Vultures of Central India

Vultures of Central India

Whenever we think of vulture we think of sulky and ugly looking birds feeding on rotten flesh of an animal but they are important to our ecosystem. Vultures are biological waste controllers. "Without them the consequences are significant," says Mark Habben, curator of birds at London Zoo in the UK.

Once found in millions, vultures in Indian sub-continent perished and their population declined to alarming level due to toxicity induced by diclofenac, a drug whose residues in domestic animal carcasses has led to rapid declines in populations of vultures across Asia particularly Gyps genus. Till the middle of 1980s vultures of the Gyps genus found in India were numerous to the point of being classified a nuisance as they were involved in many bird strikes. They were usually seen hovering over tall trees even in urban areas but the situation of today is pitiable. For every 1000 that India had at the onset of the 1990s only 1 remain two decades hence. It is rare to sight a vulture even in rural areas these days.

The vulture can still be seen in central India and out of nine species of vultures found in India, seven can be seen here. 

Indian Vulture Gyps indicus

Indian Vulture Gyps indicus

Status: Critically Endangered

Best seen at: Bandhavgarh, Satpura and Panna Tiger Reserve

The Indian vulture is medium in size and bulky. Its head and neck are almost bald, and its bill is rather long and has a wing span of 1.96 to 2.38 m (6.4 to 7.8 ft). These bird species inhabit open savanna and also open country near villages, towns and cities.

White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis

Status: Critically Endangered

Best seen at: Kanha Tiger Reserve

This species is an Old World vulture native to South and Southeast Asia. It has been listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, as the population severely declined. In the 1980s, the global population was estimated at several million individuals, and it was thought to be "the most abundant large bird of prey in the world". As of 2016, the global population was estimated at less than 10,000 mature individuals.

This is the smallest of the Gyps vultures, but is still a very large bird. It weighs 3.5-7.5 kg (7.7-16.5 lbs) and has a wingspan of 1.92–2.6 m (6.3–8.5 ft). These vultures inhabit open country near human habitations like villages and towns.

Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus

Status: Critically Endangered

Best seen at: Bandhavgarh and Kanha Tiger Reserve

It is a medium-sized vulture weighing 3.5–6.3 kg (7.7–13.9 lb) and having a wingspan of about 1.99–2.6 m (6.5–8.5 ft).  It has a prominent naked head. It is usually found in open country and in cultivated and semi-desert areas. It is also found in deciduous forests and foothills and river valleys.

Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus

Status: Endangered

Best seen at: Bandhavgarh and Satpura Tiger Reserve

A small vulture with a very large range, the Egyptian vulture has an unmistakable appearance. Adults have largely white to pale grey plumage, which contrasts markedly with the black flight-feathers and the bold yellow bare skin on the face.

The adult Egyptian vulture measures 47–65 centimetres (19–26 in) from the point of the beak to the extremity of the tail feathers. The wingspan is about 2.7 times the body length.

The Egyptian vulture generally inhabits open, arid areas and fields, but requires rocky sites for nesting. It is often found near human habitations.

Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus

Status: Near Threatened

Best seen at: Nowhere common

The cinereous vulture is the largest bird of prey in the Old World and one of the heaviest and largest of all raptors. This vulture attains a maximum weight of 14 kg, (roughly 30 lbs), 1.2 m long (almost 4 ft) and 3.1 m (a bit over 10 ft) across the wings.

The cinereous vulture occurs in scrub, arid and semi-arid and open grassland, as well as forest. These vultures are generally seen during winter months in central India.

Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis

Status: Near Threatened

Best seen at: Kanha Tiger Reserve

This is a huge vulture, and is perhaps the largest and heaviest bird found in central India. The species is found mainly in the higher regions of the Himalayas. Weight can range from as little as 6 kg (13 lb) to as much as 12.5 kg (28 lb). The wingspan of birds varies from 2.56 to 3.1 m (8.4 to 10.2 ft). Himalayan Griffon is a winter visitor in central India.

Eurasian Griffon Gyps fulvus

Status: Least Concern

Best seen at: Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve

A large, carnivorous scavenger, the Eurasian griffon may be seen soaring majestically on thermal currents in the warmer climate searching for food. It is is 93–122 cm (37–48 in) long with a 2.3–2.8 m (7.5–9.2 ft) wingspan and weighs about 7.1 kg (16 lb). A fairly vocal bird, the Eurasian griffon produces a range of different calls when interacting with other Eurasian griffons.

The Eurasian griffon occurs in a wide range of habitats, including mountains, plateaus, grassland, shrubland and semi-desert.