Palm-nut vulture (Gypohierax angolensis)

Also known as: Vulturine fish eagle
French: Vautour palmiste
GenusGypohierax (1)
Weight1.2 – 1.8 kg (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Vultures are popularly portrayed as gruesome scavengers, an injustice even more pertinent for the fruit eating palm-nut vulture (4). With its extensive white plumage, and black wing and tail feathers, the adult palm-nut vulture can be crudely mistaken for both the African fish eagle and the Egyptian vulture, but clearly lacks the chestnut body of the former and the white tail of the latter (2) (5) (6). While the head, throat and neck is well feathered, reddish bare skin, conspicuous around the face and eyes, is distinctly vulturine (2) (7) (8). The sexes are almost identical in appearance, with the female being only slightly larger than the male. Juveniles on the other hand are predominately brown with partially black wings and take a lengthy three to four years to make the transition into the adult plumage (2) (7).

The palm-nut vulture has a widespread and locally abundant distribution in Africa, from the Gambia across to Kenya, and south as far as north-east South Africa (2) (7).

As the name suggests, the distribution of the palm-nut vulture closely tracks that of oil (Elaeis sp.) or raffia (Raphia sp.) palms. Consequently, it is most common in coastal forests and mangrove swamps below 1,500 metres, but also occurs in wet savannahs (2) (7).

The palm-nut vulture is one of the very few birds-of prey that regularly eats vegetable matter (4) (7). The fleshy husks of oil palm and raffia palm fruits, along with wild dates and other fruits, make up an astonishing 58 to 65 percent of the adult diet and up to 92 percent of the juvenile’s. This unusual vulture derives its remaining nutritional requirements from more conventional sources such as fish, crabs and invertebrates, through to small mammals, birds and reptiles, which it hunts or occasionally takes as carrion. Accordingly, it cannot be considered strictly frugivorous, but it is very rarely seen at the big carcases that are the staple of other African vultures (2) (7).

Breeding pairs construct large stick nests high up in tall trees and will often exhibit a strong attachment to the nest site, staying within its vicinity year round. At the beginning of the breeding season, pairs soar together in an aerial display of rolling and diving, much more acrobatic than most vultures (2) (7). During each breeding cycle, a single, white and chocolate-brown egg is laid, which is incubated by both sexes, over a period of four to six weeks (2) (7) (8). Normally around 85 to 90 days after hatching, the young brown chicks will fledge (2).

The population of palm-nut vultures appears to be stable with estimates in 2001 of approximately 240,000 individuals in Africa (9). Although in West Africa this species is at risk from habitat destruction, in other areas its range is expanding in unison with spreading oil palm plantations (2).

There are no known conservation measures in place for the palm-nut vulture.

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)