Vultures play a critical role in maintaining the balance of our environment. They are nature’s cleanup crew, scavenging and disposing of animal remains that could otherwise become breeding grounds for disease. By swiftly recycling organic matter, Vultures help prevent the spread of illnesses that could affect both humans and animals.

Vulture species of South Africa

Sadly, the Vulture species of South Africa, are exposed to a wide variety of threats which include poisoning, habitat degradation, population fragmentation, limited safe food availability, human disturbance, as well as energy infrastructure collisions and electrocutions.

Of the six Vulture species that occur in South Africa, all are either Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered. Today, as we recognise World Vulture Appreciation Day, we’d like to share more about each of these incredible species to inspire further support and protection of these incredible birds. 

Introducing the Vulture Species of South Africa:

White-Headed Vulture  (Trigonoceps occipitalis)

IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered

Estimated Breeding Pairs in South Africa: 80-100

White-Headed Vulture facts

The White-Headed Vulture is a distinctive vulture species, with their white heads and pink necks contrasting against their dark, feathered bodies. They are roughly 78–82 cm tall with a wingspan of over two metres, weighing approximately 3.3 to 5.3kg.

These Vultures are usually found solitary or in monogamous pairs. Most nests are found in Acacia trees and one egg is laid at a time, however 61% of pairs do not breed every year due to still having a dependent chick from the previous year.

Vulture species of South Africa - White-Headed Vulture

In 2000, White-headed Vultures were listed as Vulnerable in the Red Data Book. In 2015, their status was uplifted to ‘Critically Endangered’, which was maintained upon the most recent assessment in 2021. Significantly, following Vulture nest surveys across the province of KwaZulu-Natal in 2021, conservation organisations Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Wildlife ACT confirmed the localised extinction of breeding White-Headed Vultures.

Hooded Vulture  (Necrosyrtes monachus)

IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered

Estimated Breeding Pairs in South Africa: 50-100

Hooded Vulture facts

The Hooded Vulture is aptly named for the distinctive black hood of feathers that covers their head and neck. Their dark plumage contrasts with its pale, featherless face, which is specifically adapted for its feeding habits.

This relatively small Vulture generally weighs between 1.5 to 2.6kg and has a wingspan of around 160cm. Due to their smaller size, Hooded Vultures are able to rise on thermal currents easily which often makes them among the first arrivals at nearby carcasses. 

Vulture species of South Africa - Hooded Vulture

Hooded Vultures form monogamous pairs, with one egg laid per breeding season and an incubation period of 48-54 days. Chicks are dependent for around the first seven months of their lives.

African White-Backed Vulture  (Gyps africanus)

IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered

Estimated Breeding Pairs in South Africa: 4000

African White-Backed Vulture facts

African White-Backed Vultures are medium in size, standing at around 94cm high and weighing between 4-7kg. They are light brown to cream in colour with juveniles being a slightly darker and deeper brown. 

These Vultures are tree-dwellers, most commonly found in open wooded savanna and bushveld. They are scavengers of carrion and aggressive feeders, but will also hunt when the need arises. 

Vulture species of South Africa - White-Backed Vulture

When it comes to breeding, White-Backed Vultures are predominantly monogamous and will often nest in small colonies in scattered trees a few hundred metres apart. One egg is laid and will hatch after a period of roughly 58 days, following which, both parents care for the chick for up to six months. 

Lappet-Faced Vulture  (Torgos tracheliotos)

IUCN Red List Status: Endangered

Estimated Breeding Pairs in South Africa: 180

Hooded Vulture Facts

Weighing in at up to 9kg and standing at 110cm tall, the Lappet-Faced Vulture is the largest and most powerful of the Vulture species of South Africa. Although they are often outnumbered by smaller species such as the African White Backed Vulture, they are the most dominant at a carcass during feeding. 

The Lappet-Faced Vulture has a wingspan of between 2.5-2.9m, making it unmissable when soaring above. This species is notable for its reddish-coloured neck and bald head, as well as its dark-coloured feathers. 

Vulture species of South Africa - Lappet-Faced Vulture

The Lappet-Faced Vulture lives either in solitude or in monogamous pairs and will breed once a year. Females become sexually mature at around six years of age and will typically only lay one egg per breeding season. Following an incubation period of around 55 days, chicks will remain dependent on parents until they are 5-6 months old. 

Cape Vulture  (Gyps coprotheres)

IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable

Estimated Breeding Pairs in South Africa: 4500

Cape Vulture Facts

The Cape Vulture is southern Africa’s only endemic vulture species. These vultures formerly bred in Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Namibia, but are now extinct in Swaziland, with only small, non-breeding populations remaining in Zimbabwe and Namibia.

This species has a fairly large wingspan of up to 2.6m and typically weighs from 7 to 11 kg. They are distinguished by their bare blue-coloured necks and cream-coloured plumage with dark brown feathers. 

Vulture species of South Africa - Cape Vulture

Cape Vultures have a potential lifespan of over 30 years. They are cliff dwellers and live in colonies with large, extended families. They are monogamous breeders and lay one egg per breeding season. It is estimated that there are 4,500 breeding pairs remaining in southern Africa, with about 20% of the total population residing in the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains.

Bearded Vulture  (Gypaetus barbatus)

IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered

Estimated Breeding Pairs in South Africa: 50 to 100 breeding pairs in South Africa and Lesotho

Bearded Vulture Facts

The Bearded Vulture has experienced a drastic decline during the past century, which has resulted in an isolated population restricted to the Maloti-Drakensberg mountain range. Interestingly, they are the only known vertebrate with a diet that consists of almost just bone. 

With adults weighing in at 6kgs, a wingspan of 2.6 metres, striking plumage, red eyes and long, diamond-shaped tails, it is easy to see how these beautiful birds acquired the name ‘Monarchs of the Mountains’.

Vulture species of South Africa - Bearded Vulture

Bearded Vultures are cliff nesters, opting for rocky ledges. They lay one or two eggs during winter, with hatchlings being dependent on the parents for up to two years. 

Unlike most Vultures, the Bearded Vulture does not have a bald head, making it better equipped for cooler climates. This bird is a spectacular sight in its own right, as well as a vital component of the environment, performing an essential ecological role as a scavenger.

Support the cause

Please help to support the critical work being done to protect the Vulture species of South Africa HERE.

To learn more about how to get involved, please contact Wildlife ACT’s Vulture Programme Manager on

The post Recognising the Six Vulture Species of South Africa appeared first on Wildlife ACT.

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