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Red-headed Vulture
Sarcogyps calvus

Status: Critically endangered

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: Sarcogyps calvus, Asian Black Vulture, Asian King Vulture, Asiatic King Vulture, Indian Black Vulture, King Vulture, Pondicherry Vulture, Torgos calvus.

Sarcogyps calvus
click to enlarge
Distribution: Indomalayan. Eastern PAKISTAN through INDIA, except for the extreme southern portion, and NEPAL to south-central CHINA (Yunnan), MYANMAR, Indochina, and northern Malay Peninsula. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: Based on nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene, Wink (1995) found that this species belongs to the largest of two clades of Old World vultures, which contains the genera Aegypius, Gyps, Sarcogyps, Torgos, and Trigonoceps. Seibold and Helbig (1995) found a similar relationship, but noted that this species was consistently excluded from the clade including the other three genera, indicating that it is the most primitive member of the group. Amadon (1977), Stresemann and Amadon (1979) and Amadon and Bull (1988) recommended that the four monotypic genera of large Old World vultures be merged into a single genus, Aegypius, based on morphological similarties. Seibold and Helbig (1995) and Wink (op cit.) agreed, noting that the relatively small genetic distances between them are typical for intrageneric distances in other accipitriform groups. This treatment was followed by Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001), but other authors have placed this species in Torgos.

Movements: Irruptive or local migrant and also an altitudinal migrant in some areas (Bildstein 2006).

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in open country, often near human habitation, well wooded hills, and dry deciduous forests with rivers, usually below 2,500 m (Grimmett et al. 1998, Robson 2000). Unlike Gyps vultures, this species is mainly solitary away from roosts, and typically only one or two attend a single carcass.

Food and Feeding Behavior: Carrion feeder, now depending mostly on the carcasses of large livestock.

Conservation: BirdLife International categorizes this species as Near Threatened (2006), but evidence of a drastic decline of populations in India since 1999 prompted Cuthbert et al. (2006) to recommend that its status be immediately upgraded to Critically Endangered. Because its status is not well documented in other countries where it occurred, at least formerly, it is provisionally classified here as Endangered. In general, populations of large Asian vultures have been declining for years as the result of a decline in food items (wild ungulates), intensification of agriculture, increased sophistication of waste disposal techniques, direct persecution, and the spread of avian diseases (Clark 1994), but the extremely rapid declines of several Gyps species in the past few years has been due chiefly to the effects of the pharmaceutical drug, diclofenac, and further studies may show that this species has been similarly affected.more....

Population Estimates: BirdLife International presently estimates the total number of mature individuals in the range of 2,500 to 9,999 individuals, butnoted that the supporting data are of poor quality. more....

Important References: 
Clark, W.S. 1994. Red-headed Vulture. P. 129 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.
Cuthbert, R., R.E. Green, S. Ranade, S. Saravanan, D.J. Pain, V. Prakash,
  and A.A. Cunningham.
2006. Rapid population declines of Egyptian Vulture
  (Neophron percnopterus) and Red-headed Vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) in
  India. Animal Conservation 9:349-354.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world.
  Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Lerner, H.R., and D.P. Mindell. 2005. Phylogeny of eagles, Old World
  vultures, and other Accipitridae based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA.
  Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37:327-346.
Naoroji, R. 2006. Birds of prey of the Indian subcontinent. Christopher
  Helm, London.

Sites of Interest:
Red-headed Vulture photos.

Arshad, Muhammad
Bohra, Dr. Dau Lal
Dhakal, Hemanta
Gilbert, Martin
Gurung, Surya
Kapetanakos, Yula
Soni, Hiren
Teli, Janki

Last modified: 9/15/2010

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 26 May. 2020

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