SPECIES

Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus Scientific name definitions

Alfredo Salvador
Version: 2.0 — Published May 12, 2023

Photos from this Account

Adult
Adult
Immature
Adult
Immature
Immature
Immature (with Eurasian Griffon)
(with White Stork)
Adult Cinereous Vulture. 

Large vulture, identified by its large head and bill and short neck. The plumage is uniformly dark brown, except for the lighter head.

Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus). 

Adults are identified by dark brown plumage and a black facial mask.

Possible confusion species: White-Tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). 

The immature form of the White-tailed Eagle is often confused for Cinereous Vultures, given its dark-colored plumage and large size.

Possible confusion species: White-Tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). 

The White-tailed Eagle is distinguished from Cinereous Vulture by its shorter wings and longer tail.

Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus). 

Adults are characterized by dark brown plumage and blue, bare facial skin.

Possible confusion species: Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga). 

Both species have dark brown plumage. The Greater Spotted Eagle is differentiated by its shorter neck so that the head protrudes less from the body. The Greater Spotted Eagle is further distinguished by its lack of bare facial skin.

Possible confusion species: Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga). 

Note how the wings of the Greater Spotted Eagle are shorter and thinner. The tail is also longer than that of the Cinereous Vulture.

Cinereous Vulture.
Possible confusion species: Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis).

Steppe Eagle (subspecies orientalis) has longer tail, more rounded wings, and a more protruding head.

Possible confusion species: Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis).

Juvenile and immature Steppe Eagle (subspecies nipalensis) have a characteristic broad whitish band along greater underwing coverts.

Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus). 

A large, dark brown vulture with a light brown ruff and bare facial skin.

Possible confusion species: Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos). 

Both vulture species are characterized by large bodies, long wings, and bare skin on the head. However, the Lappet-faced Vulture lacks the blue coloration on its bare facial skin that is characteristic of the Cinereous Vulture.

Possible confusion species: Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos). 

The Lappet-faced Vulture is distinguished from the Cinereous Vulture by a lack of uniform dark coloration on the underparts of the body and wings.

Cinereous Vulture.
Possible confusion species: Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus).

Eurasian Griffon (subspecies fulvus) is paler, has a slightly shorter, not clearly wedge-shaped tail, and usually shows one or two light bands in the area of the underwing coverts.

Possible confusion species: Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus).

Eurasian Griffon (subspecies fulvus) has a more curved wing profile than the Cinereous Vulture.

Cinereous Vulture.
Possible confusion species: Rüppell's Griffon (Gyps rueppelli).

Rüppell's Griffon (subspecies rueppelli) has relatively short wings and are less rectangular than in the Cinereous Vulture.

Possible confusion species: Rüppell's Griffon (Gyps rueppelli).

Rüppell's Griffon (subspecies rueppelli) 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.

Possible confusion species: Rüppell's Griffon (Gyps rueppelli).

Rüppell's Griffon (subspecies rueppelli) upperwing is scaled with series of black pale-tipped feathers.

Cinereous Vulture.

Cinereous Vulture has short tail.

Possible confusion species: Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).

Immature Bearded Vulture (subspecies barbatus) has also dark coloration, but has longer and diamond-shaped tail.

Possible confusion species: Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).

Immature Bearded Vulture (subspecies barbatus)

Cinereous Vulture.
Possible confusion species: Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus).

Immature Egyptian Vulture (subspecies percnopterus) is smaller and has a very conspicuous wedge-shaped tail.

Possible confusion species: Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus).

Immature Egyptian Vulture (subspecies percnopterus) has bare face.

Natal Down in Cinereous Vulture.

The first natal down is characterized as being white-beige or pale smoke-gray.

Natal Down in Cinereous Vulture.

Darker second down emerges. Note the small dark spots on the cheek on this individual.

Natal Down in Cinereous Vulture.

The second down is darker brown or gray in coloration, except for a whitish hood. Note also the whitish-pink cere and pink legs and feet with black claws.

Juvenile Cinereous Vulture.

Fresh Juvenile Plumage is characterized by dark brown, almost black head and body feathers, darker than in later plumages. Head feathering is blackish with bare skin forming a dark face mask, partially framed by the dirty white beak bulges. Juvenile body feathers are uniformly dark brown, without mixed levels of wear as found in later plumages.

Juvenile Cinereous Vulture.

Upperwing coverts are uniformly juvenile and juvenile primaries, secondaries, and rectrices are uniform in wear and narrower than basic feathers, not showing mixed generations of remiges or molt clines

Juvenile Cinereous Vulture.

In spring plumage can fade to brownish but single generation of juvenile upperpart feathers, wing coverts, and secondaries are maintatied. by spring some individuals may show scattered formative feathers but there is no evidence of this on this individual. During the first year the cere is pink, gradually becoming bluish, and the legs and feet are pale whitish pink with black claws.

Possible Formative Cinereous Vulture.

The newer feathers on the back of this individual may be formative, indicating a Formative Plumage in Cinereous Vulture, although confirmation is needed. In late May it is also possible that these are early-replaced feathers during the Second Prebasic Molt, although there is no signs of this molt among uniformly juvenile tertials, remiges, or wing coverts, areas where prebasic molts often commence. By one year of age the cere is often pinkish with a blue tinge.

Possible Formative Cinereous Vulture.

Scattered new feathers in the upper back may be formative. Uniformly worn juvenile wing feathers are maintained. By one year of age the cere can be bluish with a pink tinge.

Possible Formative Cinereous Vulture.

New feathers in the upper back and scattered new wing coverts may be formative or the new coverts may indicate Second Basic Plumage; study is needed. By one year of age the cere is often pinkish with a blue tinge.

Second or Third Basic Cinereous Vulture.

During the second and third molt cycles, the black mask reduces as areas of bare skin appear. In second and/or third basic plumages, often from one to 5 inner primaries are replaced on each wing, contrasting with retained juvenile primaries among p3‒p10. Up to 10 secondaries are also replaced, usually among the tertials, s1-s2, and s5-s6, following molt sequences typical of Accipitine raptors and initiating Staffelmauser. Here the p1-p5, tertials, and central rectrices are basic and the remaining remiges and all but the central rectrices are juvenile. This may be most typical of Second Basic Plumage in this species.

Third Basic Cinereous Vulture.

Erectile feathers on the upper sides of the mantle are darker than in adults. The head feathering otherwise continues to resemble Juvenile Plumage in this individual but the inner primaries p1-p6 have been replaced while p7-p10 are juvenile. Most secondaries appear juvenile although s5 appears new (right wing) and s1 is being replaced (left wing). It appears that p1-p2 were replaced at the Second Prebasic Molt and p3-p6 at the Third Prebasic Molt, indicating Third Basic Plumage.

Third or Fourth Basic Cinereous Vulture.

By the third or fourth year, a pale supercilium can extend from behind the eye to the bill. Here p8-p10 may be juvenile and there otherwise appears to be two or three generations of basic feathers with s2-s4 and s9-s10 retained as juvenile feathers; this may be typical of an advanced in Fourth Basic Plumage, although due to variation in molt rates this individual may also be in Third or Fifth Basic Plumage.

Possible Fifth or Sixth Basic Cinereous Vulture. 

During the fifth and sixth cycles, the dark down on the forehead, crown, and back of head becomes pale brownish-white and the pale supercilium extends from behind the eye to the bill. By these cycles, precise determination of plumages is often not determinable due to individual variation in maturation rates of the head feathering and it is possible that slower maturing individuals can show these head-plumage features into later predefinitive cycles.

Possible Fifth or Sixth Basic Cinereous Vulture. 

Head feathering is becoming mature and most or all primaries are basic (the right p10 may be juvenile) but it appears that juvenile secondaries s3-s4 and others among s9-s15 have been retained among at least three generations of basic secondaries, indicating Fifth or Sixth Basic Plumage, although it may also indicate a later basic plumage.

Possible Fifth or Sixth Basic Cinereous Vulture. 

Head feathering is becoming mature but the p10 appears to be juvenile on both wings, with Staffelmauser "sets" at p1-p2 and p3-p9 (the p9 growing). This may be be typical of a bird undergoing the Fifth Prebasic Molt into Fifth Basic plumage. The s4 and s9 also appear to be juvenile among three generations of basic secondaries.

Definitive Basic Cinereous Vulture.

Crown and sides of head whitish or pale gray-brown with a black-brown ring of feathering around eye, which continues towards the foreneck and throat. Incomplete and/or protracted molts result in mixed generations or levels of wear among body feathers and upperwing coverts producing a mottled appearance that differs from the uniform feathering of Juvenile Plumage.

Definitive Basic Cinereous Vulture.

The feathering of the foreneck and throat are black brown, bordered by filamentous gray-brown feathers on both sides of the crop. Upperwing coverts show mixed levels of wear reflecting protracted molts and/or multiple generations of basic feathers. Note also the bright bluish cere with bright pink along the edge of the mandibles.

Definitive Basic Cinereous Vulture.

Remiges typically show 2‒4 sets of basic feathers in Staffelmauser (or stepwise) patterns, the number of sets signifying minimum age. Here, Staffelmauser "sets" are present on the bird's right wing at p1, p2-p3, p4-p6, and p7-p10, indicating at least four years of age. The sets on the bird's left wing are p1-p3, p4-p7, and p8-p10. By many years fo age, the Staffelmauser patterns usually become asymmetrical.

Cinereous Vulture undergoing Definitive Prebasic Molt. 

During molting season Primaries and secondaries can be worn or are being replaced, resulting in a ragged appearance. Here there are at least two waves of primary replacement (p2 and p8 growing on the birds right wing and p3 and p9 on the left wing) and the p10 s are relatively broad and fresh basic feathers, indicating a Definitive Prebasic Molt.

Cinereous Vulture undergoing Definitive Prebasic Molt. 

The p9 is growing on both wings, s3 and s10 are growing on the bird's right wing, and s2 is growing on its left wing. The p10s looks old but are worn basic feathers due to patterns among the secondaries; the worn s7s on both wings and s5 on the left wing represent patterns that preclude these being retained juvenile feathers. Hence, this is a Definitive Prebasic Molt on an older bird.

Juvenile Cinereous Vulture.

Bill coloration in juveniles is paler slate in coloration and the cerwe is pinkish white. The iris in juveniles can be dark brown or red-brown with yellow tinge,

Cinereous Vulture at 1–3 years of age. 

The bill gradually darkens and the cere gradually changes to pinkish blue during the first 1-3 years of age.

Adult Cinereous Vulture

In adults, the maxilla is black with gray, brown, or yellow at the bases of the maxilla and mandible and the cere can be pale mauve, salmon-pink, or bluish white, tinged pale violet or violet-pink. The iris is hazel, golden-brown, or deep red-brown.

Juvenile Cinereous Vulture.

In nestlings, the legs and feet are white to whitish-pink in younger individuals. becoming gray, gray-yellow, or dull pale pinkish in juveniles. The claws are black.

First-year Cinereous Vulture.

During the first year the legs can be pinkish gray. At all post-fledging ages the claws are black to slate.

Adult Cinereous Vulture.

In older adults the legs and feet are white with a pink tinge and the claws can be slate.

Breeding habitat; Cataluña, Spain. 

During the breeding season, Cinereous Vultures can be found in various habitats, including forests, mountain plateaus, steppes, semi-deserts, deserts, and grasslands.

Nonbreeding habitat; Extremadura, Spain. 

Cinereous Vultures are typically found dry, open habitats during the nonbreeding season. Such habitats include grasslands, closed shrublands, woody savannas, steppes, plains, forests, and sandy areas.

Juvenile in a dump; Castilla y León, Spain. 

Cinereous Vultures have been observed foraging at garbage dumps. Pictured with Eurasian Griffons (Gyps fulvus) and White Storks (Ciconia ciconia).

Breeding habitat; Extremadura, Spain. 

In Extremadura, breeding habitat includes evergreen oak parklands, open areas, scrub, and woodlands at altitudes of 200-800m.

Breeding habitat; Cataluña, Spain. 

Typically found in open areas with mountainous terrain.

Breeding habitat; Bolu, Türkiye

Generally found in mountainous regions with both open and steep areas during the breeding season.

Breeding habitat; Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France.

In France, Cinereous Vultures are known to breed in mountainous areas with flat sites and steep cliffs.

Breeding habitat; Bolu, Türkiye.

Typically found in montane forests in Türkiye.

Breeding habitat; Mts'khet'a-Mt'ianet'i, Georgia. 

Breeding habitats in Georgia include steppe, semi-deserts, arid woodlands, and riparian forests.

Breeding habitat; Altai Republic, Russia. 

In the Altai-Sayan region (Russia), breeding populations reside in areas with mountainous terrain.

Breeding habitat; Kalmykia, Russia. 

Breeding habitat in this region is characterized by mountain-steppe habitat.

Breeding habitat; Ongtüstik Qazaqstan oblysy, Kazakhstan

In central Asia, breeding habitat includes low or mid-elevation mountains or hills near open habitats.

Breeding habitat; Samarqand, Uzbekistan

Can be found along mountain slopes near open plateaus.

Breeding habitat; Samarqand, Uzbekistan

Breeding habitat in central Asia is characterized by a combination of mountains and large, open areas.

Breeding habitat; Ömnögovi, Mongolia

In Mongolia, breeding habitat includes steppes, semi-deserts, and mountains.

Breeding habitat; Dornogovi, Mongolia. 

Breeding habitat in this region is characterized by a semi-arid climate, sparse vegetation, and large, open areas.

Breeding habitat; Heilongjiang, China. 

During the breeding season, Cinereous Vultures can be found in mountainous forests and scrub regions.

Roost sites; Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Greece. 

Roosts are generally used from October through January.

Roost sites; Jammy and Kashmir, India. 

Both younger and older individuals appear to prefer roosting on older trees.

Roost sites; Castilla y León, Spain.

Often roosts with Eurasian Griffons (Gyps fulvus).

Nonbreeding habitat; North-West Frontier, Pakistan. 

Observed in plains and desert habitats.

Nonbreeding habitat; Uttar Pradesh, India. 

In the Uttar Pradesh region in India, Cinereous Vultures have been recorded in the Tarai ecozone, which is characterized by tropical moist deciduous forest.

Nonbreeding roost sites; Sind, Pakistan.

Known to roost on cliff escarpments.

Feeding on fish. 

Feeds on carrion.

Feeding on a sheep. 

In the Iberian Peninsula, Cinereous Vultures feed on a variety of mammals and birds.

Juvenile preening. 

Preening generally takes place in the morning at the nest or at roost sites before foraging begins. Cinereous Vultures also preen after returning to the nest.

Two immatures fighting.

Cinereous Vultures also initiate aggressive behavior against conspecifics.

Fighting with a Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus). 

Very aggressive at carcasses. Cinereous Vultures are aggressive against individuals from other species.

Nest on rock ledges. 

Nest site typically varies by location and can include trees, rocky outcrops, ledges, and cliffs.

Nest on rock outcrops. 

In Mongolia, Cinereous Vultures commonly nest on rocky outcrops and ledges.

Nest on treetop. 

Breeding pairs in Europe nearly always nest in trees.

Frontal view of nest. 

Nests are large and mainly consist of branches.

View of nest cup. 

Nest interior comprised of finer materials, such as thinner branches, wool, scraps of fur, and pine needles.

Adult and chick on nest.

Across different breeding locations, Cinereous Vultures use a variety of large, dry branches to build their nest.

Adult feeding chick. 

Nestlings are fed both water and solid food, in which the chick will receive food from the adult's bill or stimulate the adult to regurgitate.

Dorsal view of fledgling. 

Fledglings continue to beg for food, even after leaving the nest.

Dead individual. 

Observed at the base of a wind turbine. Typically, mortality via collision with a wind turbine is very low in this species.


Macaulay Library Photos for Cinereous Vulture

Top-rated photos submitted to the Macaulay Library via eBird. Note: Our content editors have not confirmed the species identification for these photos.

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