Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ruppell's Griffon Vulture

Ruppells vulture, also known as Ruppell's griffon vulture is named after Eduard Ruppell, a German explorer who was the first European to reach the Gulf of Aqaba (in 1822) and the first naturalist to traverse Ethiopia. It is a mottled black or brown with a whitish-brown underbelly and the head and neck are covered with a white down. The head and bare neck are gray or blue/gray. It has orange/yellow eyes and a bill that is yellow, horn colored or tinged pink. It was named an endangered species in 2012.  
Ruppell's Griffon Vultures. White tips on feathers give it a mottled look. Photo by Esmee Tooke.
Blue/gray skin on head and neck with sparse white down.
It is found in Senegal, in West Africa, east to Somalia, then south to northern Tanzania. We saw some of these near the southeastern gate of the Serengeti which would be at the southern end of the range. 
Feeding on a wildebeest in Serengeti NP. Photo by Michael Lewin.
I was originally thinking this was a lappett-faced vulture because of the red neck and head. However, I believe it is a Ruppell's Griffon vulture with a red head from blood from the wildebeest kill. Photo by Michael Lewin.
It focuses on soft flesh and intestines at kills and eats only carrion. When the soft flesh is finished, it will continue on with the hide and bones until it is gorged. It can eat about 3 pounds worth of meat. It has backward pointing spines on its tongue that help it remove meat from bone. It will travel as far as 90 miles from where it roosts to a kill, riding the thermals. It is the highest flying of any bird, with evidence of it flying as high as 37,000 feet (where it was sucked into a jet engine of an airplane flying over Cote d'Ivorie in 1973). They commonly fly at 20,000 feet. 
I believe these are all Ruppell's vultures except the one to the far right which is a white-backed vulture. Photo by Michael Lewin.
Feeding on a kill in the Serengeti savanna.
Poor light, but the unmistakable bill.


  1. These really are amazing creatures. The altitude they can reach when flying is astonishing.

  2. I like that ruff around the neck, like a fur piece on an English lord.