African AnimalsAfrican birding

White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)

It is a large, light-brownish vulture with subtle patches on its underwings and a distinct dull rump most noticeable when it is in flight. This scavenger bird thrives in open plains and savannas and breeds loosely-structured colonies found in tall trees. While it is the most common vulture in Africa, its number is falling rapidly due to poisoning.

Read further to know more about the White-backed Vulture

What is a White-backed Vulture?

White-Backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) is a vulture belonging to the Accipitridae family, which includes kites, hawks, eagles, and buzzers. This Old World vulture is related to the European Griffon Vulture and regarded as the African White-backed Vulture to separate it from the White-rumped Vulture, which was initially thought to be its closest cousin. These scavenger gorge themselves, feeding on carcasses of large dead animals.

Its seven levels of classification are as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Accipitriformes

Family: Accipitridae

Genus: Gyps

Species: G. africanus

White-backed Vulture Physical Description

African White-backed Vulture is an Old World Vulture, reaching a body length of 37 inches or 94 centimeters and weighing between 4 to 7 kilograms. Its wingspan stretches between 6.2 to 7.4 feet or 1.9 to 2.25 meters. These broad wings allow them to soar high and use air thermals for longer flights when searching for food.

They have a bald head, short tail, and neck with a white ruff. These birds have a whitish back and rump, where it got its name, contrasting its darker plumage. Other variable colors can also be seen, such as brown on its wing joints and shoulder, black flight feathers, and dark brown secondary feathers. Its underparts are tawny, underwings are whitish, while its crop sports a brown patch.

Their eyes, legs, and feet are all dark brown. Their bills are black regardless of age. Juveniles have very dark brown plumage, stronger than adults. It may take 4 to 6 years for them to resemble the plumage of the adults.

Where can they be spotted?

White-backed Vultures are the commonest vulture in Africa, thriving in wooded areas and equatorial forests where large grazing mammals also reside. However, there are instances when they can also be found along streams. They occur in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Namibia, South Africa, and West Africa.

Interesting Facts You Should Know About the White-backed Vulture

White-backed vultures are carnivorous, and strict-meters. However, they do not hunt prey. Instead, they eat carcasses and bone fragments of dead animals primarily. They rarely attack live animals, though they may kill extremely wounded or sick creatures.

These birds have gregarious feeding habits and often gather in large flocks. They can be seen in huge numbers, especially if there is a surfeit in food resources. However, they can only consume soft tissues and don’t have the ability to open carcasses with thick skin. If it encounters dead animals with thick hides, it waits for other scavengers, such as hyenas, and jackals, to eat them first.

White-backed vultures soar high to search for food. They have keen eyesight, making them good at spotting dead animals. When one member notices carrion, it circles in the sky to tell other vultures about the find and invites them to eat. It is the lightest among other vultures in Africa, also making them the most agile.

These vultures will often gorge themselves with food, so much that it makes them heavy enough that they can’t fly. When that happens, they bathe with other vultures or rest while spreading their wings against the sun.

White-backed vultures are monogamous and will form life-long bonds with their partners. Their breeding period occurs during the dry season in which they nest with other birds from a loosely-structured colony. They build their nest exterior using sticks and line the interior with leaves and grass. The female white-backed vulture will lay a single egg, which parents will jointly incubate for around 56 days. After hatching, both parents cooperatively feed and tend the chick until it reaches its fledging period and disperses from the family in around four months.

White-backed vultures are classified as Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List. The main threats to their population are habitat destruction, fewer food resources, hunting, poisoning, persecution, and collision to electricity wires.

These birds must be preserved as they have a vital role in the ecosystem, serving as the clean-up crew on Earth. By eating carrions, they help prevent diseases and infections from spreading.

WILDLIFE PARKS AND RESERVES WHERE THIS SPECIES IS FOUND:

 BOTSWANA

Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Chobe National Park

Linyanti Swamp

Makgadikgadi Pan

Mashatu Game Reserve

Okavango Delta

Moremi Game Reserve

Savute

SOUTH AFRICA

Kruger National Park

NAMIBIA

Caprivi Region

Damaraland

Etosha National Park

Namib-Naukluft National Park

Skeleton Coast

ZAMBIA

Kafue

Lechwe Plains

Lower Zambezi

South Luangwa

Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park

ZIMBABWE

Gona-re-Zhou

Hwange

Lake Kariba

Mana Pools

Matobo Hills

Victoria Falls

Whitebacked Vulture
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