(1714) Neophron percnopterus percnopterus.
THE EGYPTIAN, OR LARGE WHITE, SCAVENGER VULTURE.
Vultur percnopterus Linn., Syst. Nat., 10th ed. i, p. 87 (1758) (Egypt). Neophron percnopterus. Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 327.
Vernacular names. Safed Gidh, Kol-Murghab (Hin.).
Description. Lores with a few white bristles ; sinciput nearly always with a little down running into the ruff of narrow lanceolate feathers, which commence on the nape instead of the lower neck as in other Vultures; winglet and primaries black, the inner primaries edged with grey near the lores ; secondaries creamy-white, brown at the bases, tips and on the inner webs of the outer feathers; outer greater coverts brown at the base; remainder of plumage white, nearly always stained with creamy-fulvous, more strongly so on the ruff and breast than elsewhere.
Colours of soft parts. Iris yellow or dark brown; bill dusky black; cere reddish yellow; naked parts of head yellow; legs and feet dusky yellowish, claws horny-black.
Measurements. Wing 474 to 506 mm.; tail 205 to 263 mm.; tarsus 80 to 83 mm.; culmen 58 to 65 mm.; mid-toe and claw 83 to 90 mm.
Young birds have the bristles and down of the head blackish-brown ; the ruff is composed of shorter, broader feathers also blackish-brown and the general plumage is dark brown, the dull white bases of the feathers of the lower plumage showing through everywhere.
At a later stage, probably after the first complete moult, the feathers of the ruff, upper back and wing-coverts are tipped with pale brown or whitish. These tips get larger at each moult, all the feathers of the underparts are edged with whitish, the dark scapulars and inner secondaries are replaced by lighter brown and pale mottlings, with occasional white feathers appearing on both upper and lower plumage.
Many individuals, otherwise in complete adult plumage, retain a brownish or fulvous wash both on the upper and lower surfaces.
Distribution. The North-West of India as far Bast as Delhi and South to Cutch. Outside India this Vulture extends through Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Persia to Egypt and Southern Europe. It occurs in the Canary Islands and South throughout Africa, except in the Western Equatorial Forest-region.
Nidification. The Egyptian Scavenger Vulture breeds principally in February and March, a few in January and equally few in April, the latter month more especially in the higher hills, where they are found nesting up to some 8,000 feet or perhaps a little higher. On the other hand, on the Afghan Frontier it often breeds much earlier and Pitman took one egg as early as the 14th November at Dehra Ismail Khan. It is not very particular in the choice of a nesting-site: trees, buildings, rocks, the steep banks of rivers or the sides of cliffs, are all alike made use of. The nest when on trees is sometimes bulky, being made of all kinds of rubbish, sticks and branches, well lined with smaller twigs, grass, wool, etc At other times, when on cliffs, it is very scanty and at times the eggs are laid on the bare earth or rock. The eggs number two or occasionally only one and are extremely handsome. The ground-colour varies from white to a light bright brick-red, whilst the markings are of every description. In some there are a few bold blotches of light red, deep reddish-brown or chocolate-black, sparse elsewhere but forming a rough cap at the larger end; other eggs have the whole surface covered with rich red blotches, smears and spots, in appearance much like immense eggs of the Peregrines. Every intermediate form is to be found but as a whole they are very richly coloured. Jourdain gives the average of 60 European eggs as 66.2 x 51.0 mm.: maxima 75.0 x 55.3 and 68.1 x 56.1 mm.; minima 58.2 x 50.0 and 73.4 X 45.0 mm.; an egg in my own collection from Spain is still broader, measuring 69.4 x 58 nun, Indian eggs average almost exactly the same.
Habits. This little Vulture, wherever found, haunts the vicinity of towns and villages and though it eats all sorts of carrion, lives principally on human excrement. Its night, once it is up and away, is very easy, graceful and powerful and it rises into the air quicker than do its larger relatives. On the ground, also, it is less awkward, running and walking without effort and at some speed. It is a resident bird wherever found but moves locally from the highest and coldest parts of its habitat, as in the high plateaux of Persia, in Winter.