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Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier) - Gypaetus barbatus
Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier) - Gypaetus barbatus

[Image: photo.jpg]

Scientific classification 
Kingdom: Animalia 
Phylum: Chordata 
Class: Aves 
Order: Falconiformes (or Accipitriformes, q.v.) 
Family: Accipitridae 
Subfamily: Aegypiinae 
Genus: Gypaetus
Species: Gypaetus barbatus 

Bearded Vultures 'seen in India' 

Page last updated at 13:27 GMT, Tuesday, 29 September 2009 14:27 UK

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Lammergeiers are not endangered, but rare in India

About 200 Bearded Vultures have been spotted in a remote part of India's Himachal Pradesh state, reports say.

State chief conservator of forests Vinay Tandon said the reported sighting was being checked by wildlife officials and would be "hugely significant". 

Lammergeiers have been seen on India's border with China, but not in such a large group or at so high an altitude. 

There has been growing concern in India over the fast dwindling population of vultures in recent years. 

Experts estimate there are only a few hundred vultures left in India. 


Mr Tandon said four out of the five major vulture species in India are critically endangered. 

"We had reports on Monday that what appears to be a very large colony of Bearded Vultures - or Lammergeiers - were spotted close to the border with China in what is known as the trans-Himalayan region," he told the BBC. 

"As yet we are not able to confirm that the birds belong to this species. A team from the state's wildlife department will be making its way to the area as soon as possible. 

"We are especially pleased to hear of such a large colony when in recent years the vulture population of India has been disappearing so rapidly." 

Mr Tandon said that the vultures had been spotted in Lahaul-Spiti, one of the remotest districts of Himachal Pradesh. 

Lammergeiers are long-winged vultures known for their unusual habit of dropping bones on to rocks to smash them open and get at the marrow. 

Their world population is estimated at between 2,000-10,000 individuals. 

Cattle link

South Asia's vulture population has been virtually wiped out in recent years.

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India's vulture population is in serious decline 

Experts believe vultures have been badly affected by the use of the painkiller diclofenac in cattle. 

Vultures feeding on the cattle lose their ability to reproduce. 

While Bearded Vultures are not thought to have been so badly affected by the drug, their numbers have nevertheless significantly dwindled in India. 

In August conservationists announced that the endangered Slender Billed vulture had twice been successfully bred in the states of Haryana and West Bengal. 

Conservationists say that despite the recent sightings, urgent action is still needed to save vultures from extinction in the wild. 

"With extinction in the wild likely in the next 10 years, we do not have a moment to waste. The more vultures that we can bring into captivity means a better chance of survival for these rapidly declining species," Birdlife International spokesman Chris Bowden said. 

Scalesofanubis Wrote:More Input:

The Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), also known as the Lammergeier or Lammergeyer, is a bird of prey, and the only member of the genus Gypaetus. Traditionally considered an Old World vulture, it actually forms a minor lineage of Accipitridae together with the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), its closest living relative. They are not much more closely related to the Old World vultures proper than to, for example, hawks, and differ from the former by their feathered neck. Although dissimilar, Egyptian and Bearded Vultures both have a lozenge-shaped tail that is unusual among birds of prey.

Distribution and Habitat
The Bearded Vulture is sparsely distributed across a considerable range. It may be found in mountainous regions from Europe through much of Asia and Africa. In Eurasia, its found in the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Caucasus region, the Zagros Mountains, the Alborzs, the Altai Mountains, the Himalayas, western and central China, Israel and the Arabian Peninsula. In Africa, it is found in the Atlas Mountains, the Ethiopian Highlands and down from Sudan to northeastern Zaire, central Kenya and northern Tanzania. An isolated population inhabits the Drakensberg of South Africa.
This species is almost entirely associated with mountains and inselbergs with plentiful cliffs, crags, precipices, canyons and gorges. They are often found near alpine pastures and meadows, montane grassland and heath, steep-sided, rocky wadis, high steppe and are occasional around forests. They seem to prefer desolate, lightly-populated areas where predators who provide many bones, such as wolves and Golden eagles, have healthy populations. In Ethiopia, they are now common at refuse tips on the outskirts of small villages and towns. Although they occasionally descend to 300–600 m (980–2,000 ft), Bearded Vultures are rare below an elevation of 1,000 m (3,300 ft) and normally reside above 2,000 m (6,600 ft) in some parts of their range. They are typically found around or above the tree line which are often near the tops of the mountains, at up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft) in Europe, 4,500 m (14,800 ft) in Africa and 5,000 m (16,000 ft) in central Asia. They even have been observed living at altitudes of 7,500 m (24,600 ft) on Mount Everest and been observed flying at a height of 24,000 ft (7,300 m).

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This bird is 94–125 cm (37–49 in) long with a wingspan of 2.31–2.83 m (7.6–9.3 ft). It weighs 4.5–7.8 kg (9.9–17 lb), with the nominate race averaging 6.21 kg (13.7 lb) and G. b. meridionalis of Africa averaging 5.7 kg (13 lb). In Eurasia, vultures found around the Himalayas tend to be slightly larger than those from other mountain ranges. Females are slightly larger than males. It is essentially unmistakable with other vultures or indeed other birds in flight due to its long, narrow wings, with the wing chord measuring 71.5–91 cm (28.1–36 in), and long, wedge-shaped tail, which measures 42.7–52 cm (16.8–20 in) in length. The tarsus is relatively small for the bird's size, at 8.8–10 cm (3.5–3.9 in). The proportions of the species have been compared to a falcon, upgraded to an enormous size.
Unlike most vultures, the Bearded Vulture does not have a bald head. This species is relatively small headed, although its neck is powerful and thick. It has a generally elongated, slender shape, sometimes appearing bulkier due to the often hunched back of these birds. The gait on the ground is waddling and the feet are large and powerful. The adult is mostly dark gray, rusty and whitish in color. It is gray-blue to gray-black above. The creamy-colored forehead contrasts against a black band across the eyes and lores and bristles under the chin, which form a black beard that give the species its English name. Bearded Vultures are variably orange or rust on their head, breast and leg feathers but this is actually cosmetic. This coloration may come from dust-bathing, rubbing mud on its body or from drinking in mineral-rich waters. The tail feathers and wings are gray. The juvenile bird is dark black-brown over most of the body, with a buff-brown breast and takes five years to reach full maturity. The Lammergeier is silent, apart from shrill whistles in their breeding displays and a falcon-like cheek-acheek call made around the nest.
Like other vultures it is a scavenger, feeding mostly on animal matter from dead animals. It usually disdains the actual meat, however, and lives on a diet that is 85-90% bone marrow. The Lammergeier can swallow whole or bite through brittle bones up to the size of a lamb's femur and its powerful digestive system quickly dissolves even large pieces. The Lammergeier has learned to crack bones too large to be swallowed by carrying them in flight to a height of 50–150 m (160–490 ft) above the ground and then dropping them onto rocks below, which smashes them into smaller pieces and exposes the nutritious marrow. They can fly with bones up to 10 cm (3.9 in) in diameter and weighing over 4 kg (8.8 lb), or nearly equal to their own weight. After dropping the large bones, the Bearded Vulture spirals or glides to down to inspect them and may repeat the act if the bone is not sufficiently cracked. This learned skill requires extensive practice by immature birds and takes up to seven years to master. Its old name of Ossifrage ("bone breaker") relates to this habit. More seldomly, these birds have been observed to try to break bones (usually of a medium size) by hammering them with their bill directly into rocks while perched.
Live prey is sometimes attacked by the Bearded Vulture, with perhaps greater regularity than any other vulture. Among these, especially tortoises are targeted depending on their local abundance. Tortoises predated may be nearly as large as the predating vulture. When killing tortoise, Bearded Vultures also fly to some height and drop them to crack open the bulky reptiles' hard shells. Golden eagles have been observed to kill tortoises in the same way. Other live animals, up to nearly their own size, been observed to be predaceously seized and dropped in flight. Among these are rock hyraxes, hares, marmots and, in one case, a 62 cm (24 in) long monitor lizard.  Larger animals have been known to be attacked by Bearded Vultures, including ibex, Capra goats, Chamois and Steenbok. These animals have been killed by being surprised by the large birds and battered with wings until they fall off precipitious rocky edges to their deaths, although in some cases these may be accidental killings when both the vulture and the mammal surprise each other. Many large animals killed by Bearded Vultures have appeared sickly or are obviously injured. Humans have been anecdotedly reported to have been killed in the same way, although this (if it does happen) is generally agreed to be accidental on the part of the vulture. Occasionally smaller ground-dwelling birds, such as partridges and pigeons, have been reported to eaten, sometimes as fresh carrion and sometimes killed with beating wings by the vulture. While foraging for bones or live prey while in flight, Bearded Vultures fly fairly low over the rocky ground, staying around 2 to 4 m (6.6 to 13 ft) high. Occasionally, breeding pairs may forage and hunt together. In the Ethiopian Highlands only, Bearded Vultures have adapted to living largely off of human refuse.

The acid concentration of the Bearded Vulture stomach has been estimated to be of pH about 1 and large bones will be digested in about 24 hours, aided by slow mixing/churning of the stomach content. The high fat content of bone marrow makes the net energy value of bone almost as good as that of muscle, even if bone is less completely digested. A skeleton left on a mountain will dehydrate and become protected from bacterial degradation and the Bearded Vulture can return to consume the remainder of a carcass even months after the soft parts have been consumed by other animals, larvae and bacteria.

Life History
The Bearded Vulture occupies an enormous territory year-around. It may forage over two square kilometers each day. The breeding period is variable, being December through September in Eurasia, November to June in the Indian Subcontinent, October to May in Ethiopia, throughout the year in eastern Africa and May to January in southern Africa. Although generally solitary, the bond between a breeding pair is often considerably close. In seldom cases, polyandry has been recorded in the species. The territorial and breeding display between Bearded Vultures is often spectacular, involving the showing of talons, tumbling and spiralling while flight and the large birds regularly lock feet with each other and fall some distance through the sky. The nest is a massive pile of sticks, that goes from around 1 m (3.3 ft) across and 69 cm (27 in) deep when first constructed up to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) across and 1 m (3.3 ft) deep, with a covering of various animal matter from food, after repeated uses. The female usually lay a clutch of 1 to 2 eggs, though 3 have been recorded on rare occasions which are incubated for 53 to 60 days. After hatching the young spend 100 to 130 days in the nest before fledging. The young may be dependent on the parents for up to 2 years, forcing the birds to regularly nest in alternate years. Typically, the Bearded Vulture nests in caves and on ledges and rock outcrops or caves on steep rock walls, so are very difficult for nest-predating mammals to access.

Conservation Status
The Bearded Vulture is locally threatened. It naturally occurs at low densities, with anywhere from a dozen to 500 pairs now being found in each mountain range in Eurasia where the species breeds. The species is most common in Ethiopia, where an estimated 1,400 to 2,200 are believed to breed.  Relatively large, healthy numbers seem to occur in some parts of the Himalayas as well. It was largely wiped out in Europe by the beginning of the 20th century, but has been locally reintroduced and is beginning to re-establish itself in protected areas. The Bearded Vulture has been successfully reintroduced to the Pyrenees of Spain and the Swiss and Italian Alps, with both populations have spread themselves over into France. They have also declined somewhat in parts of Asia and Africa as well, though less severely than in Europe.
Declines today are usually due to poisons left out for carnivores, habitat degradation, the disturbances of nests, reduced food supplies and collisions with power lines. It was formerly persecuted in significant numbers because people feared (without justification) that it regularly carried off children and domestic animals; the bird was also hunted as a trophy. Despite the declines, the species clearly occupies a large range and, as such, it is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List. Probably less than 10,000 pairs exist in the wild worldwide.
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