Home | Species Database | Species Accounts | Bibliography | Researchers | Related Sites | Login

White-headed Vulture
Trigonoceps occipitalis

Status: Critically endangered

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: 

Trigonoceps occipitalis
click to enlarge
Distribution: Afrotropical. Sub-Saharan Africa from SENEGAL east to ETHIOPIA and SOMALIA, south to NAMIBIA and northern SOUTH AFRICA. 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. Stresemann and Amadon (1979) and Amadon and Bull (1988) recommended that the four monotypic genera of large Old World vultures all be merged into a single genus, Aegypius, and Wink (op cit.) agreed, noting that the relatively small genetic distances between them are typical for intrageneric distances in other groups. This treatment was followed by Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001). more....

Movements: Adults are sedentary and territorial, so they are less likely to move long distances than colonial-nesting vultures (STeyn 1982). Immatures are more nomadic and wander to areas that are unsuitable for breeding (Mundy et al. 1992). The most distant ring recovery was about 200 km away from the point of origin(Mundy et al. 1992). Of 77 birds ringed in southern Africa by 1998, three were recaptured, all within about 100 km of the ringing site (Oatley et al. 1998).

Habitat and Habits: This is the most solitary of the African vultures, usually seen singly or in pairs in mixed deciduous and broad-leaved woodland, rather than in semi-arid thornveld (Mundy et al. 1992). However, it does occur in the arid thornveld areas of western Etosha National Park in Namibia (Mundy 1997). It is more common in the lowlands than at higher elevations. Its distribution closely tracks that of the Baobab, Adansonia digitata, which is a favorite nest tree (Palgrave 1977). Roosts near the nest tree. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Not strictly a large carrion-feeder, as its diet also includes small, helpless animals, including lizards, snakes, and insects, and it also pirates the prey of other predatory birds. This is often the first vulture to discover a large carcass, being second in that regard only the Bateleur, but it is also attentive to the movements of other scavenging species and adept at locating small carcasses on its own (Steyn 1982). This species also typically feeds alone. Although it is dominant over White-backed Vultures on a 1:1 basis, it loses out in competition when large numbers of the latter species arrive at a carcass. More often, it is "aloof" from other vultures (Mundy 1997). more....

Breeding: Breeding occurs annually. This species is non-colonial and probably territorial breeder, and adjacent nests are usually between 8-15 km apart. The large stick nest is usually placed in the crown of a tall, solitary acacia tree or baobab. Some pairs maintain two or more nests, which they use alternately. The clutch size is one egg. The parents share parental duties, including incubation, brooding, and feeding the chicks. more....

Conservation: The most poorly known African vulture species, sparsely distributed throughout the open country of sub-Saharan Africa. Populations have declined in most areas, and BirdLife International recently upgraded its status to "Critically Endangered", owing to its combination of low density, solitary habits, and almost exclusive association with extensive undisturbed natural woodlands, making it extinction-prone through the isolation of non-viable populations. This species has also suffered from poisoning and from the loss of small mammal populations as the result of expanding conversion of lands to agriculture. more....

Population Estimates: The total global population was estimated to be 2,600-4,700 pairs (7,000-12,5000 individuals) by Mundy et al. (1992), but Monadjem (2004) suggested that there might be far more, based on a comparison of theoretically available habitat and known densities of this vulture. Mundy (1997) estimated that there are 500 breeding pairs of this species in southern Africa, and a more recent estimate by Monadjem (2004) was less than 450 breeding pairs. more....

Important References: 
Anderson, M.D. 2000. Whiteheaded Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis, Pp.
  79-81 in K.N. Barnes (ed.), The Eskom Red Data Book of birds in
  South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban, and K. Newman. 1982. The birds of Africa. Vol. 1.
  Academic Press, London.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Kemp, A.C. 1994. White-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.
Mundy, P.J. 1982. The comparative biology of southern African vultures.
  Vulture Study Group, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Mundy, P.J. 1997. White-headed Vulture. Pp. 164-165 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.
Piper, S.E. 2005. White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis. Pp.
  492-493 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.
Steyn, P. 1982. Birds of prey of southern Africa: their identification and
  life histories. David Phillip, Cape Town, South Africa.

Sites of Interest:
White-headed Vulture photos.

Hancock, Pete
Kendall, Corinne
Rondeau, Guy

Last modified: 2/5/2016

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 26 Jul. 2021

Home | Species Database | Species Accounts | Bibliography | Researchers | Related Sites | Login

Copyright © 1999-2012 The Peregrine Fund. All Rights Reserved.