Cape Vulture: The Ultimate Guide

The Cape Vulture, also known as the Kolbe’s Vulture, the Cape Griffon, and Gyps coprotheres, is the world’s third-largest Old-World vulture. It is the only indigenous vulture species in southern Africa and the largest raptor in the country.

Appearance

A mature Cape Vulture has creamy-buff plumage with blackish-brown flying feathers and rectrices. Its scapulars and larger wing-coverts similarly have dark brown center spots.

Its underparts are paler, with a pale cream body and underwing coverts that give it the appearance of being virtually white from a distance. Its head and neck are almost completely exposed. It has yellow or reddish-brown eyes and a black bill. 

At the base of its neck, there is a present white ruff that is black and white in hue. It has fluffy white feathers covering its nape. The Cape Vulture has bare legs and long, powerful talons that are completely black. 

Male Vs Female

Just like with many other species of vultures, when it comes to telling the males apart from the females, female Cape Vultures are typically larger than males. Female Cape Vultures can develop to an average length of 110 cm (43 inches) and weigh between 5 and 9 kg (11-19lbs).

It has a wingspan of up to 255 cm (7.3 ft). But this isn’t always a foolproof method, as some large male Cape Vultures have been mistaken for females in the past.

If you want to be sure of what gender a Cape Vulture is, the only sure way to tell would be to take a look at their anatomy or their breeding behavior. 

Are they aggressive?

Typically, Cape Vultures are not aggressive, at least not toward humans. However, it’s important to keep in mind that information and studies on this species of vulture are limited and hard to come by.

But based on the evidence, we can assume that Cape Vultures aren’t typically aggressive toward people. 

Just like many other species of vulture, the Cape Vulture likes to live and scavenge in groups. At any particular carcass, there could be multiple vultures trying to get at the food. So, in these cases, there are sometimes aggressive displays and fighting amongst these birds. 

What adaptations do they have?

The most prominent adaptations the Cape Vulture has experienced are to do with their feeding behavior. White-backed, as well as Cape Vultures, have a unique groove and serrated tongues which allow them to access soft flesh which may not be accessible with their beaks.

They can fill their crops within 5 minutes allowing them to quickly exit the feeding frenzy and digest the food they have just taken in.

Also, like most other vulture species, the Cape Vulture has a very strong and durable bill that has adapted to tear through tough flesh effortlessly.

The bills are curved and have a fingernail-like texture and they continue to grow throughout the Cape Vulture’s entire life. 

Breeding/reproduction behavior

From April to July is the Cape Vulture breeding season. The nest is built by both male and female Cape Vultures out of sticks and dry grass. The female Cape Vulture only lays one egg, which both adults incubate.

Following that, the egg will hatch. The chick has white feathers. Both parents will provide excellent care for the bird, feeding the young through regurgitation. For roughly 140 days, the young fledge.

However, the majority of children do not survive their first year of life. Only around one-fifth of the chicks survive to adulthood.

Their calls/sounds

Like many other vulture species, Cape Vultures are pretty quiet most of the time. While feeding and fighting, they create raspy, drawn-out hissing sounds, as well as grunting noises that can seem like hungry pigs or dogs barking in the distance.

Vultures that are courting may make a yapping sound. Nestlings plead for food with quiet hisses or coughs, and adults near the nest occasionally make creaking, pigeon-like coos.

What do they eat? (diet)

The Cape Vulture is a scavenger that eats carrion. It consumes bone fragments, soft muscles, and organ tissues from the corpses. They soar in groups in search of food, and their excellent eyesight allows them to locate carcasses.

Cape Vultures are vicious fighters—they will engage in a fight to steal other raptors’ food. They put their bare head and neck under the skin of a carcass, not missing every bit of meat.

Scientists have discovered that Cape vulture chicks are predisposed to a disorder known as metabolic bone disease, which is caused by a lack of calcium intake.

It is hypothesized that this is due to fewer large free-roaming predators (such as lions and hyenas) breaking up carcass bones, resulting in fewer bone fragments for adult vultures to bring back to their growing chicks.

Affected chicks have deformed, paper-thin bones, and many of their first flights are tragically their last. We can help support this crucial calcium demand by physically breaking up cadaver bones provided at vulture meals.

Where do they live? (habitat)

The Cape Vulture can be found among mountains, open grassland, desert savannahs, and steppes. The mountains provide the thermal currents required for these large birds to fly. In wooded environments, this species is less common. They nest and breed on cliffs.

How long do they live? (lifespan)

Although little is known about the animals’ lifespan, researchers assume they achieve sexual maturity around the age of five, reproduce in colonies on cliff walls, and pair for life.

A Cape female typically lays one egg each year, with males and females sharing responsibility for the egg’s incubation.

What predators do they have?

Cape Vulture

The Cape Vulture has no known natural predators, but they still fall victim to a number of threats. Most of these threats are posed by humans.

Poisoning, electrocutions, and collisions with energy structures are among the causes of their mortality, and as a result, their numbers are decreasing.

The number of Cape Vultures poisoned (by poachers or negligent farmers) in the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains in 2013 is believed to be 110 birds. 

There are 52 Cape Vultures reported having died as a result of electrocution or collisions with power lines. These figures do not include unreported incidents, birds that were scavenged at the scene, birds that perished away from poisoning or collision sites, or chicks left at nests.

What are their feathers like?

The beautiful creamy-buff plumage of the adult contrasts with the blackish-brown flight feathers and rectrices. The larger wing coverts and scapulars have dark brown center patches.

The underparts are paler, with a creamy white color on the body and underwings. Except for the primaries, which are blackish-brown like the under tail feathers, the flight feathers are paler than those above.

The dark center patches on the underwing coverts can be seen, but they are not always present.

What does their poop look like?

The feces of cape vultures, like that of other birds, is frequently a white-colored liquid. They usually discharge it after stepping on a dead animal since the digestive fluids in the vulture’s excrement eliminate any bacteria present.

Do they migrate?

The Cape Vulture often stays within its hunting territory, traveling up to 100 kilometers (0.62 miles) from nesting and roosting locations. Juveniles may disperse over greater distances and establish nursery patches outside of breeding colonies.

Conservation Status

The Cape Vulture is the only endemic vulture species in southern Africa, and it was recently categorized as ‘endangered.’ Breeding occurs in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, and Mozambique.

Cape Vultures were once found breeding in Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Namibia, but they are now extinct in Swaziland, with just small, non-breeding populations persisting in Zimbabwe and Namibia.

The birds are classified as “vulnerable” to extinction and have an estimated natural population of 8,100.

Farmers and ranchers who poison the carcasses of dead animals to reduce scavenging jackals and leopards that may attack their cattle, as well as interruptions to breeding colonies and electrocution, particularly of young birds, are severe hazards to the creatures.

Fun Facts

The Cape vulture is frequently hunted for use in “muti,” or witch-doctor medicine. Some tribes think the bird has the clairvoyant ability, which explains why they can detect animal carcasses nearly soon after death.

As a result, the brains of the birds are often swallowed by people seeking clairvoyant abilities.

The Cape Vulture has a lot of personality and intelligence. It is the highest-flying vulture, capable of reaching 8,000 meters (5 miles). Its senses, particularly its eyesight, are exceptional—it is 20 times better than humans.

It can even detect thermals, which are the movements of air molecules.

Despite being designated as indigenous in southern Africa, Cape Vultures have become extinct in several areas. Since the 1980s, when it was designated as Threatened, the overall population has been rapidly dropping.

South Africa’s population fell by 60-70 percent between 1992 and 2007.