(1716) Gypaetus barbatus hemachalanus
THE HIMALAYAN BEARDED Vulture or LAMMERGEYER.
Gypaetus hemachalanus Hutton, J. A. S. B., vii, p. 22 (1838) (Simla). Gypaetus barbatus. Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 328.
Vernacular names. Argul (Hin.,Mussooree); Okhab (Chamba).
Description. Bristles of lores, chin and cere black, the latter with white bases; a black line round the front of the eye and over it extending back and into the occiput; crown white, more or less speckled with black; sides of the head white with black bristles in front of the face, black lines on the side of the head and a black streak below and behind the ear-coverts ; upper back, shorter scapulars and inner coverts black with narrow white shaft stripes broader at the tips; remainder of upper plumage deep silvery-grey, most of the feathers white-shafted and with black edges; feathers of the nape and neck white, more or less tinged with rufous and, especially on the nape, long and lanceolate; chin, throat and breast, pale creamy-white to pale buffy-grey but almost invariably stained rufous or deep ferruginous, the feathers of the breast broadly tipped with black forming a gorget, interrupted in the centre ; abdomen, vent and under tail-coverts white, more or less tinged with rufous; flanks purer white; under wing-coverts like the back; longest axillaries white with broad black edges, the shorter like the wing-coverts.
Colours of soft parts. Iris pale to blood-orange, the sclerotic membrane blood-red; bill horny-brown, the tip almost black; feet plumbeous-grey.
Measurements. Wing, 726 to 815 mm., 755 to 850 mm.; tail 440 to 555 mm.; tarsus 86 to 95 mm.; culmen 74 to 85 mm. mid-toe and claw 95 to 102 mm.
Young birds have the head and neck black; the upper parts brownish-black and the lower parts greyish-brown with no white shaft-stripes.
Intermediate stages between the young and fully adult plumage are common.
Nestling in down dull, pale, grey-brown sometimes tinged with ferruginous, probably merely a stain from the lower plumage of the adult brooding-bird.
Distribution. Afghanistan, Sind, Baluchistan, the Salt ranges of the Punjab and the whole of the Himalayas as far east as Bhutan.
Nidification. The Himalayan Bearded Vulture breeds throughout its range at elevations of 4,500 feet upwards but up to what elevation it actually nests there is no record. Jones, Dodsworth and Whymper all record 8,000 feet or lower as the limit and it does not appear to have been found nesting at any great elevations in Kashmir. Meinertzhagen records its breeding at 10,000 feet near Quetta and "Williams took eggs on the Marachak also near Quetta at nearly the same elevation. A Bearded "Vulture certainly breeds in Ladak at 14,000 feet but this is probably the Central Asian race altaicus. it was seen by Osmaston up to 16,500 feet during June in Ladak. The nest is always built on a ledge, or in a cave or crevice on the face of a cliff, often in absolutely inaccessible places, occasionally where they can be taken by hand. Dodsworth, who visited sixteen eyries in the Simla States during January and February of 1912, found that nearly all the nests showed signs of having been occupied for many years and the Hill-men told him that some bad been used as long as their village had been in existence. Some were of immense size, composed of sticks and rubbish but nearly always with wool, skins, etc, in the depression as a lining. The number of eggs •may be either two or one, never three. In colour they vary from a very pale dull greyish, tinged with ferruginous and sometimes blotched and spotted with various shades of red, to a deep, almost uniform ferruginous-red, the overlying blotches and spots so profuse as to practically cover the whole ground. Occasionally an egg is pale clay or buffy-stone colour, with numerous blotches and spots of lavender. In shape they are broad ovals, pointed eggs being quite exceptional. Sixty eggs average 85.0 x 67.4 mm. as against 82.8 x 65.5 mm., the average of seventy-one European eggs: maxima 91.5 x 70.0 and 87.0 x 72.0 mm.; minima 76.5 x 72.0 mm. The breeding-season lasts from December to February, a few eggs only being laid in March.
Habits. This magnificent bird is a scavenger like the Vultures, living principally on carrion and offal but they have been seen to carry off fowls, wounded game-birds, such as Partridges, Pheasants, etc., and Ward records finding a hare in the stomach of one bird. It has also the curious, though well-known, habit of carrying big bones high into the air and dropping them on rocks so that they may be smashed into small enough bits to swallow. It is credited with killing lambs, fawns and young of the various hill-goats but there is little actual proof that they ever do so. They are not gregarious or even sociable and will not join with Vultures in quarrelling over carcases. When very hungry, however, they will sometimes drive the Vultures away, though, as a rule, they are content to wait and take the bones which these birds leave. The flying power of these birds is very wonderful, especially in the manner in which they soar continuously or glide along the face of some cliff. When thus engaged their heads turn from one side to the other, the wedge-shaped tail moves now and then like a rudder but the wings, stretched, pointed and motionless, seem hardly to alter their position at all, until they suddenly break into a few rapid beats and flap out of sight, Wollaston records that during the Everest Expedition this bird was seen soaring at an elevation of 24,000 feet.
* Kirke-Swann, Bull. B. O. C, xlv, p. 85, March 1925.