Eurasian griffon (Gyps fulvus)

Also known as: Eurasian griffon vulture, Griffon vulture
  
French: Vautor fauve
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyAccipitridae
GenusGyps (1)
SizeLength: 95 - 105 cm (2)
Tail length: 24 - 29 cm (2)
Wingspan: 240 - 280 cm (2)
Weight6 - 11 kg (3)

The Eurasian griffon is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

A large, carnivorous scavenger, the Eurasian griffon (Gyps fulvus) may be seen soaring majestically on thermal currents in the warmer, rugged areas of countries surrounding the Mediterranean as it searches for food (5).

The Eurasian griffon has an impressive creamy-white ruff (a ring of conspicuously coloured feather which project from around the neck), which matches the colour of the head and neck. The body and upper-wing plumage of the Eurasian griffon is pale brown, contrasting beautifully with the dark flight feathers on the rest of the wings and tail. This contrast is most noticeable in juvenile birds which have particularly pale upper-wing feathers (2) (5).

A fairly vocal bird, the Eurasian griffon produces a range of different calls when interacting with other Eurasian griffons. For example, a drawn out hissing sound is produced by dominant birds when feeding, and a wooden-sounding chattering occurs when another Eurasian griffon ventures too close (2).

The Eurasian griffon has an extremely large range, extending over Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. It occurs from India, west to Portugal and Spain (5).

The Eurasian griffon is most common in countries bordering the Mediterranean, although it usually occurs at low densities. The most widespread population occurs in Spain, which supports over three-quarters of the total European population (5) (6).

The Eurasian griffon occurs in a wide range of habitats, including mountains, plateaus, grassland, shrubland and semi-desert. Itis usually found in warm climates, but will tolerate harsher conditions such as cold, rain, mist or even snow to obtain particularly favourable foraging or breeding conditions (3) (7). The Eurasian griffon tends to avoid forests, wetlands, lakes and marine waters (2).

This species requires high cliffs for roosting and is found at a wide range of elevations, from just above sea level up to 2,500 metres (5) (8). A large area for foraging is also required, and rising air currents associated with midday thermals or up-draughts from slopes or cliffs are needed to enable the bird’s soaring flight (3) (5).

A proficient scavenger, the Eurasian griffon typically feeds on the soft tissue of medium to large-sized mammal carcasses (3). It has also been known to approach injured or weak sheep and cattle (5). Historically, the Eurasian griffon fed mainly on wild prey such as mountain goats, deer and gazelles; however, these have been largely replaced by domestic species, such as sheep, goats, cows and horses, on which the Eurasian griffon is now often completely dependent (3). 

Eurasian griffons co-operate in searching for food by individually circling a particular area, still in sight of their neighbour, until food is found, at which point a large number of birds may swoop down to feed on the carcass. This can lead to impressive threat displays and fights as each individual jostles to maintain its position at the feeding site (2).

The Eurasian griffon breeds colonially. Colonies generally contain 15 to 20 pairs (2), but can comprise up to 150 pairs (3). The bond between each male and female pair is often life-long and beautiful courtship flights can be observed around the nesting cliffs (2). Breeding usually starts early in the year, no later than the end of January (5).

The nest is built on a cliff-face, preferably in a protected ledge or cave (3). A single egg is laid (5), and incubated for 52 days by both the male and female (2). The fledglings and juveniles receive food from their parents for three months (5).

Due to its large population and vast breeding range, the Eurasian griffon is not considered to be globally threatened (7).

However, it does still face a number of threats, such as the practice of farmers leaving out poisoned carcasses to control predator populations. Other major threats include improved hygiene in farming and veterinary care, which has lowered the mortality rate of the livestock and thus reduced food supply for the griffon. Illegal shooting (5), electrocution on power lines, and disturbance also threatens the Eurasian griffon (8).

Such threats caused a widespread decline in Eurasian griffon numbers between the end of the 19th century and beginning of 20th century, and resulted in its extinction in some areas such as the French Alps (9). In more recent years there have been spectacular recoveries in places, including in Spain and France (3), but many populations in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa remain endangered (8).

Overall, European populations of the Eurasia griffon have increased in recent decades due to a number of conservation measures (8). These include a ban on poisoning carcasses, established in the 1970s (9), a relaxation of laws that prohibited farmers from leaving dead animals on their farmland, the creation of feeding stations, and a number of reintroduction projects (6) (8).

Five reintroduction programs have taken place in France since the 1980s (9), and a number of reintroduction projects have established populations in north-eastern and central Italy. A reintroduction project is also underway in Alicante province, Spain (8).

For those populations that remain in a perilous situation, such as in Morocco where it may be extinct, reintroduction projects have been recommended (8) (10). It has also been suggested that the status of the Eurasian griffon in North Africa should be examined, to provide the information necessary to implement conservation measures (10).

Learn more about the Eurasian griffon and other raptors:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Cramp, S. and Simmons, K.E.L. (1980) Handbook of the Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa: The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.          
  3. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  4. CITES (November, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org/
  5. Iezekial, S., Bakaloudis, D. and Vlachos, C. (2008) Conservation of Griffon Vulture “Gyps fulvus” in Cyprus. Cyprus Association of Professional Foresters, Cyprus.
  6. European Raptors - Eurasian Griffon (November, 2010)
    http://www.europeanraptors.org/raptors/eurasian_griffon_vulture.html
  7. BirdLife International (November, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/
  8. Global Raptor Information Network - Eurasian Griffon (November, 2010)
    http://www.globalraptors.org/grin/SpeciesResults.asp?specID=8264
  9. Le Gouar, P., Rigal, F., Boisselier-Dubayle, M.C., Sarrazin, F., Arthur, C., Choisy, J.P., Hatzofe, O., Henriquet, S., Le´cuyer, P., Tessier, C., Susic, G. and Samadi, S. (2008) Genetic variation in a network of natural and reintroduced populations of Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) in Europe. Conservation Genetics, 9: 349-359.
  10. Garrido, J. R., Camiña-Cardenal, A., Guinda, M., Egea, M., Mouati, N., Godino, A. and  Paz de la Rocha, J.L. (2005) Absence of the Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) in northern Morocco. Journal of Raptor Research, 39: 70-74.