Red-Headed Vulture: The Ultimate Guide

The Red Headed Vulture is an interesting animal. There are 23 different species of vulture, and the Red Headed Vulture is just one of them. However, there are lots of things that make this specific type of Vulture very different to any others. 

There are lots of things that you might be looking to find out about Red Headed Vultures, and this is something that we are going to explore in this article.

We have compiled this guide that contains everything that you need to know about Red Headed Vultures, to save you some time. Just keep reading to find out more.

Appearance

The Red Headed Vulture is a medium-sized vulture of 76 to 86 cm (30 to 34 in) in length, weighing 3.5–6.3 kg (7.7–13.9 lb), and having a wingspan of about 1.99–2.6 m (6.5–8.5 ft).

It has a prominent naked head that ranges from deep red to orange in adults and a paler red in the juveniles. It also has a black body with a pale grey band at the base of the flight feathers.

Male Vs Female

Something that makes male Red Headed Vultures different to female Red Headed Vultures is the colour of the iris. Males are known to have a paler, whitish iris, whilst in females, it is dark brown.

Are They Aggressive?

Even though these birds are often portrayed as intimidating, vultures are pretty harmless.  They don’t typically have any incentive to attack humans, and they lack the physical attributes that could pose a threat.

There are some vultures that will spew projectile vomit as a defense mechanism, but this is about the extent of their hostile behavior.

Vultures in general are relatively social and often feed, fly, or roost in large flocks. However, the Red Headed Vulture is well-known for its solitude, as they enjoy their own company. There aren’t many Red Headed Vultures that will be around others. 

What Adaptations Do They Have?

Due to the fact that they have naked heads and necks, vultures need to have a mechanism to control their temperature as heat exchanges easier through naked skin than through the insulation of feathers.

When they are circling the sky, ambient temperatures are cold, which is why they have an erectable ring of feathers around the base of the neck, which is called a ruff. 

The ruff acts like a scarf, keeping them warmer. These Vultures also pull their necks into their bodies when in flight to prevent heat loss. The naked skin is really useful when it comes to dissipating heat when on the ground on hotter days.

Vultures also have flat feet and their claws are less curved than those of eagles. This is because they spend a lot of time on the ground. They do not rely on talons to hunt, so they don’t need curved talons.

Instead, they tend to perch on prominent and sturdy benches. As they are quite heavy birds, they need a solid place to land and a convenient place from which they can gain the needed leverage to take flight. 

The crop is a distensible storage ‘sock’ that can be found in front of the oesophagus. As you probably already know, Red Headed Vultures are scavengers, and their food supply is not guaranteed on a daily basis.

This is why they have developed the ability to fill their crops in around 2 minutes. This food will remain undigested and in storage. They can fill it with around up to 1.4 kg (3 lbs) of carrion.

Interestingly, if the vulture were to feel either distrubed or threatened, they will regurgitate their crop load. This would help to lighten the bird and allow it to escape more easily, but it also acts as a gross deterrent to the predator.

If they have to do this though, they will lose out on a guaranteed meal.

Red Headed Vultures also have strong bills that have adapted to tear through flesh. They are curved and they have a fingernail texture and grow throughout life.

Something that works well with this is the serrated and rough tongues of the vulture that are great for prying smaller bits of meat off carcasses and bones.

The final adaptation of the Red Headed Vulture is their excellent eyesight, and some sources state that they are able to see a 6 cm (2.4 inches) object from 1 km (0.6 miles) up in the sky.

Their eyesight is certainly better than that of a human’s. Something else that is interesting to know about their eyes is that they have two lenses. One of these lenses allows them to see the broader landscape like a fisheye lens, and the other lens allows them to magnify objects.

Their eyes are large relative to the size of their skulls and bodies, which allows a bigger image to form on the retina, providing much more detail.

What Do They Eat (Diet)

Just like the majority of other vultures, their diets mostly consist of carrion, and they have been known to feed on the carcasses of  large ungulates, birds, turtles and fish.

All vultures will feed on carrion, but they have also been known to hunt small prey, such as insects, lizards, smaller birds and rodents.

Where Do They Live (Habitat)

The Red Headed Vulture is now found in low numbers across India, except in the western Himalayan foothills where they are the most common.

They were previously widespread throughout Southeast Asia, but they are now primarily restricted to northern and eastern plains of Cambodia and are considered to be almost extinct in Thailand.

This species of vulture can commonly be found in open country away from humans, wooded hills, thorn forest of semi-arid zones, semi-deserts, and dry deciduous forests with rivers.

More often than not, they will occupy areas that are below 2,500m (8202ft) in altitude. They tend to build large, flat nests at the tops of tall trees.

What Are Their Nesting Habits

Red-headed Vultures typically create their nests at the tops of tall trees, and they will cover them in order to offer them protection. As well as this nests are also found solitary.

How Long Do They Live (Lifespan)

On average, the red headed turkey can live for around 20 years, but they have been known to live for longer or shorter than this. Something that often affects the overall lifespan of the red headed turkey is the threats that they face when it comes to a loss of habitat. 

What Predators Do They Have?

There aren’t many predators for Red Headed Vultures as they are big birds of prey that smell bad and don’t make the best of meals. There aren’t many things that would want to prey on a vulture.

However, on occasion, another bird of prey like a hawk or an eagle, might steal a baby vulture out of a nest. Typically, adult Red Headed Vultures don’t have much to fear from predators.

What Are Their Feathers Like?

The feathers of a red headed vulture are long and soft. They are also varying shades of brown and black, but they typically have white feathers around their chest area.

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

Just like the poop of most other birds, the poop of a red headed vulture is a white-colored liquid.

Conservation Status

The red-headed vulture used to be declining. However, in 2004, the species was uplisted to near threatened from least concern by the IUCN.

Although, the widespread use of the NSAID diclofenac in veterinary medicine in India has caused its population to collapse in recent years.

This is a compound that is known to be extremely poisonous to vultures, and the Red Headed Vulture population has halved every other year since the 1990s. 

What was once a plentiful species numbering in the hundreds of thousands has come dangerously close to extinction in less than two decades. Due to this, they were uplisted to critically endangered in the 2007 IUCN Red List.

Meloxicam is an alternative compound that has so far been found to be safe to vultures, and its use in veterinary treatment of livestock is being encouraged.

The red-headed vulture has started becoming harder to come by as it is being hunted down. There are programs in place to help this species survive, but it hasn’t been effective enough thus far.

Fun Facts

The red-headed vulture is also known as the Asian king vulture, Indian black vulture or Pondicherry vulture. It is an Old World vulture that is mainly found in the Indian subcontinent, with small disjunct populations in some parts of Southeast Asia.

The red-headed vulture is actually one of the few species of large vulture that does not live in large groups. This species of bird will usually be found either alone or in a breeding pair. 

This is a rare type of bird in South-East Asia, and it is unlikely that more than a few hundred individuals remain there. The total population of the Red Headed Vulture is unlikely to be more than 10,000 mature individuals.