Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

As a scavenger, the Cape vulture feeds mainly on carrion. They are gregarious birds, nesting and roosting in colonies on cliffs. When searching for food they form a foraging net across the sky, watching each other as they search large areas to locate a suitable carcass (5) (6). This can require travelling great distances, since the death of animals is unpredictable, (both in timing and location), and farmers in southern Africa often bury carcasses to avoid the spread of disease (6). Many vultures may collect at a carcass, which can lead to an eventful feeding time, with fighting, threat displays and some even inserting their long neck under the skin or crawling into the rib-cage of the dead animal (5). Cape vulture nests are built in colonies, with up to 1000 breeding pairs building stick platforms lined with grass, on cliff ledges. A single egg is laid between April and July, and both parents take turns with care of the egg and the chick. Fledging occurs after an average of 140 days, and Cape vultures are known to live for over 30 years (7) (8).
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Description

This majestic bird is a member of the Old World vulture family (Accipitridae), and is found only in southern Africa. It has a creamy-buff body plumage, which contrasts with its dark flight and tail feathers and its black bill (2). Adults can be distinguished by their honey-coloured eyes and naked, bluish throat, whilst juveniles have brown eyes and a pink neck (5). When these huge scavengers are flying, the pale, almost silvery, under-side wing feathers can be seen (2).
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Distribution

Range Description

This species is found in South Africa (where overall numbers were previously thought to be decreasing [Vernon 1999, Barnes 2000, Benson 2000] with a minimum of 630 pairs at 143 colonies and 2000 individuals in the Eastern Cape and 39% of colonies recorded between 1987-1992 now inactive [Boshoff et al. 2009]) however more recent data from the northern provinces suggests that the number of 'active' nests has increased since 2000 and a similar increase may be occurring in the Eastern Cape Province (Benson 2015, P. Benson in litt. 2015) whilst new roosts have been recorded in Free State Province (Botha and Krger 2012),Lesotho (c.552 pairs at c.47 colonies, with a continuing decline at some colonies [Donnay 1990]), eastern and south-eastern Botswana (c.600 pairs [Borello and Borello 2002, Borello in litt. 2003]) and Mozambique (10-15 pairs near Swaziland [Parker 1999]). It formerly bred in Swaziland (declined to extinction [Parker 1994]), central Zimbabwe (declined to extinction - an isolated roost of up to 150 non-breeding birds persists [Mundy et al. 1997]), and Namibia (over 2,000 in the 1950s, but now considered extinct as a breeding species [Wolter 2011, W. Goodwin in litt. 2015]). By 2000 there were only 6-12 birds in Namibia (Simmons et al. 1998a,R. Simmons in litt. 1999, 2000, Diekmann and Strachan 2006), with 16 birds released in October 2005 (Diekmann and Strachan 2006). Birds fitted with satellite transmitters in Namibia have been recorded making flights of up to 400 km into Angola (M. Diekmann in litt. 2006).

The total population was estimated to be 4,400 pairs in 84 colonies in 1994 (Piper 1994), and was implied to have declined to c.4,000 pairs by 1999 (Barnes 2000). 18 'core' colonies now hold 80% of the G. coprotheres population (Boshoff and Anderson 2007). In 2006, the total population was estimated at 8,000-10,000 individuals (M. Diekmann in litt. 2006).The global population estimate was revised in 2013 with an estimate of 4,700 pairs or 9,400 mature individuals (BirdLife South Africa in prep.).The population is estimated to have declined by 10% between 1994 and 1999 (Barnes 2000), and over the period 1992-2007, the species declined by 60-70% in eastern South Africa (McKean and Botha 2007).According to the 2015 Eskom Red Data Book of Birds (BirdLife South Africa in prep.), declines in South Africa since the 1960s may be between 66 and 81%. However populations in some areas are now thought to be increasing (Benson 2015, P. Bensonin litt. 2015).

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Range

Open plains and mountains of southern Africa.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Range

The Cape vulture is found in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and Mozambique. It formerly bred in Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Namibia, but is now extinct in Swaziland, and only small, non-breeding populations persist in Zimbabwe and Namibia (2).
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It is a long-lived (Oatley et al. 1998) carrion-feeder specialising on large carcasses, it flies long distances over open country, although usually found near mountains, where it breeds and roosts on cliffs (Mundy et al. 1992).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Inhabits open grassland, savanna and shrubland (5), and is often found roosting on crags in mountainous regions (1).
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
A2acde+3cde+4cde

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2015

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Symes, A.

Contributor/s
Borello, W., Bowden, C., Diekmann, M., Simmons, R., Wolter, K., Anthony, A., Benson, P., Mhlanga, W., Goodwin, W., Hall, P., Rainey, H., Mundy, P. & Shaw, K.

Justification
This species has been uplisted to Endangered following new evidence that suggests its population is declining rapidly, however, recent increases in parts of its South African range mean declines are not thought to be sufficiently strong to warrant listing as Critically Endangered. Its small population is likely to continue declining unless ongoing conservation efforts, including public awareness programmes and supplementary feeding, as well as efforts to reduce the threat from powerlines, are successful (Collar and Stuart 1985).


History
  • 2014
    Vulnerable (VU)
  • 2013
    Vulnerable (VU)
  • 2012
    Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Threatened (T)