Hooded Vulture: The Ultimate Guide

The hooded vulture can seem like a scary creature, with the strange bare face and hunger for carcasses. However, they’re a surprisingly welcoming bird that often makes a home alongside humans.

They may never make good companions, but they do a remarkable job of clearing up food waste.

Sadly, the population of hooded vultures has struggled over recent years. Destruction of habitat and poaching has affected them badly, and they’re considered at a high risk for disappearing altogether.

Learning about these remarkable birds can help with conservation efforts, keeping the hooded vulture safe for generations to come. This ultimate guide can teach you everything you need to know about the incredible hooded vulture.

Appearance

The hooded vulture is often described as “scruffy”, which is a surprisingly apt term for this unusual creature. They have the typical appearance of an Old World vulture, with dark brown coloring across the body.

Relatively small, the hooded vulture can grow to a size of 24 to 28 inches long (61-71 cm), with a wingspan of 61 to 71 inches on average (155-180 cm). They tend to weigh around 3.3 to 5.7 pounds (1.5-2.6 kg).

The most distinctive part of the hooded vulture is the downy nape and neck from which it gets its name.

Although most of the face and crown of the vulture is bare skin, the hooded vulture has a patch of fluffy feathers across the back of the head. This gives the appearance that they’re wearing a hood.

Juveniles appear very similar to the fully grown hooded vulture, although they have slightly darker coloring, especially on the hood.

Male vs Female

There is very little difference in appearance between the male and female hooded vulture.  The most obvious physical difference is the eyelashes. Females tend to have longer eyelashes than the males. They’re also larger on average.

Are They Aggressive?

The hooded vulture isn’t necessarily aggressive, and will happily make a home near humans. Although they can become territorial, as a scavenger bird they’re mostly happy to keep to themselves, and avoid too much danger.

A smaller vulture, it can often find itself pushed out of the way by bigger, more aggressive vultures, especially when eating.

What Adaptations Do They Have?

The hooded vulture, like all vultures, has adaptations to suit a scavenger life. Their beaks and talons are sharp for eating and ripping at carcasses.

The feet are designed for running, and aren’t as strong at clutching on to branches. The hooded vulture has a bare face, so bacteria from eating can be killed by sunlight. 

The hooded vulture has adapted in one particular way to aid in the fight for food. A smaller vulture, it’s able to take flight quickly, and move fast on the warm thermals.

This allows the vulture to spy carrion before anyone else, getting a good meal before the larger prey birds descend.

Used to a life near humans, the vulture has adapted its feeding habits to make use of human leftovers. They’ll nest near settlements, and take food from the garbage.

Breeding/Reproductive Behavior

It’s been observed that the hooded vulture forms a monogamous relationship. The courting ritual is a quiet process, although the male will sometimes swoop down on the female, or dance around on the ground with its talons on show. 

A successful courtship and mating will often result in a single egg. This is incubated by both parents, who also help care for the new chick.

Incredibly weak for the first few months of its life, this chick requires lots of care before it can fly. Even then, it sticks around until almost fully grown before departing the nest.

Reproduction occurs during the dry season.

Their Calls/Sounds

Hooded Vulture

An adult hooded vulture is a generally quiet bird. During breeding, it will make the occasional shrill whistle. They’ve also been observed calling to each other when feeding from carrion or the garbage heap. This noise can be quite thin and shrieking, or a strange barking call.

Juveniles, on the other hand, can be very noisy. They make peeping noises when in the nest.

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

The hooded vulture is a scavenger bird, and will seek out carcasses to feast upon. But they’re also indiscriminate eaters, helping themselves to food from the garbage.

In this way, they can be surprisingly helpful to humans, removing waste before it has a chance to go bad. In wilder areas, the hooded vulture has been observed following other scavenger animals, such as African wild dogs, on their quest for food.

When carrion can’t be found, the hooded vulture will eat insects instead. Especially when those insects can be found in large numbers. Hooded vultures who live near the coast will also eat mussels, mollusks, and even dead fish.

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

Widely recorded across Africa, the hooded vulture makes it home in a range of habitats. Although they mostly like areas with trees for nest building, the hooded vulture has been recorded living in areas with little tree coverage.

Savannas, open grasslands, deserts, and even coastal areas have all been home to hooded vultures. They also don’t shy away from human settlements, and will sometimes seek them out.

Living close to humans gives them an opportunity to try another food source – garbage.

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

Hooded vultures build large stick nests high up in the trees. These nests are often lined with leaves, and can be from 20 to 120 feet (6 to 37 meters) in the air. Nestled in the branches of trees such as the baobab, it can be quite hard to spot the nests of the hooded vulture.

A single egg is laid in the nest, and then both the male and female will help with incubation. The female tends to stay with the egg, while the male is in charge of finding food.

Incubation lasts for 46 to 54 days, and fledging is between 80 and 130 days. Even after the first flight, the juvenile hooded vulture will stay in the nest for 3 to 4 months.

The hooded vulture has been observed returning to the same nest every year. They don’t travel far, and will stay near the nest year round.

How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)

The expected lifespan of the hooded vulture is 20 to 25 years. They begin life as very weak and vulnerable chicks, who rely on their parents until several months after first flight.

Having left the nest, the hooded vulture is relatively solitary, although some have been observed to form large flocks. 

What Predators Do They Have?

The hooded vulture doesn’t have many predators to worry about – their sharp claws and beaks tend to keep them safe. However, as a smaller vulture, they are at a higher risk. Larger vultures might attack them to access a food source.

What Are Their Feathers Like?

Long, brown feathers cover most of the hooded vulture’s body. The exception is the head, where small, almost down-like feathers cover the back of the neck, giving a hooded appearance.

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

Humans have gotten pretty familiar with the poop of the hooded vulture, because in areas of Ghana they live in close contact.

Students at Ghanaian universities have to contend with being pooped on as often as once a month. The poop is a white colored liquid, and not what you want landing on your head.

Do They Migrate?

The hooded vulture doesn’t migrate, and they prefer to move very little. They stick mostly to their own patch, and rarely venture beyond the necessary searches for food.

The home range of the hooded vulture is small for the most part, and this scavenging bird finds few reasons to leave it.

Conservation Status

The hooded vulture is currently listed as critically endangered, due to a worrying decline in the population. A loss of habitat, hunting, and even poisoning has led to a rapid reduction in the numbers of hooded vultures.

They’re often a victim of poachers, even if they aren’t being directly targeted. Poachers will poison elephants and other large animals. The vulture will then feast on the carcass of these creatures, ingesting the poison themselves.

Although the hooded vulture can still be found in relatively high numbers in some areas of Africa, in other places their numbers have decreased drastically.

Fun Facts

The hooded vulture can sometimes be found hanging around farms. It waits for the humans to plow the fields, and then picks up the grubs and insects left in the wake.

Vultures aren’t known for being fussy eaters, and the hooded vulture will happily help itself to any leftovers. In some areas, this has led to them being nicknamed “garbage collectors”, because of how much food waste they clean up.

The skin on the hooded vulture’s face can change color with emotion, just like human blushing.

Hooded vultures enjoy sunbathing. They can be seen stretching their wings out, and basking in the heat of the sun. This isn’t just for pleasure – doing so can help kill any bacteria left behind after eating.