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Palm-nut Vulture
Gypohierax angolensis

Status: Near Threatened

Population Trend: Increasing.

Other Names: Vulturine Fish-eagle.

Gypohierax angolensis
click to enlarge
Distribution: Afrotropical. SENEGAMBIA east to coastal KENYA and south to ANGOLA and northeastern SOUTH AFRICA. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: Brown and Amadon (1968) and Jollie (1977) noted that this species resembles the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), but other authors have hypothesized a relationship with the sea eagles (Haliaeetinae). Based on fossil evidence, Rich (1980) suggested that this species is more closely related to the snake eagles (Circaetus) and their relatives than to the Old World vultures. The molecular data of Lerner and Mindell (2005), based on molecular sequences of two mitochondrial genes and one nuclear entron, clearly show that the Palm-nut Vulture is a member of a clade, Gypaetinae, with the Madagascar Serpent-eagle (Eutriorchis astur), Egyptian Vulture, and Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus). Each is highly divergent from each other genetically, but they are still more closely related to each other than to other accipitrine species. Their similarities to the sea eagles are convergent in nature.

Movements: Partial migrant, with juveniles dispersing from breeding areas (Bildstein 2006). Dean and Le Maitre (2008) counted a lower percentage of juveniles in October than in May along the Congo River, probably indicating dispersal. Most movements are probably a response to changes in the availability of watered areas. Vagrants occasionally turn up far outside the usual range.

Habitat and Habits: Found mostly in savannas, at the edges of moist tropical and riparian forests, in coastal habitats, lagoons, and in areas of oil palm plantations. Brown and Amadon (1968) also listed mangrove swamps as a preferred habitat. Its distribution in West and central Africa coincides closely with the presence of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) and in southern Africa, with the palm Raphia vinifera. Typically a lowland species, but in Kenya may be found as high as 1,825 m (Clancey 1985) and up to 2,300 in Malawi (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett op cit.). Spends much of its time perched near food trees, or walking about on beaches, sandbars, and river banks. Does not soar as much as other vulture species and can be seen commuting between feeding and nesting areas. Gregarious, roosting in small groups in trees, but forages singly. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Largely vegetarian, feeding mainly on the epicarpus of fruits of Raffia Palm (Raphia vinifera) and Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis) taken from the trees. They feed less often on small animals, including bird nestlings, snakes, fresh fish, crabs (freshwater and marine), molluscs, rodents, giant snails, dung beetles, termites, flying ants, and locusts (Clancey 1985, Mundy et al. 1992, Chittenden and Myburgh 1996). Carrion feeding has been documented, and one was observed feeding a chick on the skeletal remains of sardine bait picked off the beach (Chittenden and Myburgh op cit.), but nestlings are fed mainly on palm fruit. They occasionally dive for fish in the manner of a fish-eagle (Tarboton 1990). These birds congregate at good feeding areas and are attracted to boats and fisherman. more....

Breeding: Not colonial, but adjacent pairs may nest within 1 km of each other (Tarboton 1990). The large stick nest is placed high in a tree, usually near water, and may be used in successive years. In Mozambique, nests were in a stand of exotic palms, and at Mtunzini, coastal South Africa, nests were in Raphia palms by a coastal lagoon (Clancey 1985). It is not certain that both adults build the nest (Serle 1954), or only one (Dean 2006). Lays a single dull white egg marked with smudges and blotches of brown with grayish undermarkings (Clancey op cit.). more....

Conservation: Very common and resident in suitable habitat throughout its sub-Saharan African range and has expanded its range in some areas, where oil palms have been introduced. Classified globally as a species of "Near Threatened" by BirdLife International 2016. more....

Population Estimates: The total global population was estimated at 80,000 pairs by Mundy et al. (1992).

Important References: 
Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban, and K. Newman. 1982. The birds of Africa. Vol. 1.
  Academic Press, London.
Chittenden, H.N. 2005. Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis. Pp. 483-484
  in P.A.R. Hockey, W.R.J. Dean, and P.G. Ryan (eds.), Roberts' Birds
  of Southern Africa. 7th ed. Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund,
  Cape Town, South Africa.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Kemp, A.S. 1994. Palm-nut Vulture. P. 125 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and
  J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New World
  vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Mundy, P.J., and D.G. Allan. 1997. Palmnut Vulture. P. 204 in J.A.
  Harrison et al. (eds.), The atlas of South African birds. Volume 1:
  Non-passerines. BirdLife South Africa and Avian Demography
  Unit, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Mundy, P.J., J.A. Ledger, and R. Friedman. 1992. The vultures of Africa.
  Academic Press, London.
Steyn, P. 1982. Birds of prey of southern Africa: their identification and
  life histories. David Phillip, Cape Town, South Africa.

Sites of Interest:
Palm-nut Vulture photos.

Last modified: 2/5/2016

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 18 Oct. 2021

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