Bearded Vulture

Bearded Vulture

The Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus ("Bearded Vulture-Eagle"), is an Old World vulture, the only member of the genus Gypaetus. It breeds on crags in high mountains in southern Europe, Africa, India and Tibet, laying one or two eggs in mid-winter which hatch at the beginning of spring. The population is resident. The Lammergeier has been successfully re-introduced into the Alps, but is still one of the rarest raptors in Europe.

Like other vultures it is a scavenger, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals. It usually disdains the rotting meat, however, and lives on a diet that is 90% bone marrow. It will drop large bones from a height to crack them into smaller pieces. Its old name of Ossifrage (or Bone Crusher) relates to this habit. Live tortoises are also dropped in similar fashion to crack them open. Local people have even accused this species of intentionally forcing people off the edges of cliffs, although any incidents like this probably had everything to do with incautious people and nothing do to with Lammergeiers.

Description

Unlike most vultures, the Lammergeier does not have a bald head. This huge bird is 95-125 cm (37-49 inches) long with a 235-280 cm (91-110 inches) wingspan, and is quite unlike most other vultures in flight due to its large, narrow wings and long, wedge-shaped tail. It weighs between 5 and 7 kg (11 and 15 lbs).

The adult has a buff-yellow body and head, the latter with the black moustaches which give this species its alternative name. It may rub mud over its chin, breast and leg feathers, giving these areas a rust-coloured appearance. The tail and wings are grey. The juvenile bird is dark all over, and takes five years to reach full maturity. The Lammergeier is silent, apart from shrill whistles at the breeding crags, and can live up to 40 years in captivity.

Habitat

The habitat is exclusively mountainous terrain (between 500 and 4,000 meters; 1,300 to 13,100 feet). It breeds from mid December to mid February, laying 1 to 2 eggs, which hatch between 53 and 58 days. After hatching the young spend 106 to 130 days in the nest, before fledging.

Conservation status

Although the Lammergeier is threatened within its range in Europe, the species has a large range across Asia and Africa and is relatively common across much of that range. As such the species is listed as least concern by the IUCN and BirdLife International, although there is some evidence of decline.

Etymology

This species was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758 as Vultur barbatus. The name of the Lammergeier originates from German Lämmergeier, which means "lamb-vulture" or "lamb-hawk". The name stems from the belief that it attacked lambs.

Legend

The Greek playwright Aeschylus was said to have been killed in 456 or 455 BC by a tortoise dropped by an eagle who mistook his bald head for a stone – if this incident did occur, the Lammergeier must be a likely candidate for the "eagle".

More recently, in 1945, it is said that Shimon Peres (called Shimon Persky at the time) and David Ben-Gurion found a nest of Bearded Vultures in the Negev desert. The bird is called “peres” in Hebrew, and Shimon Persky liked it so much he adopted it as his surname.

References

External links

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