The White-backed Vulture is an Old World Vulture and belongs to the Gyps genus. Another attributed to this species is African White-backed Vulture. This vulture is a native to Africa and distributed throughout Central, East and Southern Africa. There it lives in open and wooded country, on grassy plains, savannah and open svamps up to sealevels of 3,000 m and rarly even to 4,000 m.
This vulture used to be a common species in Africa. Though these are bygone times because the early 1990s were the beginning of an unprecedented and dramatic decline in population, leading to numbers crushing by 50 % in Southern Africa and by 97% in West Africa. The main reason for the population crushing so dramatically was the widespread use of poisoned baits, mainly brought out to fight mammals such as lions, hyenes and jackals. Unfortunately, the vulture as being the final link in the food chain suffered most because it did what vultures do: feeding on carcases and carrion.
Another reason for the decline in population was that White-backed Vultures were shot by poachers at the carcases of poached elephants and rhinos to coer the illegal operations. For that reason, again, baits treated with nitrofuran were laid out.
Species with low reproduction rates such as Gyps vultures are unable to compensate losses exceeding the reproductive rate. Matter-of-factly, African vultures do need friends to help them survive in future.
Species: White-back Vulture
Scientific Name: Gyps africanus
Name in German: Weißrückengeier
Name in French: Vautour africain
Name in Dutch: Witruggier
Name in Italian: Grifone dorsobianco africano
Name in Finnish: Savannikorppikotka
Name in Danish: Hvidrygget grib
Name in Swedish: Vitryggig gam
Name in Polish: Sęp afrykański
Name in Russian: Африканский гриф
Distribution: Afrotropical. Much of sub-Saharan Africa; Senegal/Gambia, southernmost Mauretania, south Mali through Nigeria, northern Cameroon and Central African Republic, southern Chad and Sudan, Ethiopia and western Somalia, southwards to East Africa and Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia to Zimbabwe and northeastern South Africa, Botswana and inland Namibia, also in southern Angola.
Movements: Adults sedentary, immatures mostly nomadic.
Habitat: Open and wooded country; grassy plains, savannah and open swamps, light woodland, riverine trees and thrornbush; not in dense woodland or forest. Always numerous where large wild mammals are numerous. Lives near cattle ranches and at sealevels of up to 1,500 m. also higher at 3,000 m, in Ethiopia at heights of 3,500 m.
Behaviour: Residual recycler at carcases. Solitary also in colonies of 5-20 individuals. Gregarious bird. Often roosts communally with large concentrations at carcases. White-backed Vulture begins to feed at carcases after all other vultures have finished feeding. Punches holes in the abdominal wall to reach the intestines, also tries to get to the abdominal cavity through the anal opening. Always wait until lions have finished feeding, though very aggressive against jackals and hyena. The latter ones usual give way to the vultures.
Size: 78-90 cm
Tail: 24-28 cm
Weight: 4,200-7,200 g
Wingspan: 197-229 cm
♂: 685-760 mm
♀: 580-620 mm
Voice: Silent in general, utters hissing and grunting sounds as is the case with all Gyps vulture; hoarse cackles at nest.
Sexually Mature: probably between 3rd to 4th year.
Mating: Lifelong monogamous breeding pair, mating coincides with courtship and nest building.
Clutches per breeding season1 clutch
Breeding: Depends on geographical region. Breeds solitary to colonial. Kenya – April to September, but breeding has been found to take place almost all year, Uganda – almast all year, West Africa to Somalia – almost all year (October to January/ even June); southern East and southern Africa – April/May to December/January; Zimbabwe – April to September.
Nest: Small nest made of sticks measuring 34-100 cm across and 10-90 cm deep, lined with grass and green leaves. Sits at heights of 5-50 m in the crown of tall trees, rarely on pylons, however never on any ledges.
Clutch: 1 egg (rarely up to 3)
Egg: Whitish elliptical egg with reddish brown to brown stains. Elliptisches Ei mit weißer Grundfarbe und rötlich-brauner bis brauner Fleckung.
Egg Measurements and Weights
Length x Width: 88.0x67.0 mm
Weight: ≈ ??? g
Recurrent Clutch: there are no recorded data available.
Incubation: ≃ 56 days, both parents share the task of incubating.
Fledging: fledging after c. 4 months (120-130 days).
Dependency: Most probably the young White-rumped Vulture will cared for by its parents for a while, though there are no recorded data available.
Food: As member of the Gyps genus the White-backed Vulture processes cadaver and carrion; carrion: intestines, softer flesh of mainly larger dead mammals. Search flights to find food, rises in thermals to altitudes between 200 and 500 m, thereby watching other bird and mammal scavengers and predators. Because Hooded Vultures and Bateleurs are always the first at carcases they attract White-backed Vultures in numbers and also Rüppell’s Vultures Der Weißrückengeier gehört zu den Kadaververwertern und versorgt sich an großen Kadavern und Aas. Zusätzlich werden auch Knochenreste genommen. Grundsätzlich bedient sich der Weißrückengeier an den Resten der Kadaver
Longevity: The White-backed Vulture can reach an age of c. 19 years.
Mortality: unknown .
Threats: The White-backed Vulture is an endangered species. Most common threats bare loss of habitat, insufficient supply of carcases and carrion, collisions with power lines. Fells victim to poisoned bait laid out to fight mammal predators. Because of it being the end link of the food chain, it also suffers from poisoning by biocides and pollutants such as heavy metals. Especially species with a low reproduction rate are unable to make up large losses in population that go beyond normal reproduction, eventually leading to a radical decline in population.
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Ferguson-Lees, James, Christie, David, Raptors of the World, A Field Guide, Christopher Helm London, 2005, reprinted 2019
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Egg of the Griffon Vulture - Source: by Didier Descouens - Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16930224