Species of the Week

This week we are going to take a look into this majestic bird, the Cape vulture

Common name: Cape Vulture or Cape Griffon

Species: Gyps coprotheres (Foster, 1798)


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Accipitriformes

Family: Accipitridae

Genus: Gyps


Conservation status: Endangered (since 2015)

Diet: Scavenger, mainly feeds on carrion.

Length: up to 115 cm

Weight: up to 11 Kg

Wingspan: up to 2,6 m

Average life span in the wild: average 16 years, but up to 30 years



Cape vulture or Cape griffon is not only aesthetically striking, but it is also particularly intelligent. It is the third-largest Old World vulture and it is the largest raptor in South Africa.

This species is one of the largest southern African vultures and the lightest in colour, being mostly whitish grey above flecked with brown. They normally present a blue grey head and neck that are sparsely covered with white down, but at the base of the neck there are a few rows of long feathers forming a grey-buff collar. Apart from the slightly size difference (female are larger), there is little difference between both sexes, so it is quite difficult to differentiate between males and females.



Geographic Range

Gyps coprothere it is an endemic species from southern Africa. They can be found in South Africa, Lesotho, eastern and south-eastern Botswana and in the south of Mozambique and Angola. In the democratic republic of Congo and in Zambia, there are not as much individuals as there were in the past. Furthermore, this species cannot be found anymore (extinct) in Namibia and Swaziland.



This species does not seem to have a defined breeding season, but it takes places mainly between March and January. They nest on cliffs ledges in communities of at least 6 pairs. The nest can be made from almost anything, vary from lots of vegetative mater or just a few sticks.


The female lays one egg, which both parents incubate over a period of 57 days. The nestling period can vary from 125 to 171 days. The young adult is dependent on both parents for food up to 221 days. The young individuals normally form groups to forage and roost some distance from their breeding sites, promoting this way an interaction between different populations

Habitat and Ecology

Cape vultures it is a long-lived carrion-feeder, mainly feeding on large carcasses. This species flies long distances over open country and inhabits open grassland, savanna and shrubland, even though most of the time they can be found near steep terrain, where they normally breed and roost on cliffs.


The Cape griffon is a gregarious, social bird that enjoy living and scavenging in large groups. At any one carcass, there may be a large group of individuals vying for food. Due to this behaviour there is sometimes some aggressive displays amongst the birds. Often some of the individuals put their entire head and neck under the skin of the dead animal, or even climb into its body cavity.




  • Drowning in reservoirs (especially in the more arid parts of their distribution)
  • Electrocution (electricity structures or power lines)
  • Poisoning of dead stock
  • Human action reduces the amount of food
  • Birds are trapped and poisoned for the multi market
  • Shooting
  • Human disturbance at nesting sites
  • Increase in the mortality rate of young birds (bone abnormalities due to calcium deficiency)
  • Risk of collision in wind parks


  • They occur in some protected areas
  • Breeding sites should be protected from disturbance
  • Simple and inexpensive structures should be erected in reservoirs to prevent the accidental drowning of the birds
  • Multi-species action plan for African-Euroasian vultures is being produced
  • Non-government organisations have successfully raised awareness among farming communities (South Africa)
  • Some pylons have been replaced with a design that reduces the riskof electrocution to large bitds
  • Feeding areas have been established, where food and bone flakes are provided (Vulture restaurants)



  • Populations have been declining
  • This species has a loud voice, which it used in a variety of hisses, grunts and cackles to communicate within the colony
  • Bioinsight group have been developed many impact studies in wind farms in South Africa and always takes into account the endangered state of this species
  • Scientist predict that climate change (increased temperatures) may negatively impact Cape vultures
  • Wind farms have committed to implement mitigation measures, as searching for and removing any animal carcasses in the area
  • Vultures clean our landscape and help to prevent the spread of disease