively, although some of these could have been local breeders (197).
There are records of the species in northwest Africa and the Sahel that indicate movements to and from this region via the Strait of Gibraltar; see Nonbreeding Range. However, there are few data concerning this phenomenon to date (90, 190).
In East Asia, spring migration to Mongolia started on 23 March from South Korea (192). Mean departure date from South Korea was 2 April (± 2.34 days SE), with mean arrival in Mongolia of 21 April (± 2.48 days SE) (119). Two subadults captured in South Korea and fitted with satellite transmitters commenced their spring migration on 30 March and 13 April, respectively, and visited 5‒8 sites en route, each for 2‒3 days (191).
Spring migrants have been recorded in Great Himalayan National Park (India): four were seen on 13 April 2003 near Sai Ropa and five on 24 April 2003 at the Rohtang Pass, at 3,978 m elevation (198).
In the Middle East, a juvenile Cinereous Vulture left its wintering area in central Saudi Arabia on 18 March, crossed Iraq during 2‒25 March, Iran between 25 March and 4 May, arrived in Georgia on 11 April, and was present at a site 196 km west of Astrakhan (Russia) on 17 July (68). There are spring records in Syria in 1978, 1982, and 1983 (105). Spring migration in Israel occurs between 10 February and 4 May (105); at Eilat, Cinereous Vultures were observed between mid-January and late April (199), and at the same site one was seen during spring migration in 1988 (200). An individual originally fitted with GPS in Israel started spring migration from its wintering area in Sudan on 12 March, returned via a similar route to Israel then continued north to Türkiye, where it remained for the next seven months (106). A juvenile was seen crossing the Bosphorus (Türkiye) on 7 April 2006 (201).
During the period 1972‒2020, 49 individuals were observed crossing the Strait of Gibraltar from North Africa to Spain between 14 February and 1 June (190). In western Africa, a Cinereous Vulture fitted with a GPS transmitter left its wintering area in Mauritania on 28 February, headed north to Morocco, crossed into Algeria and then Tunisia; on 1 May it returned to Algeria and later to Morocco, before crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain on 7 May (90). During spring migration, the species was recorded in Morocco between 6 March and 1 June (1968‒1985) (88); six were recorded between 18 March and 7 May at Jebel Moussa (89). At Ceuta, there are seven records between March and May during 1991‒1996 (202), whilst in southern Spain wintering vultures left Doñana National Park between the end of March and May (176).
In East Asia, autumn migration from Mongolia commenced on 9 October (192). The mean date on which juveniles departed Mongolia was 29 October (± 4.32 days SE), with mean arrival in South Korea on 27 November (± 3.37 days SE) (119). During southbound migration in this region, they visited 1‒11 sites en route for 2‒9 days each (191).
At Thula Kharka (central Nepal), the mean number of vultures counted during autumn migration (September‒December) in two years (2012 and 2013) was 65 (189).
In the Middle East, individuals (n = 6) fitted with GPS transmitters as nestlings in Georgia and Armenia migrated south from their natal areas between 2 and 26 November (102). One fitted with a GPS transmitter in Georgia began to move south on 15 November, crossed Azerbaijan and Armenia during 15‒23 November, Iran between 24 November and 8 December, Iraq from 8‒25 December, and then remained in central Saudi Arabia from 25 December to 20 March (68). Autumn migration in Israel is evident mainly between 10 October and 5 December (105, 203); at Eilat, autumn migrants have been observed between late September and early November (199) and three were seen during the 1980 season (200).
Juveniles fitted with GPS transmitters in the Türkmenbaba Dağları (western Türkiye) started autumn migration between mid October and early November; they initially moved to eastern Türkiye, whereafter one crossed Iraq and western Iran, eventually reaching north-central Saudi Arabia, whereas another crossed into Syria and moved south to the Jordan/Saudi Arabia border region (101).
There is another migration route from Eurasia to East Africa; a juvenile captured in Israel and fitted with a GPS transmitter on 5 November, after release headed south, paused at the Gulf of Aqaba, then continued west across the Gulf of Suez, before turning south to winter in Sudan at 17.9°N, where it remained between 12 November to 12 March. The following year, the same individual left Türkiye on 29 October and arrived in the same wintering area in Sudan on 21 November (106).
During the period 1972‒2020, 20 vultures were recorded crossing the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain to North Africa between 15 July and 20 November (190). A Cinereous Vulture fitted with a GPS transmitter departed the Grands-Causses region (France) on 24 October and headed south, crossed the Pyrenees at Col de Perthus on 25 October, then moved south via the Mediterranean coast and crossed the Strait of Gibraltar on 8 November. In Morocco, it continued southeast being recorded in the Algerian Sahara and later, on 4 December, in Sokoto, at the border between Niger and Nigeria (90). Another individual, released in the Sierra de la Demanda (Burgos Province, Spain), headed south on 31 October and, on 24 November, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into Africa, continued south crossing the Sahara to its wintering area in Mauritania (90). In southern Spain, the first overwintering birds arrive at Doñana National Park in October (176).
The flight characteristics (range of means plus mean values) of juveniles migrating through the Middle East were: above ground altitude 629‒1,523 m, flight elevation above sea level 989 m, GPS speed 44 km/hour, and distance travelled in 24 hours 35.7 km (102). Juveniles in northeast Asia moved a mean of 120.40 km/day ± 8.02 SE during spring migration and 88.92 km/day ± 7.59 SE in autumn (119).
Control and Physiology of Migration