Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus)

(1705) Aegypius monachus.

 

The Cinereous Vulture.

Vultur monachus Linn., Syst. Nat., 12th ed. i, p. 122 (1766) (Arabia in err.} Palestine); Blanf. & Oates, iii, p. 317.

Vernacular names. Kala-gidh (Hin.); Gat~panom (Lepcha).

Description. Dark brown throughout, the wing-quills and tail blackish; underparts very variable, sometimes paler and more fulvous in younger birds, sometimes very dark in the oldest; the thigh-feathers are always very dark, whilst the under tail-coverts and the bases of the ruff-feathers are paler. Bleaching of the feathers after the moult is very rapid and in a very few weeks the dark freshly moulted plumage, which often has a ruddy sheen on the upper parts, becomes paler and glossless.

Colours of soft parts. Iris brown; bill blackish-brown, sometimes yellowish at the base and on the lower mandible; cere pale mauve or plumbeous-grey; legs and feet creamy or yellowish-white or pearl-white; naked skin of neck livid flesh-colour.

Measurements. Wing 756 to 843 mm.: tail 350 to 400 mm.; tarsus about 132 to 146 mm.; culmen about 80 to 88 mm. Young birds are paler and browner.

Distribution. South Europe, Northern Africa, East through South-West and South-Central Asia to India; Ningpo in China. In India it is found throughout the Himalayas from the extreme West to Eastern Assam, where I have seen individuals both in Dibrugarh and in Cachar. It occurs in Winter in the Punjab, Sind, North-West Provinces, United Provinces and as far South as Ahmedabad, Mbow and Saugor. A specimen was also shot in Calcutta feeding on offal from the municipal slaughter-houses.

Nidification. In Europe the Cinereous Vulture breeds in March and April, making a huge nest of sticks built either high up in a tree or on the ledge of a cliff. One egg only is laid and the records of two are extremely doubtful. In India Major Marshall took several eggs near Quetta from February to early April and Williams has recently taken others in the Marachuk and other gorges near the same place. From Central Asia also I have eggs taken early in April. In North Cachar the only pair I knew of bred in December and early January and an egg brought to me from Bhutan was also laid during the last ten days of December. Ten Asiatic eggs, including six from India, average 89.9 X 69.6 mm.: maxima 92.5 X 72.5 mm.; minima 88.0 X 65.0 mm. In colour they vary as greatly as those of the European bird. Some are pure, spotless white and they range from this to eggs almost as dark and uniformly blotched as those of the Peregrine. Some, are blotched and splashed all over with rich blood-red or deep brown, others spotted and marked with the same in lesser and varying degree, whilst occasionally they are marked only with violet and pale neutral tint. Generally speaking they are extremely handsome eggs.

Jourdain gives the average of ninety European eggs as 91.8 x 68.8 mm.: maxima 107.0 X 68.6 and 99.0 x 76.0 mm.; minima 83.4 x 68.0 and 88.0 x 56.0 mm.

Habits. This Vulture, though so grand a bird, is quite typical of the family in nil its ways, eating nothing but carrion and offal and fearing to attack or kill the weakest of animals unless dying. It, however, keeps other Vultures at a distance when feeding, driving them from the carcase on which it wishes to dine. As a rule they are either solitary birds or consort in pairs but occasionally may be found feeding together in small parties. Their notes vary from the querulous mewing indulged in by all Vultures when feeding to much louder squalling and roaring when fighting or during the excitement of the breeding-season.

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