(1709) Gyps himalayensis.
THE HIMALAYAN- Griffon.
Gyps himalayensis Hume, Rough Notes, i, p. 12 (1869) (Simla) ; Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 321.
Vernacular names. Barra Gid (Chamba).
Description. Head and upper neck covered with dirty yellow hair-like feathers, these turning whiter and more downy on the lower neck; feathers of ruff long and lanceolate, pale butt" or fulvous with central whitish shaft-streaks; on the chest these feathers turn to dense white down, running completely round the light brown breast-patch; upper parts and wing-coverts pale fulvous-brown, the centres of the feathers browner and showing up in irregular patches ; outer greater coverts, wing-quills and tail dark brown, the inner secondaries tipped paler; feathers of "shirt-front" with faint pale streaks; lower parts fulvescent, darker on the breast and almost white on the vent and lower tail-coverts, with faint central streaks which show fairly plainly on the darker breast.
In some individuals there is a distinct isabelline tinge on the scapulars and back; the depth of colour varies very greatly and it probably takes several years for the palest plumage to be attained.
Colours of soft parts. Iris dull yellow or creamy-yellow to pale brown; bill horny-green, dull yellowish-horny or yellowish-plumbeous ; cere pale brown or greenish-brown ; legs and feet dingy greenish-grey or white.
Measurements. Wing 755 to 805 mm.; tail 365 to 402 mm.; tarsus about 110 to 126 mm.; culmen 71 to 77 mm. (one Tibet, 81); mid-toe and claw 121 to 135 mm.
Young birds have the feathers of the head much more downy; the upper parts are dark brown, the back, scapulars and wing-coverts boldly streaked with fulvous-white; the primaries and tail blackish-chocolate; below the " shirt-front" is dark brown, the feathers streaked paler and the whole of the lower parts chocolate-brown with bold whitish shaft-stripes.
Between the darkest very young birds and the oldest pale fulvous ones every stage of colour may be met with.
Distribution. Throughout the Himalayas from Afghanistan to Western Assam and North to Turkestan and Tibet.
Nidification. The Himalayan Griffon breeds from January to March. Ward, however, took fresh eggs in April and I have received one taken on the 9th May, an egg laid in a solitary nest from which an egg had been taken the previous February. The nests, like those of the two preceding Vultures, are built on cliffs in colonies and, like them also, are used year after year. The eggs, of which one only is laid, are, in the majority of cases, unspotted white, but a good many are faintly marked and a few handsomely blotched, with pale reddish to deep reddish-brown. Fifty eggs average 94.8 x 70.1 mm.: maxima 103.6 X 71.2 and 94.7 x 74.0 mm.; minima 89.2 x 68.9 and 96.0 x 65.0 mm. They are longer eggs in proportion to their size than most of our other Indian Vultures' eggs.
Habits. The Himalayan Griffon is entirely a mountain form, being most common between 4,000 and 8,000 feet but occurring at much greater height than this. Scully records that it is very common in Gilgit over 10,000 feet and both he and Marshall noticed it soaring over the snowy ranges, whilst Wollaston found it common up to 14,000 feet in Tibet It is a scavenger, feeding almost entirely on carrion following caravans for the purpose of feeding on the dead horses, etc. At the same time it is said not to frequent the vicinity of villages like most Vultures. In flight the contrast between the white under body and black wings is said to be very conspicuous.