Bird O'clock

Unlocking the Secrets of the Cinereous Vulture: From Diet to Migration

The Ancient Murrelet is a seabird that belongs to the Synthliboramphus genus and ranges from the North Pacific Ocean to the coasts of Alaska, Russia, Japan and China. These birds are also known as the Old World Murrelets and are closely related to the Marbled and Kittlitz’s Murrelets.


The Ancient Murrelets are small seabirds, with a length of around 25 cm and a wingspan of about 45 cm. They have a characteristic black and white plumage with grayish-brown feathers on their back, while their underparts are black with white patches.

These birds have a distinctive forked tail and a thin, pointed bill. Their legs and feet are short and are set back in their bodies.

They have dark brown eyes and a white line around their eyes. Field


Ancient Murrelets are difficult to identify in the field, especially when seen from a distance in their winter plumage.

They tend to be solitary or appear in small groups, and their flight is swift and relatively straight. When seen from close proximity, their black and white plumage and distinct forked tail make them easier to identify.

Similar Species

The Ancient Murrelet can be confused with other murrelets species, such as the Kittlitz’s and Marbled Murrelets. The Kittlitz’s Murrelet has a slightly larger size and distinctive white auriculars, while the Marbled Murrelet has a mottled brown and white plumage.


The Ancient Murrelet has two plumages, the breeding and winter plumage. The breeding plumage consists of black and white feathers with white bars on their wings and a grayish-brown back.

Their eyes have a brown iris and a white circle around them, while their bill is dark reddish-brown. They have a yellow-orange beak-lining, which is visible when they open their mouths.

The winter plumage is similar to the breeding plumage but lacks the distinct white bars on their wings.


Ancient Murrelets have a pre-basic molt and a pre-alternate molt. The pre-basic molt happens during the non-breeding season, and the pre-alternate molt occurs before the breeding season.

During the pre-molt period, the birds undergo a complete replacement of their feathers. This molt is essential for the birds to maintain their feathers’ quality and to be able to fly efficiently.

In their breeding season, the Ancient Murrelets gather in large numbers and use burrows and crevices to nest, where they lay a single egg.


The Ancient Murrelet is a fascinating bird with a unique appearance and distinctive features. They are a small but critical part of the marine ecosystem, and their conservation is necessary to maintain the balance of the oceanic ecosystem.

Understanding the bird’s identification, plumage, and molting processes is necessary for bird watchers and conservationists to provide adequate protection and support. The

Systematics History,

Geographic Variation,


Related Species, and

Historical Changes to Distribution are all crucial aspects that help in understanding the evolution of a certain species.

The Cinereous Vulture, also known as Aegypius monachus, is a bird of prey that belongs to the family Accipitridae. It is among the largest birds of prey that inhabit Eurasia.

Systematics History

The Cinereous Vulture was first described by Linnaeus in 1766. Initially, it was classified as Vulturus monachus.

In 1843, it was reclassified under Aegypius, which is currently the accepted genus. The bird was formerly classified under the family Vulturidae, which was later merged with Accipitridae.

The Cinereous Vulture belongs to the tribe Gypini together with other vultures such as the Himalayan Vulture and the Red-headed Vulture.

Geographic Variation

The Cinereous Vulture has a wide range, spanning over 103 countries in Eurasia, from Spain to China. Despite their vast distribution, the Cinereous Vultures exhibit minor geographic variations, especially in size and plumage coloration.

The birds breeding in the Middle East are slightly smaller than the ones breeding in southern Europe and Central Asia. Also, the birds breeding in the northern regions of the Cinereous Vulture’s range have a blacker plumage.


There exist three subspecies of the Cinereous Vulture, which are distinguished by their size and geographic distribution. The subspecies include:


Aegypius monachus monachus- This subspecies is common in Europe, ranging across the Iberian Peninsula, the Alps, Eastern Europe, Greece, the Caucasus, and the western areas of the Volga. 2.

Aegypius monachus floridanus- This subspecies is found in the Middle East and is characterized by its smaller body size compared to A. m.


3. Aegypius monachus raddei- This subspecies inhabits eastern Asia.

It is larger and darker than the other subspecies.

Related Species

The Cinereous Vulture is part of the Accipitridae family, which also includes the Gyps genus. The Gyps genus comprises seven vulture species distributed across Asia and Africa.

These species have distinct features that make them easily recognizable. Other closely related species include the Red-headed Vulture, Himalayan Vulture, and the White-backed Vulture.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Cinereous Vulture’s distribution has significantly changed over the years. In the 19th century, the species’ range reached North Africa and the Balkans.

However, by the mid-20th century, their numbers had significantly reduced due to hunting, poisoning, and habitat loss. The species became extinct in many parts of their range such as in France, Austria, and Bulgaria.

Currently, the species has been reintroduced in some of its extinct regions such as the Alps, Spain, and France. The reintroduction programs have been successful, and the population of the species has been gradually increasing.

The migration patterns of the Cinereous Vultures have also been affected by human activities. The birds are prone to collisions with power lines and collisions with vehicles while feeding on animal remnants along roads.

The alteration of the bird’s habitat and availability of food has also affected their migration patterns.


In conclusion, understanding the history, variation, and distribution of a species is crucial in developing conservation strategies to ensure their survival. The Cinereous Vulture is an important bird of prey that plays a critical role in the ecosystem.

The identification of the geographical variations, subspecies, and the related species, help in understanding how the species has evolved over time. The historical changes in the distribution of the species also provide insight into how human activities have affected the species.

Conservation efforts that address these issues can help to ensure the continued survival of the Cinereous Vulture.


The habitat of an animal is critical for its survival, and the Cinereous Vulture is not an exception. The vulture’s habitat ranges across Eurasia, and it occupies a wide range of habitats from open forests to rocky areas and high mountains.

They are also common in steppe regions and in areas with cliffs and deep valleys. The Cinereous Vulture prefers open areas where they can soar high and easily spot their prey.

However, their population has been negatively impacted by habitat loss due to human activities such as agriculture, logging, and urbanization.

Movements and Migration

The Cinereous Vulture is a migratory bird, and its movements are influenced by the availability of food and favorable climatic conditions. During winter, the birds move to the south and southeast, while in summer, they move to the north and higher altitudes.

The birds migrate in large groups, and their migration pattern usually follows the large ridges and mountain ranges. They also use thermals to help them climb higher and conserve energy while traversing long distances.

The migration patterns of the Cinereous Vulture have been highly affected by human activities. Research studies have shown that electrocution on power lines and collisions with wind turbines and tall buildings have been major causes of their mortality.

Conservation efforts, such as installing bird-safe power poles and turbines, have been initiated in some areas to mitigate these threats. These efforts have been successful in reducing the number of fatalities resulting from contact with infrastructure.

Despite the challenges faced by the species, some populations have managed to adapt to urbanization. Studies have shown that some birds have been observed living and nesting on artificial structures such as transmission towers and tall buildings.


In conclusion, habitat and migration patterns play a significant role in the survival of the Cinereous Vulture. The species has a wide range of habitat, but human activities such as logging and urbanization have significantly reduced their habitat.

The vultures are migratory birds that move to areas with favorable climatic conditions and the availability of food. However, anthropogenic activities, such as infrastructure development, have disrupted their migration patterns and have led to their mortality.

Conservation efforts such as the installation of bird-safe infrastructure have been initiated in some areas to mitigate these threats.

Diet and Foraging

Diet is one of the main factors that influence animal behavior and population dynamics. The Cinereous Vulture is a scavenger, feeding on carrion, which they find using their excellent eyesight and sense of smell.


The Cinereous Vulture feeds on carrion, but it can also attack live prey, such as small to medium-sized mammals and birds. They often form groups while feeding on a carcass and can eat up to two kilograms of meat in a single sitting.

After consuming the meat, they regurgitate pellets containing indigestible parts such as bones and fur. The vultures play an essential role in the ecosystem by helping to remove decaying matter and reducing the spread of diseases.

However, the disappearance of their primary food sources caused by factors such as environmental degradation, disease outbreaks, and hunting, has threatened their population.


The Cinereous Vulture’s diet primarily consists of ungulates such as deer, wild boar, and domestic livestock. They also feed on smaller animals such as rodents and birds.

Their broad range of food sources has made them effective scavengers, and they play a crucial role in cleaning up carcasses and contributing to nutrient cycling in the ecosystem.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Cinereous Vulture’s metabolism is adapted to the cyclic nature of their feeding habits. They can quickly digest large quantities of food, making them efficient scavengers.

The vultures’ unique biological adaptations allow them to regulate their body temperature, allowing them to maintain a stable internal environment. These adaptations include a large surface area to volume ratio, which helps in heat dissipation, and a specialized respiratory system that allows them to cool or warm their body as required.

Sounds and Vocal


Vocalization is an important aspect of bird communication, used for a range of purposes, such as identifying mates, socialization, and territorial defense. The Cinereous Vulture has a range of vocalizations, which are used during various activities such as courtship, territorial defense, and foraging.


The Cinereous Vulture is not a highly vocal species, though they use different calls for communication. The calls range from hissing, croaking, and bill clapping, to grunts and groans.

During flights, the vultures mimic the nasal-sounding calls of Eagles and Ospreys. They mostly use grunts and groans during feeding when competing for food.

The vocalizations of the Cinereous Vulture have been studied to better understand their behavior and biology. Research has shown that their vocalizations are mostly non aggressive and are used for communication and socialization.


In conclusion, diet and vocal behavior are important aspects of the Cinereous Vulture’s behavior. The vultures are scavengers and feed on a range of animals, making them effective at cleaning up carcasses and keeping ecosystems healthy.

The vultures’ unique metabolic adaptations enable them to digest large quantities of food and maintain a stable internal environment. The vocalizations of the Cinereous Vulture are essential for communication and socialization.

The grunts and groans they emit during feeding are crucial in communicating their needs and defending their food sources. Understanding these aspects of the Cinereous Vulture’s biology is critical in developing conservation strategies to ensure the survival of the species.


Understanding an animal’s behavior is essential in developing conservation plans to ensure their survival. The Cinereous Vulture is a fascinating bird with many unique behaviors.


The Cinereous Vulture has a powerful flight that enables them to soar over vast distances while searching for food. They are also adapted to perching on cliffs or trees where they can observe their surroundings.

Their powerful wingspan and strong flight allow them to glide effortlessly for hours while saving energy.

Self Maintenance

Cinereous Vultures carry out self-maintenance activities such as preening and bathing to keep their feathers clean and free from parasites. Preening involves the use of the beak to clean and align their feathers.

Bathing is done by immersing themselves in water or dust baths to get rid of parasite infestations. Agonistic


Agonistic behavior is common among social animals and is used to establish dominance and protect resources such as food sources.

Cinereous Vultures exhibit agonistic behavior when competing for food or defending their territory. Threat displays such as bill clacking and hissing are used to intimidate rivals and warn off predators.



The mating rituals and behavior of the Cinereous Vulture are essential in understanding their reproductive success. During courtship, the male and female engage in flight displays such as soaring together in mid-air and exchanging food.

The courtship display also involves bowing, mutual preening, and wing flapping.


The breeding season of the Cinereous Vulture varies according to their location. The birds make their nests on rocky cliffs or isolated trees.

Their nests are typically made of twigs and lined with grass and feathers. The female lays a single egg, and both parents take turns incubating the egg.

After hatching, the chick is dependent on its parents for food and protection. Cinereous Vultures have a slow reproductive rate, and the chick takes several months to reach maturity.

During this time, the parents forage and bring back food to the nest until the chick is able to fend for itself.

Demography and Populations

The Cinereous Vulture’s population has significantly declined due to various factors such as hunting, habitat loss, and poisoning from ingestion of lead bullets. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as near threatened.

Conservation efforts such as habitat restoration, captive breeding, and reintroduction programs have been initiated to help conserve the species. These efforts have been successful in increasing the Cinereous Vulture’s population in some areas.

However, the species is still under threat, and more support is needed to ensure its long-term survival. In conclusion, understanding the behavior, breeding, and populations of the Cinereous Vulture is essential in formulating conservation plans that ensure their long-term survival.

The vulture’s unique behavior and reproductive strategy make them vulnerable to environmental changes. The aggressive conservation efforts initiated can help in the recovery of the Cinereous Vulture’s population, and their continued success requires increased efforts in habitat preservation, reducing lead poisoning, and continued monitoring of the population trends.

The Cinereous Vulture is a remarkable bird species that plays a critical role in the ecosystem as a scavenger. Understanding the topics covered in this article, such as systematics history, geographic variation, subspecies, diet and foraging, breeding, and behavior, helps to develop effective conservation strategies towards the protection of this endangered species.

The Cinereous Vulture’s behavior and migration patterns are significantly affected by human activities such as habitat loss and environmental pollution. Encouraging efforts have been initiated in the field of conservation, focused on increasing breeding success, habitat restoration, and strengthening captive breeding and reintroduction programs.

By supporting these conservation efforts, we can protect and increase the population of this incredible bird of prey.

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