white backed vulture

This one is easy to spot! The White-backed Vulture is the most common species of vultures in Africa. It certainly doesn’t come as a surprise that the most striking characteristic of this vulture is its white (or actually greyish white) back. In the case of the female, this is not very visible, because her wings are folded over her back. The neck is white too and its beak dark-grey to black. Maybe you’re wondering why we give such a detailed description, but vultures can be distinguished from eachother relatively easy. The White-backed Vulture is about 1 metre high and has a wingspan of approximately 2,25 metres. Except from some down feathers, it’s got a barren head and neck, in order to prevent their necks from getting soaked with blood and other juices from the carcass. They usually put their entire necks in.

This is how we saw a dead giraffe in Chobe NP, that was literally crammed by a huge group of vultures (mainly White-backed Vultures). Some of the vultures put their neck so deep into the carcass that they literally had to brace on the dead body to get their heads out of it. Vultures are extremely greedy and just don’t grant eachother anything at all. That’s why they eat extremely fast and a for a group, it’s absolutely no problem to nibble an entire impala in no more than 20 min. While eating, they usually make gasping sounds, but when they get angry this turns into shrieking.

hooded vulture

This vulture is a lot smaller than the white-backed vulture, about 70cm with a wingspan of no more than 1 metre. It’s got brown feathers with a definite pink bald head. On the head, it’s got a little cap (hat) of a grey colour. This vulture isn’t very strong, what makes him dependent of other vultures to open a thick skin with its beak. Of course they know the way where to enter a carcass in a “softer zone”. They also munch the bones. This job no one can do better !

In Moremi WR we saw the carcass of a zebra with various scavengers and birds of prey being present. The hooded vulture only entered the carcass via the eyes and ears. Some of them were also picking bones. Some hours later, when we returned, no more than a piece of skin and pecked bones were left. Hooded vultures generally live solitary or in couples. Groups are only found around food. A couple nests in tree canopies and, like most species of vultures, the female lays just one egg that hatches out after approximately 7-8 weeks. Don’t be surprised to spot the hooded vulture in urban areas, picking up roaming waste matter.

lappet-faced vulture

This is not a little boy. With its wingspan of around 2,5 metres and a height of no less than 1,20 metres it’s one of the bigger species. This vulture has deep-dark-brown feathers, close to black. They have a characteristic pink to red head (bald too) with a big beak, enabling them to rip open a carcass easily.

The lappet-faced vulture is an awkward whippersnapper that doesn’t tolerate a lot of other vultures to its carrion. At best, this relatively silent vulture will make a whispering or gasping sound when it enters into a confrontation with other vultures. Except eating dead prey, the lappet-faced vulture catches small prey, such as little reptiles. The lappet-faced vulture is monogamous and builds nests in the top of trees or high bushes. The female lays one egg that hatches out after about 8 weeks. This vulture predominantly lives in couples and unlike other vultures no large groups will be spotted around a dead prey. A major difference between the lappet-faced vulture and other species is the fact that it doesn’t possess a good sense of smell.

palmnut vulture

Compared with its nephews and nieces, the Palmnut vulture is rather small : no more than 65cm high with a wingspan of roughly 1,35 metres. This relatively uncommon vulture has white feet, breast and head. Its back and rear part of the wings are black whilst the front part of the wings are white to beige. Around the eyes this vulture has an orange to red spot. This vulture has no bald head, which means that it is not a real scavenger. In accordance with its name, this vulture mainly eats the fruits of the oil palm. Besides this he regularly consumes crabs, molluscs and sporadically dead fishes too. This bird lives in the savannah as well as in woody and mangrove areas.

We had the great luck of spotting this beautiful bird in the garden of our lodge, straight after our arrival. Later on, we were informed that apparantly in entire Kwazulu Natal, no more than 4 brooding couples are present. This male had been spotted regularly in this garden ! The Palmnut vulture lives solitary or in couples and will, consequently, not be found in bigger groups. In terms of reproduction, they are just like other vultures : they make nests in a tree and lay no more than 1 egg, that hatches out after approximately 6 weeks.

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