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What is a Griffon Vulture?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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The griffon vulture is a carrion eating bird that’s primarily located in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. They’re approximately 35 to 43 inches long (90 to 110 cm), with a wingspan of 90 to 106 inches (230 to 270 cm) and a weight of 13 to 30 pounds (5 to 13 kg). The birds' head and neck are mostly bald with white coloring, while the feathers on their bodies are generally brown with a few lighter patches. In some areas of the world, griffon vultures have suffered serious population declines, partly because of habitat destruction. Like many other vultures, they have relatively long life spans, and they’re known to be the second largest bird in the European part of their range.

Primarily a scavenger, the griffon vulture will fly in large groups looking for food, but unlike vultures in the Americas, it doesn't have a particularly great sense of smell. The griffon vulture tends to find its food visually. Once a carcass is located, the whole flock will descend and eat together. Griffon vultures generally co-exist quite peacefully and rarely fight each other, even when food is involved.

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The birds have a reputation for flying long distances. It’s not considered unusual for them to travel 80 to 100 miles (120 to 161 kms) at a time in search of food. They aren’t known for particularly strong beaks, and sometimes they let other vulture species open carcasses for them. Under normal circumstances, they only eat muscle tissue and internal organs, avoiding more difficult types of meat like hide and gristle. In areas where human beings have a large presence, the griffon vulture will sometimes take advantage of food opportunities at landfills.

The griffon vulture generally prefers to live in barren locations with mountainous terrain and very few trees. Nests are usually constructed in cliffs, using small pieces of wood, plant matter and other debris. Pairs are thought to mate for life, and they generally lay a clutch of one or two eggs, which incubate for about 50 days. They are very social birds, and it’s not unusual for a griffon vulture to build its nest in the same general location as several others.

When the young are born, they are lightly covered with white down. After they learn to fly, the parents continue feeding them for a short period of time. Griffon vultures generally leave the nest after about 160 days, and they don’t reach reproductive age for about five years. Their average lifespan is thought to be approximately 40 years.

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