Hooded Vultures (Cartwheeling Raptors)

The hooded vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) belongs to the Accipitriformes family of vultures, which includes eagles, kites, buzzards, and hawks. The raptor is the only member of the genus Necrosyrtes, which is sister to the larger Gyps genus and both belong to the Aegypiinae Old World vulture subfamily.

The diminutive vulture is native to Sub-Saharan Africa, where it can be found in southern, eastern, and western parts of the continent. It’s a scruffy-looking small vulture with dark brown plumage, a long thin bill, a bare crown, face, and fore-neck, as well as a downy nape and hind-neck. However, when it’s light reddish-brown face, interestingly, becomes pick then redder the bird looks more striking.

Unique Characteristics of Hooded Vultures

  • The name “hooded vulture” comes from a small patch of downy feathers that runs along the back of the vulture’s neck to the crown of its head, giving it the appearance of a fuzzy, cream-colored hood.

Necrosyrtes monachus is a scientific name that can be broken down into three parts:

  • “Necro” because it feeds on carrion
  • “Syrtes” which means “quicksand” or “bog”
  • “Monachus” which is Latin for “monk” and refers to the vulture’s hood.

The hooded vulture is a typical vulture, with a grey, blackish “hood” and a pinkish-white head that flushes red when agitated. It has dark brown body plumage that is fairly uniform. It has short tail feathers and long wings for soaring.

This is a smaller vulture from the Old World meaning it depends more on sight unlike new world vultures that have a better sense of smell. They typically measure 62–72 cm (24–28 in) in length, 155–180 cm (61–71 in) in wingspan and weigh 1.5–2.6 kg (3.3–5.7 lb).

While females have longer eyelashes than males, both sexes have similar appearances. Juveniles have a purplish sheen to their body feathers and are darker and plainer than adults.

Distribution in Africa

Despite their limited home ranges, hooded vultures are widely distributed across Africa. The crow sized raptor can be found in Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia, Niger, and Nigeria in West Africa; Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia in East Africa; and northern Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa in southern Africa.

Map of Hooded Vultures in the Wild

The Kruger National Park and surrounding protected areas in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces are the principal places in South Africa where the species can be found, though vagrants have been recorded further west in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier, Park.

Habits and Lifestyle of Hooded Vultures

The Hooded Vulture is a common sight in South Africa, and it sometimes travels in large groups. Throughout most of this bird’s range, a few can be seen soaring in the sky at almost any time of day. Its strong toes are good for walking and running, though not for catching prey like other carnivorous birds.

Hooded vultures are more daring than most other vultures, often approaching human dwellings for water or leftover food. Following a plow to catch the tasty insects and larvae that have been disturbed is a common activity. However, despite hooded vulture’s boldness around humans, this bird is more timid when approached.

When the hooded vulture flies, it flaps and straightens its wings in the same way that large vultures do when they arise and then lowers them in the same way when it lands to make its body appear black and like a shadow on the ground probably for camouflage.

Cartwheeling Vultures

Although their courtship routines are famously understated, it is possible to see pairs of vultures especially in popular areas such as the Sabine river (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabie_River) in South Africa, put on a dramatic show when combating rivals in mid-air.

Known as cartwheeling, rivals (usually pairs) with flushed faces will circle each other in tight formation and then lock talons mid air at about 100 m, descending quickly until about 60 m where they will disengage and begin circling again. Typically after a few interactions the birds will flap away in different directions.

Breeding Season and Mating Habits

Hooded vultures are monogamous, and couples stay together for the rest of their lives after courtship. The male swoops down to the female or dances in circles on the ground with its claws extended in courtship displays that are not particularly impressive.

The breeding season varies by region, but eggs are normally laid during or shortly after the local rainy season to ensure a steady supply of food. The nest is constructed in a tree (usually a Baobab) and reused year after year, and it is well lined with fresh vegetation during the nesting season.

The mother is very attentive and only lays one egg. Both parents, but mostly the female, who is fed by the male at the nest, incubate for 48 to 54 days. When the chick hatches, it is very small and needs a lot more care from its parents than other vultures. The chick will be completely reliant on its parents for seven months, by which time it will have developed all of its plumage and flown for the first time.

Hooded Vultures (Faces Turn Red When Angry)

Threats and Conservation

The increasing use of poisoning of the vulture’s food sources, as well as hunting for traditional medicine, as bush meat, and intentional clandestine sales as chicken, has resulted in a drastic decline in the number of Hooded vultures.

The total Hooded vulture population, according to the IUCN Red List, is estimated to be about 197,000 individuals. This species is currently listed as Critically Endangered (CR), and its population is declining.

It is an understatement to conclude that there is an “African Vulture Crisis.” Seven of Africa’s 11 species are in danger. Out of 11 species, 3 are Near-Threatened, 3 are Vulnerable and 1 is classified as Endangered. This bleak situation represents a larger global issue for scavenging raptors: 14 of the world’s 23 vulture species, or more than half, are now endangered.

Hooded vultures have declined by more than half in the last 50 years and are now threatened by a variety of factors, the majority of which are due to human actions such as food hunting, witchcraft, accidental poisoning, and poacher poisoning.

Interesting Facts About Hooded Vultures

  • Hooded vultures will hunt out lion dung as a tasty meal.
  • Hooded vultures are typically unafraid of humans, and they congregate near human settlements. Locals refer to them as the “garbage collectors.”
  • The Hooded vulture’s scientific name, “Necrosyrtes monachus,” is derived from Greek words that mean “monk like corpse-dragger,” referring to the bird’s cowl-like plumage and scavenging habits.
  • Many indigenous peoples’ superstitions include vultures. Hooded vultures are thought by the superstitious to lay two eggs, one of which hatches into a fly in some parts of South Africa.

Since hooded vultures are smaller than other African vultures, they can fly faster on thermal currents and are always the first to spot a carcass. Vultures will stay in the air for hours, soaring gracefully on thermals with their long, wide wings.

Hooded Vultures (Faces Turn Red When Angry)

Q & A about Hooded Vultures

Why are hooded vultures endangered?

ICUN Red Flag StatusThe IUCN Red List classifies the Hooded Vulture as “Critically Endangered” due to indiscriminate carcass poisoning, an increase in traditional medicine trade, hunting, persecution, and habitat loss and degradation.

How many hooded vultures are left?

The total Hooded vulture population, according to the IUCN Red List, is estimated to be about 197,000 individuals. This species is currently listed as Critically Endangered (CR), and its population is declining.

Where do hooded vultures live?

Vultures with hoods can be found all over Sub-Saharan Africa. Open plains, savannas, forests, coastal areas, and villages are among the habitats.

How big is a hooded vulture?

Hooded Vultures are small vultures with a wingspan of around 26 inches. Females have a greater body size than males. Their beaks are thin and weak, and their tails are short and rounded.

What is the scientific name of the hooded vulture?

The scientific name of the hooded vulture is Necrosyrtes monachus

What is the genus of the hooded vulture?

The genus of the hooded vulture is Necrosyrtes

Do hooded vultures fly in groups?

Hooded vultures often fly in groups of 30 to 50 birds.

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