The Cinereous VultureAegypius monachus, is a large raptorial bird that is distributed through much of Eurasia. It is also known as the Black Vulture, Monk Vulture, or Eurasian Black Vulture. It is a member of the family Accipitridae, which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as kites, buzzards and harriers. It is one of the two largest old world vultures.
This bird is an Old World vulture, and is only distantly related to the New World vultures, which are in a separate family, Cathartidae, of the same order. It is therefore not directly related to the much smaller American Black Vulture Coragyps atratus, despite the similar name and coloration.
The Cinereous Vulture is a Eurasian species. The western limits of its range are in Spain and inland Portugal, with a reintroduced population in south France. They are found discontinuously to Greece, Turkey and throughout the central Middle East. Their range continues through Afghanistan eastwards to northern India to its eastern limits in central Asia, where they breed in northern Manchuria, Mongolia and Korea. Their range is fragmented especially throughout their European range. It is generally a permanent resident except in those parts of its range where hard winters cause limited altitudinal movement and for juveniles when they reach breeding maturity. In the eastern limits of its range, birds from the northernmost reaches may migrate down to southern Korea and China. A limited migration has also been reported in the Middle East but is not common.
This vulture is a bird of hilly, mountainous areas, especially favoring dry semi-open habitats such as meadows at high altitudes over much of the range. Nesting usually occurs near the tree line in the mountains. They are always associated with undisturbed, remote areas with limited human disturbance. They forage for carcasses over various kinds of terrain, including steppe, grasslands, open woodlands, along riparian habitats or any kind of mountainous habitat. In their current European range and through the Caucasus and Middle East, Cinereous Vultures are found from 100 to 2,000 m (330 to 6,560 ft) in elevation, while in their Asian distribution, they are typically found at higher elevations. Two habitat types were found to be preferred by the species in China and Tibet. Some Cinereous Vultures in these areas live in mountainous forests and shrub land from 800 to 3,800 m (2,600 to 12,500 ft), while the others preferred arid or semi-arid alpine meadows and grasslands at 3,800 to 4,500 m (12,500 to 14,800 ft) in elevation. This species can fly at a very high altitude. One Cinereous Vulture was observed at an elevation of 6,970 m (22,870 ft) on Mount Everest. It has a specialised haemoglobin alphaD subunit of high oxygen affinity which makes it possible to take up oxygen efficiently despite the low partial pressure in the upper troposphere. Juvenile and immature Cinereous Vultures, especially those in the northern stretches of the species range may move large distances across undeveloped open-dry habitats in response to snowfall or high summer temperatures.
The Cinereous Vulture is believed to be the largest true bird of prey in the world. The condors, which may be marginally larger, are now generally considered unrelated to the true raptors. The Himalayan Griffon Vulture (Gyps himalayensis) is the only close extant rival to the size of the Cinereous, with a similar average wingspan, weight and a longer overall length, thanks to a distinctly longer neck. The largest Cinereous vultures exceed the weight and wingspan of the largest Himalayan Griffon, and the
The Cinereous Vulture is distinctly dark, with the whole body being brown excepting the pale head in adults, which is covered in fine blackish down. The Cinereous Vulture is a largely solitary bird, being found alone or in pairs much more frequently than most other Old World vultures. At large carcasses or feeding sites, small groups may congregate. Such groups can rarely include up to 12 to 20 vultures, with some older reports of up to 30 or 40.
Its closest living relative is probably the Lappet-faced Vulture, which takes live prey on occasion. Occasionally, the Cinereous Vulture has been recorded as preying on live prey as well. Live animals reportedly taken by Cinereous Vultures include calves of yak and Domestic cattle (Bos primigenius taurus), piglets, domestic lambs and puppies (Canis lupus familiaris), fox, lambs of wild sheep, together with nestling and fledglings of large birds such as goose, swan and pheasant, various rodents and rarely amphibians and reptiles. This species has hunted tortoises, which the vultures are likely to kill by carrying in flight and dropping on rocks to penetrate the shell, and lizards. Although rarely observed in the act of killing ungulates, Cinereous Vultures have been recorded as flying low around herds and feeding on recently killed wild ungulates they are believed to have killed. Mainly neonatal lambs or calves are hunted, especially sickly ones. Although not normally thought to be a threat to healthy domestic lambs, rare predation on apparently healthy lambs has been confirmed.
The genus name Aegypius is a Greek word (αιγυπιος) for 'vulture', or a bird not unlike one; Aelian describes the aegypius as "halfway between a vulture (gyps) and an eagle". Some authorities think this a good description of a lammergeier; others do not. Aegypius is the eponym of the species, whatever it was. The English name 'Black Vulture' refers to the plumage color, while 'Monk Vulture', a direct translation of its German name Mönchsgeier, refers to the bald head and ruff of neck feathers like a monk's cowl. 'Cinereous Vulture' (Latin cineraceus, ash-coloured; pale, whitish grey), was a deliberate attempt to rename it with a new name distinct from the American Black Vulture.