Info Series
  • Register

Cape Vulture

August's bird of the month is theCape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres)

Cape Vulture

Colouring: Iris pale straw; bill and cere black; bare facial skin bluish; legs and feet greyish black; pale whitish to buffy, with strongly contrasting blackish wings and tail; last row of upper and underwing coverts usually with black spots; back mottled with broad streaks; paired blue patches on either side of crop; eye light yellow.

Voice: Fairly vocal at nesting colonies and carcasses; grunts, squeals, cackles and hisses.

Habitat: Mostly mountainous country, or open country with inselbergs and escarpments; less commonly in savanna or desert.

Distribution: Mainly Southern Africa. Numbers are declining, probably as a result of reduced herds of game, improved stock-farming practices, indiscriminate use of poison (mainly strychnine), electrocution on power lines, and reduced breeding success through juvenile mortality (mainly because of inadequate supply of bone fragments).

Habits: Highly gregarious at all times; roosts and nests on precipitous cliffs. Soars out 2-3 hours after sunrise to forage over a wide area, often well away from mountains; cruises at 26-29km/h. Aggressive at carcasses.

Food: Carrion, bone fragments; grooves and serrations on tongue enable rapid feeding on soft tissues of carcass.

Breeding season: April to July.

Incubation and fledging: One white egg, very rarely two. Incubation: 55-58 days by both sexes. Nestling: 140 days, fed by both parents; dependent on parents for up to 221 days after leaving nest.

Other important information:

It is estimated that the entire global population of the Cape Vulture stands at approximately 2 900 breeding pairs, virtually all in southern Africa, with the large majority residing in South Africa, and a small percentage remaining in Botswana. The largest three Cape Vulture colonies are found along the Magaliesberg mountain range (Nootgedacht in Gauteng and Skeerpoort and Robert's Farm in North West). There are also breeding colonies in Blouberg (Limpopo) and Manoutsa (Mpumalanga). These colonies make up the bulk of the global population with a total breeding pair count of 2 081, 72% of the total.


VulPro News, December 2011.

Gordon Lindsay Maclean: Roberts' Birds of Southern Africa, Sixth Edition. 1993.

Kenneth Newman: Newman's Birds by Colour. 2000.

These photos are provided by Vulpro.  Photographs are courtesy of Gavin Orbel, Eris Stockenstroom and Mercia Komen of the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy/Oori; this series is a joint venture with Hartebeestfontein Conservancy (text)