Tuesday 21 May
White-headed vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
White-headed vulture fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
White-headed vulture description
With its bare, pink face and bright orange-red bill with a peacock blue base, this is one of Africa’s most colourful vultures (4). The white-headed vulture gets its name from the downy, white feathers on its head which give it an angular appearance. The bright facial colours contrast sharply with the black body, tail, wings and high ruff around its neck. The belly and thighs are white and its legs are pale pink (2) (4). Like other vultures, the white-headed vulture has a number of adaptations for feeding on the carcasses of large animals, but is also capable of killing small prey. The strong bill is capable of tearing flesh and the sharp, curved talons can grasp and pierce prey. Their large, broad wings can carry them for hours as they search for food (5).
- Vautour à tête blanche.
White-headed vulture biology
The white-headed vulture is an early riser and flies out from its roost earlier in the day than other vultures (4). It is often the first vulture to arrive at a kill made by carnivores during the previous night, and will feed on carrion and bone fragments in peace for a while before other vultures arrive (2), whereupon the white-headed vulture generally retreats (4) (7). White-headed vultures can, however, be very aggressive at a carcass and will rush in to a group of vultures to grab a scrap of food that is then taken away (7). This vulture species generally feeds alone or in pairs, and even at a large carcass rarely more than a handful of white-headed vultures will gather (2). They are considered to be an ‘aloof’ vulture, generally remaining on the fringe of a large group of feeding vultures (7). While the white-headed vulture generally feeds on carcasses, it will also steal food from other birds and, unlike most other vultures, sometimes kills small or weak prey. The diet of the white-headed vulture also includes termites, locusts, and sometimes stranded fish, when they are available (2) (7).
White-headed vultures lay a single egg at a time, usually in the dry season (2), into a nest they have constructed high up in a thorny acacia or baobab tree (4). The egg is incubated for 55 to 56 days (2). Initially white, the chick will have mostly brown plumage not long after it fledges at an age of 115 to 120 days (2) (7).Top
White-headed vulture range
The white-headed vulture has a widespread but patchy distribution in Africa, from Senegal east to Ethiopia, and south through East Africa to Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and northern South Africa (2).Top
White-headed vulture habitat
Inhabits hot, dry woodland and tree savanna (2), generally at lower altitudes, but can be found up to elevations of 4,000 metres (6). The species is commonly found in association with the baobab tree Adansonia digitata (7).Top
White-headed vulture statusTop
White-headed vulture threats
Assessed as Vulnerable to extinction by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the white-headed vulture is threatened by reductions in populations of medium-sized mammals and wild ungulates, on whose carcasses they feed, and the loss of suitable habitat (6). As a result, populations have been declining rapidly in West Africa since the early 1940s, and in southern Africa it now only generally occurs within protected areas (8). Like other vultures, some are accidentally killed after eating poisoned bait, set out by farmers to kill jackals suspected of taking their livestock (6), and human disturbance can cause adult white-headed vultures to abandon their nests during breeding (8), and the species is also susceptible to capture for trade and traditional medicine (7).Top
White-headed vulture conservation
Relatively little is known about the biology of this species, and any research is a valuable contribution to its conservation (7). The white-headed vulture is very reliant on protected areas throughout its range (6), which may protect certain populations from the threats of habitat loss and poisoning. To protect this accomplished scavenger and other vultures from becoming increasingly threatened, it has been recommended that further campaigns are implemented to raise awareness in farmers about the affect of poisoning on vultures (6) (9).Top
Find out more
For further information on the white-headed vulture see:
- Raptors Namibia:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
Authenticated (19/03/08) by Campbell Murn, Chief Scientific Officer, The Hawk Conservancy Trust.
- The flesh of a dead animal.
- Hoofed, grazing mammals.
- IUCN Red List (January, 2008)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- CITES (January, 2008)
- Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1996) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
- Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
- BirdLife International (January, 2008)
- Murn, C. (2008) Pers. comm.
- IUCN Fact Sheet: African Vultures (January, 2008)
- Raptors Namibia (January, 2008)
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.