White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)



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.



Description - Characteristics: (African) White-backed Vulture


Breeding – Clutch – Measurements – Habitat – Diet - Threats



Order: Accipitriformes

Familiy: Accipitridae

Genus: Gyps

Species: White-back Vulture


Scientific Name: Gyps africanus


Names and Synonyms of the (African) White-backed Vulture


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


Description of the White-backed Vulture


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.


egg white-backed vulture
Egg of the White-backed Vulture - Source: Didier Descouens - Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16930224




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.






Brown, Leslie, Die Greifvögel, Ihre Biologie und Ökologie, Paul Parey Verlag Hamburg und Berlin, 1979

Ferguson-Lees, James and Christie, David A., Raptors of the World, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston New York, 2001

Ferguson-Lees, James, Christie, David, Raptors of the World, A Field Guide, Christopher Helm London, 2005, reprinted 2019

Fischer, Wolfgang, Die Geier, Die Neue Brehm-Bücherei, A. Ziemsen Verlag Lutherstadt Wittenberg, 1963

Glutz von Blotzheim, Urs et. al (HG), Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 4, Falconiformes, AULA-Verlag Wiesbaden, 2. durchgesehene Auflage 1989

Grzimek, Bernhard et al (HG), Grzimeks Tierleben, Band VII, Vögel 1, Kindler Verlag AG Zürich, 1968

Weick, Friedhelm, Die Greifvögel der Welt, Verlag Paul Parey Hamburg und Berlin, 1980



External Links



Image Credits


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