The Lappet-Faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) is an Old-World vulture, meaning that the species is distributed across parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe.
If you’ve never frequented any of these geographical locations, you may never have encountered a Lappet-Faced Vulture.
However, these impressive (yet odd-looking) birds play an important role in their ecosystem and the current status of its population is inextricably intertwined with human existence and behavior.
Therefore, learning more about this species is of the utmost importance.
Below is a complete guide to the Lappet-Faced Vulture, including key identifiers and a detailed breakdown of the species’ life cycle.
The Lappet-Faced Vulture can, admittedly, be quite alarming to look at.
For one thing, this vulture is quite formidable in terms of size. In fact, out of all the vultures in its native habitat (more on this below), the Lappet-Faced Vulture is the largest, with a body measuring between 37 and 45 inches (95-115 centimeters) in length.
Its wingspan can grow up to 9.5 feet (2.9 meters).
The body and wings of the Lappet-Faced Vulture are covered in dark brown, almost black feathers, while its thighs contrast strikingly with their white feathers. The underside of this bird’s body can vary from white to brown in color.
The Lappet-Faced Vulture is bald-headed, and the color of the skin on its head can be almost red, light pink, or even gray, depending on its location.
Lappet-Faced Vultures also have especially large bills, measuring 3.9 inches long and 2 inches in depth. This qualifies it as one of the largest bills in the accipitridae family.
The feature that gives the Lappet-Faced Vulture its name, however, is its wrinkled neck and face. The folds of skin that cover these areas are called lappets.
Juvenile Lappet-Faced Vultures are lighter in color than the adults, appearing more brown than black.
Male Vs. Female
Female Lappet-Faced Vultures can be distinguished from male vultures of the same species in terms of size.
This is because reverse sexual dimorphism is present between the sexes, so the females are significantly larger and heavier.
If you come across a Lappet-Faced Vulture weighing between 23 and 30 lbs (that’s 10.5 to 13.6 kg), it’s almost definitely a female because males typically don’t surpass 20 lbs (9.2 kg) in weight.
Are They Aggressive?
Out of all the birds of prey that live in the same geographical area as the Lappet-Faced Vulture, Torgos tracheliotos is definitely one of the most aggressive in temperament.
Although they may be shier around humans, Lappet-Faced Vultures will be very aggressive when they go in for the kill.
Other vulture species will usually back off and surrender animal carcasses to the more powerful and aggressive Lappet-Faced Vulture.
What Adaptations Do They Have?
One of the most important adaptations of the Lappet-Faced Vulture is, surprisingly enough, its bald head!
The reason behind this adaptation is quite gruesome, but essentially, the head is bald because blood splatters from prey would be likely to stick in the feathers and make it difficult to keep clean.
In addition to this, the Lappet-Faced Vulture’s large bill is an adaptation that allows it to tear into carcasses more easily, especially given the prominent and sharp hook at the end.
Lappet-Faced Vultures have keen eyesight to help them spot carcasses and live prey from far away, and their tongues are rough and muscular for maneuvering chunks of flesh into their bills.
Lappet-Faced Vultures, unlike some other birds of prey, are able to mate and breed all throughout the year.
These vultures are monogamous and they actually mate for life in some cases, although they may also switch partners after a few breeding seasons.
As part of their courting rituals, pairs of Lappet-Faced Vultures will engage in courtship feeding and will guard both one another and their nest.
Once mating has taken place, female Lappet-Faced Vultures will typically lay one egg at a time.
Compared to some other vultures and birds of prey in general, Lappet-Faced Vultures are not particularly vocal.
Although they might let out a squawk, growl, or hiss as a way of warning other birds to back off their chosen perch or meal, Lappet-Faced Vultures won’t usually make their presence known through sound.
What Do They Eat? (Diet)
Lappet-Faced Vultures prefer to feed on freshly-killed carcasses, particularly those of other birds, small mammals, and reptiles.
Where no such meals are available, the Lappet-Faced Vulture may target smaller, live animals such as hatchling birds. In some cases, live flamingos, guineafowl, and even juvenile impalas will make appropriate meals for the Lappet-Faced Vulture.
When hunting live prey, Lappet-Faced Vultures will perch up high and wait for the opportune moment to dive onto their prey. The impact shocks the animal and makes it less able to defend itself while the vulture attacks with its bill.
In most cases, however, the Lappet-Faced Vulture favors prey that is already deceased. Most other birds of prey will give way to the Lappet-Faced Vulture because they are more powerful, which allows the vulture to tear open the carcass first.
This is actually beneficial to other scavengers who might not have the adaptations to do so.
Afterward, Lappet-Faced Vultures will often stay in the vicinity of the carcass and wait to feed on the remains. This often includes tendons and other tough remnants that other birds and animals wouldn’t be able to get through.
Where Do They Live? (Habitat)
There are 2 subspecies of Lappet-Faced Vulture. The most prevalent subspecies is distributed across Africa, while the other (Torgos tracheliotos negevensis) is primarily native to the Negev desert as well as the Arabian Peninsula and the Sinai Peninsula.
The Lappet-Faced Vulture lives in dry, desert areas. This vulture prefers mostly open plains with a few trees here and there to perch and ambush prey as needed.
What Are Their Nesting Habits ?
Because Lappet-Faced Vultures mate for life, pairs of these vultures will work together to create and defend a nest for their young.
Nesting pairs will move away from other solitary or paired vultures to build their nest.
These nests are made from twigs and dry grass and will usually be quite flat. In terms of positioning, Lappet-Faced Vultures typically choose treetops that give them the upper ground.
Once the female has laid her egg, the parents will incubate it for a period of between 7 and 8 weeks. The hatchling will remain dependent on the parent vultures for up to 135 days.
How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)
On average, the Lappet-Faced Vulture can live for 40 years. Each generation is about 15 years long.
What Predators Do They Have?
Lappet-Faced Vultures do not have many predators in the wild. Other vultures may be predated upon by hawks, but because of the Lappet-Faced Vulture’s increased size and power, this is an unlikely scenario.
Snakes can be dangerous to the Lappet-Faced Vulture, as can large wild cats.
What Does Their Poop Look Like?
Like all vultures, the Lappet-Faced Vulture produces liquid, white excrement, although it’s important to note that not all of this waste is fecal in nature. The white color is actually produced by uric acid, which is expelled along with the feces.
Lappet-Faced Vultures are known to defecate on themselves, usually their legs.
This might sound unhygienic, but it actually serves an important purpose, which is for the uric acid in the excrement to counteract any bacteria their feathers may have picked up from their feeding habits.
Do They Migrate?
Lappet-Faced Vultures do not migrate regularly in most areas.
However, Lappet-Faced Vultures that live in West Africa have been observed to migrate temporarily southward when the weather is dry, and northward at the onset of the rainy season.
The Lappet-Faced Vulture is currently classified by the IUCN as Endangered. This means that the continued existence of this vulture species is threatened, and without intervention, the population may continue to decline.
In Arabia, the population status of the Lappet-Faced Vulture is currently stable. However, the populations across Africa have been declining, which is what ultimately led to the conservation status being updated to Endangered in 2015.
Habitat destruction through deforestation and farming has contributed significantly to the decline. Additionally, there has been an increase in direct attacks on the Lappet-Faced Vulture population, either through shooting or poisoning using strychnine.
This is often done either by poachers or by farmers concerned for the safety of their cattle, but the reality is that the damage to the numbers of Lappet-Faced Vultures has a detrimental impact on the entire ecosystem.
Although Lappet-Faced Vultures have long and relatively sharp claws on their feet, they are not very good at grasping things with them. Their feet are mainly built for running.
One Lappet-Faced Vulture has the ability to strip a small animal carcass right down to the bone in a matter of just 20 minutes.
Lappet-Faced Vultures can lower their metabolisms automatically when sleeping, which minimizes the number of calories they burn at rest.