|Population||5,500 (2016 est.)|
|Conservation status||Critically endangered|
The white-headed vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) is a bird of prey from the subfamily of the Old World vultures, Aegypiinae, and is the only species of the genus. This vulture has a strongly disjointed range in sub-Saharan Africa, and where it is found the IUCN classifies the species as "critically endangered" as a result of the continuing decline in numbers due to poaching and poisoning.
White-headed vultures bear long wings and a slightly rounded tail. The length is 28–33 inches, the wingspan is 7-7.8 feet, and the weight 8.8-10 pounds. Females are slightly larger than males. The feathered part of the head, the throat, the abdomen, the leg feathering are white; in females, the inner arm wing coverts are also white. The upper of the bird, including a wide chest band, is blackish brown. The non-feathered part of the head and forehead are pastel rose in color, which when energized, become more intensely red. The iris is dark yellow. The base of the bill is a pale cobalt blue, the remaining beak is orange-red. The unfeathered parts of the legs and the toes are pink, the strong claws are black.
Range and habitat
The range is large for this species, but extremely disjointed, and covers vast parts of sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal in the west across Sudan to Eritrea in the east. To the south it reaches the northern parts of South Africa to the Oranje river.
The species mainly inhabits savannas, with open thorn bushes and sparse wooded grassland. In the search for food also more densely forested areas and completely untamed landscapes are visited, up to partially desert country. White-headed vultures can fly up to 13,000 feet when searching for food.
The food consists predominantly of carrion of all kinds. In addition, live food is also taken, as they raid flamingo nests and probably also small mammals, birds and reptiles. Flooded fish on shores and beaches as well as grasshoppers, other large insects (and their larvae) as well as termites are part of the diet. The species is often the first to arrive at carrion sites, but is not the dominant vulture there; they will wait until the dominant birds eat their fill.
White-headed vultures breed in pairs. The courtship consists of common circles above the breeding ground and sitting near the nest. The nest is built on the crown of an acacia or other flat-crowned tree. It is made of branches, with grass and hair lining the interior. One eggs is laid, incubated by both parents for about 51 to 56 days. The young bird is fledged after 110 to 120 days. The breeding season is strongly influenced by the amount of rainfall, and in years with under-average rainfall no more than 61% of breeding pairs lay eggs.
The population of white-headed vultures varies regionally, but overall the population has declined significantly in recent decades. There have been strong numbers in West Africa since the early 1940s, while in Southern Africa today the species is largely restricted to reserves. Today it is listed as "critically endangered" by the IUCN, with a low estimated population of 5,500 individual birds as of 2016; some estimates put it higher at 7,000 to 12,500 birds. The main causes of the decline are the lack of food due to the reduction of the population of large and small mammals; the destruction of habitats due to changes in use; traditional medicinal and/or food use by native peoples; shooting by poachers under the belief that the circling vultures give away the locations to illegal big game kills (i.e. rhinos, elephants); and unintentional poisoning at bait traps meant for nuisance mammalian predators. The recent introduction of the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac is also a possibility, but it has to date not been proven that the white-headed vulture feeds on carcasses of domestic livestock on which the drug has been used.