White-Rumped vultures (Gyps bengalensis) are Old World vultures native to the South and Southeastern regions of Asia. Listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2000, their populations have declined significantly over the years.
One common cause of earth for these magnificent birds is kidney failure due to diclofenac poisoning.
Once considered as having the largest population of any bird of prey in the world, it was estimated in 2016 that their global population had declined from several million in the 1980s to less than 10,000 mature individuals in 30 years.
Closely related to the European Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), we are going to guide you through everything you need to know about the White-Rumped vulture.
We will be studying its unique characteristics, its conservation status, and much, much more.
The White-Rumped vulture is quite the typical medium-sized vulture. They have an unfeathered head and neck with extremely broad wings and short tail feathers. Although closely related to the Eurasian Griffon, White-Rumped vultures are much smaller.
These birds of prey have a white neck ruff while the adults have a whitish back, rump, and their underwing coverts tend to contrast with their mostly dark plumage. Their body is black with silvery-grey markings in areas.
Its head has a tinge of pink while the bill is silvery with darker ceres. Its nostrils are slit-like, much like other vultures. Juvenile White-Rumped vultures are largely darker in color but, after four to five years, they acquire their adult plumage.
When in flight, adult White-Rumped vultures sport a dark leading edge of their wing alongside a white wing lining on their underside. The undertail coverts are mainly black.
Their eyes are generally a yellowish-brown color while their legs are blackish. The bill is short, deep, and stout.
Male Vs Female
The males and females of these medium-sized vultures are quite similar. Both boast very similar plumage and feather patterns making it quite difficult to tell them apart.
The sexes are also approximately equal in size measuring around 75 to 85 cm in height with a wingspan of 180 to 201 cm.
Are They Aggressive?
White-Rumped vultures have actually adapted extremely well when living close to humans. However, on occasions, these birds of prey can come into conflict with a human population that is in close proximity to them.
But, on the whole, they are not an aggressive species.
What Adaptations Do They Have?
White-Rumped vultures live in some of the hottest regions of the world. Therefore, they have adapted very well to scorching temperatures of 113 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (45 to 49 degrees Celsius).
The breeding season of White-Rumped vultures is from October through to March. Both sexes put on displays by flying in circles extremely slowly close to a breeding area, all the time, keeping their wings close together.
Mating always occurs in the nest or on a branch, near to the nest. You can usually tell when they are mating due to loud calling (which can be quite unpleasant to hear). The mating of these birds is monogamous, especially within the seasons.
The first step of breeding is nest-building and, because White-Rumped vulture’s breeding colonies are mainly built on trees and rock cliffs, it is cliffs that are generally favored over trees for nests.
This is because they offer better security from terrestrial predators and they require fewer twigs and sticks to construct the nest.
Only one egg is laid in a clutch but there have been some reports of two eggs. However, this is assumed to be two different females who use the same nest to lay an egg each.
Incubation takes around 45 to 52 days with both sexes participating in the process. The sexual maturity of White-Rumped vultures remains unknown but research continues to find out more about these tremendous birds of prey.
Communication between White-Rumped vultures is an assortment of hisses, grunts, and squeals. During the mating season and the act of mating itself, the female tends to make a loud, rather unpleasant call.
Incubating birds may sometimes croak or hiss from the nests. White-Rumped vultures are also known to use their postures and movements to communicate but their calls seem to be their main form of communication.
What Do They Eat? (Diet)
The diet of a White-Rumped vulture is predominantly the remains of dead animals. This is regardless of whether the meat is putrid or fresh.
Most of these birds tend to forage for food through dumpsters and those that live near slaughterhouses love to feat from the remains in garbage disposals outside. Ever heard the phrase “they eat like a vulture?” Now you may understand why!
These vultures also like to feed on fish from dried-out lakes. In parts of India, these birds mainly eat cattle as well as human remains.
When they feed, they tear open the flesh with their beaks and begin feeding on the supple flesh located close to the tail.
They usually fight between themselves when eating or foraging for food by kicking and flapping their wings to drive other vultures away from the area.
White-Rumped vultures also gorge themselves on carrion if they have the chance which leaves them unable to fly due to the huge amounts of food they have consumed. Greedy!
In general, these species do not capture prey for food as they prefer to feed on carcasses. However, they have been known to kill animals on occasions.
Where Do They Live? (Habitat)
White-Rumped vultures are usually found dwelling in cities, towns, and villages. Anywhere that is near human habitation. They live in temperate regions such as plains and, in some cases, hilly areas.
They are generally found around open areas as well as fields that are enclosed by scattered trees. They mostly feed on the ground but nest, and roost, in trees and cliffs.
Most of their time is spent soaring on wind currents as they search for carrion. Their nests are typically 2 to 18 meters above the ground.
What Are Their Nesting Habits?
White-Rumped vultures build most of their nests on cliff edges rather than trees as these areas offer more protection from terrestrial predators. Also, fewer twigs are needed so less work is required to make such nests.
Nesting trees require well-spaced branches so the birds have enough room for movement. On the whole, the males tend to gather the twigs while the female arranges them to build the actual nest.
How Long Do They Live?
Currently, there is little information regarding the lifespan of Gyps bengalensis. However, it is widely agreed that they typically live in captivity for 17.2 years on average but, in the wild, it remains a slight mystery.
What Predators Do They Have?
Being quite large birds, White-Rumped vultures do not have many predators. However, in Bangladesh, these birds are known to build their nests at lower heights than in other regions.
This has led to their eggs being taken by lizards, pythons, and a whole host of other carnivores. Moreover, the biggest threat to White-Rumped vultures is humans.
These birds have been used as a source of medicines for many years but a small number of these species have been captured as pets and, unfortunately, for displays at circuses. They are not usually captured for food, however.
What Are Their Feathers Like?
Adults are darker than their juvenile counterparts. The adults have a blackish plumage with a white neck-ruff and a white patch of feather on their lower back and upper tail.
A pale grey patch is visible on the upper surface of the wings but only when the wings are folded. The wing’s undersides have a dark slate to a brownish hue.
During flight, you can see their white underwing coverts. Immature White-Rumped vultures have a dark brown color on their lower back and rump area, rather than white.
And, their underwing covert is generally a dark brown. They are all distinguishable by the white bar found under their wings.
What Does Their Poop Look Like?
As with other vultures and most other birds, the feces of a White-Rumped vulture is often white-colored. This is usually expelled after stepping on an animal carcass as the digestive juices in the feces can kill any bacteria present on the dead animal.
Do They Migrate?
The White-Rumped vulture is not a migratory bird. It stays around the same region most of its life and is not seen outside of Asia.
Unfortunately, there are a range of threats to this extraordinary species of bird. These include diseases, pesticides, poisoning, reduced availability of food, calcium deficiency, environmental contamination, reduced habitat for nesting, hunting, and much more.
Although DDT and HCH pesticides have been banned in India, they are still largely used and high levels of these pesticides have been found in tissue samples of White-rumped vulture carcasses.
Populations have declined as much as 95% in Pakistan and India while they completely disappeared in southeastern Asia during the early part of the 20th century in countries such as Malaysia and southern China.
A single White-Rumped vulture can eat around 120kg of meat every year. Good luck flying after that!