Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)

Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)

Prettier than vultures, but mostly scavenger birds. Every species has its own individual hunting system, and the diets of some birds of this subfamily is not based only on carrion.


  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Accipitriformes
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Subfamily: Gypaetinae
  • Genus: Gypaetus
  • Species: Gypaetus barbatus
  • Subspecies:
    • Gypaetus barbatus aureus
    • Gypaetus barbatus barbatus
    • Gypaetus barbatus meridionalis
  • Names: Bearded vulture, lammergeier, ossifrage
Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)
Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).

Areas of occurrence

As there are numerous species in the Gypaetinae subfamily, it inhabits every continent apart from the Arctic and Antarctic. It prefers the tropical, subtropical and moderate climates.

It lives in the European mountains (the Pyrenees, Alps), Asia (the Caucasus, Zagros, Altai and Alborz mountains plus the Himalayas) and Africa (for example the Atlas mountains, Ethiopian Highlands, the northeast Zaire, Kenya and north Tanzania).

This species is inextricably woven with mountains, inliers, canyons, cliffs and valleys. It is also often observed in the Alpine tundra and heathlands.

It prefers areas abundant with bones, where many predators like wolves or golden eagles live. In Ethiopia, it usually inhabits the outskirts of small villages and towns. It rarely appears below 1000 meters (3,300 ft) above sea level, most often living more than 2000 meters (6,600 ft) above sea level.

Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).
Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).



It has been observed that the Himalayan bearded vultures are larger than those living in other mountain ranges. As a general rule females are bigger than males. It can be distinguished from Old- and New World vultures by its feathered head and a thick, strong neck. A slender profile, large, strong legs and a duck-like gait. Adult animals are usually dark gray, white or russet, face being blue-gray or gray-to-black.

A white forehead contrasts with two black stripes located between both eyes and the foundation of its beak, their end forming a distinctive beard (hence the name of this species). The coloration of its head, breast area and legs changes to russet, yet it is a result of the bird`s occasional ‘wallowing’ in dust and grime.

The tail and wing feathers are gray. Immature vultures are brown-to-black over almost entirety of their bodies, they gain ‘adult’ colors after 5 years of age. It is a silent bird, it makes sounds only in the nest or during mating rivalry over a female, emitting shrill vocalizations.

Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).
Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).

Methods of acquiring food

It is a scavenger, which dietary taste is aimed at eating bone marrow. It swallows whole bones, or crushes them to smaller (yet not at all small) pieces. Its powerful digestive system is designed precisely for such a diet. If a bone is too large to swallow, it drops it mid-flight over the rocks, from an altitude of 50 – 150 m (160–490 ft). A cracked bone provides easier access to a highly nutritious bone marrow. If a bone does not crumble into pieces small enough, the bearded vulture repeats the whole ritual. Such a method requires exceptional skills, which take about 7 years of intensive training to master!

It also hunts for live prey, much more often than regular vultures do. It particularly likes tortoises, which it drops high enough for the shells to crack. Other animals it eagerly eats include: hares, marmots, rock hyraxes, wild goats, ibexes and steenboks. It kills them by blocking their escape route, forcing them to jump down the precipice, although some such situations prove to be an unfortunate coincidence, when a terrified mammal runs away from a suddenly appearing bearded vulture.

Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).
Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).


The mating season depends on the inhabited region: it lasts from August until December in Eurasia, from May to June in the Indian subcontinent, from May to October in Ethiopia, from to January in South Africa. It customarily leads a solitary lifestyle, but in the hatching season it makes deep relationships. Males show their aerial skills and present their talons.

Females lay 1-2 eggs, rarely 3. Incubation lasts for 53-60 days, newly hatched birds spend 100-130 days in the nest. They become independent after about 2 years, being provided for during this period by their parents. The nests are usually built in caves or steep rocky slopes, which makes it inaccessible for other predators.

Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).
Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).

Characteristics / size

Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)

  • Body length: 94 – 125 cm (37–49 in)
  • Wingspan: 231 – 283 cm (91–111 in)
  • Wing: 71.5–91 cm (28–36 in)
  • Tail: 42.7–52 cm (17–20.5 in)
  • Tarsus: 8.8–10 cm (3.5–3.9 in)
  • Mass: 4.5 – 7.8 kg (9.9–17.2 lb)

Bearded vulture is not an endangered species.

Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).
Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).

Bearded vultures – interesting facts

  • Himalayan bearded vultures may inhabit areas located higher than 7500 meters (24,600 ft) above sea level and fly on altitudes of over 7 km (22,950ft).
  • Bearded vulture is the only present-day bird specialized in acquiring bone marrow.
  • It is able to fly carrying a bone 10 cm (4in) wide in diameter and weighing over 4 kg (8.8 lb), or equal to its own body mass.
  • The bearded vulture population inhabiting the Ethiopian Highlands has adapted to eating human garbage waste.
  • The concentration of its stomach acid is about 1 pH, which means that even large bones are digested over 24 hours.
Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).
A bearded vulture fending off another vulture species.


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