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Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus
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This species has a moderately small population which appears to be suffering an ongoing decline in its Asiatic strongholds, despite the fact that in parts of Europe numbers are now increasing. Consequently it qualifies as Near Threatened.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

98-107 cm. Huge, broad-winged vulture, short, often slightly wedge-shaped tail; all dark brown. Juveniles are blackish. One of the largest Old World vultures. Bare skin of head and neck bluish grey; head covered with blackish down. Massive beak. Sexes alike. Voice Little used and quite unspecialised. Calls include croaks, grunts, and hisses when feeding at carcasses; also querulous mewing, loud squalling or roaring during breeding season.

Distribution and population
Aegypius monachus breeds in Spain, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyztan, Iran, Afghanistan, north India, northern Pakistan (A. Khan, A. Parveen and R. Yasmeen in litt. 2005), Mongolia and mainland China, with a small reintroduced population in France (Heredia 1996b; V. Galushin in litt. 1999; Heredia et al. 1997; WWF Greece 1999). It may occasionally breed in Portugal, F.Y.R.O. Macedonia and Albania, but it no longer breeds in Slovenia, Italy, Cyprus, Moldova and Romania. There are wintering areas in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, north-west India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Lao People's Democratic Republic, North Korea and South Korea. Its global population is estimated to number 7,200-10,000 pairs, with 1,700-1,900 pairs in Europe (BirdLife International 2004; Anon. 2004) and 5,500-8,000 (Anon. 2004) pairs in Asia. In Europe, populations are increasing in Spain (minimum 1,500 pairs [Barov and Derhé 2011]), Portugal and France, and are stable in Greece and Macedonia (Barov and Derhé 2011). However, numbers are decreasing in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Turkey and the Ukraine (BirdLife International 2004; Barov and Derhé 2011). Overall, the European population underwent a large increase between 1990 and 2000, possibly >30% overall (BirdLife International 2004; I. Burfield in litt. 2005) and increased from 1,330-1,874 in 1993-1996 to 1,995-2,852 in 2000-2010 (Barov and Derhé 2011). Much less information is available regarding the status and population trends of the species in Asia, where the bulk of the global population resides. There are probably over 1,000 pairs in the Asian part of the former Soviet Union and a further 1,760 pairs in China (Ye Xiao-Ti 1991). It appears that breeding populations are more or less stable in Mongolia (where the species is described as common [N. Batbayar in litt. 2005]) and Pakistan (A. Khan, A. Parveen and R. Yasmeen in litt. 2005) (where it is described as scarce), although fluctuations in distribution and breeding success occur, and populations within some nature reserves in Mongolia (where there are few domestic livestock) are declining (N. Batbayar in litt. 2005). In Kazakhstan, however, populations of all vulture species are in severe decline, owing to a precipitous decline in their main food resource, the Saiga antelope (Saiga tartarica) (W. Fremuth in litt. 2005). This trend may be mirrored in a number of other central Asian countries where populations of both domesticated livestock and wild ungulates have declined greatly in recent years (T. Katzner in litt. 2005). Very little is known about population trends on its wintering grounds, although wintering populations appear to be declining in Nepal (H. S. Baral in litt. 2005) and increasing in India (T. Katzner in litt. 2005) and South Korea (Lee et al. 2006).

Population justification
Its global population is estimated to number 7,200-10,000 pairs, roughly equating to 14,000-20,000 mature individuals. This consists of 1,700-1,900 pairs in Europe (BirdLife International 2004; Anon. 2004) and 5,500-8,000 pairs in Asia (Anon. 2004). The population in Korea has been estimated at c.50-10,000 wintering individuals (Brazil 2009). The estimate roughly equates to 21,000-30,000 individuals in total.

Trend justification
Although the European population is increasing, the much larger Asian population appears to be in decline. Overall, a slow to moderate and on-going decline is suspected.

The species inhabits forested areas in hills and mountains at 300-1,400 m in Spain, but higher in Asia, where it also occupies scrub and arid and semi-arid alpine steppe and grasslands up to 4,500m (Thiollay 1994). It forages over many kinds of open terrain, including forest, bare mountains, steppe and open grasslands. Nests are built in trees or on rocks (the latter extremely rarely in Europe but more frequently in parts of Asia), often aggregated in very loose colonies or nuclei. Its diet consists mainly of carrion from medium-sized or large mammal carcasses, although snakes and insects have been recorded as food items. Live prey is rarely taken. In Mongolia, at least, the species is reliant on livestock numbers for successful nesting (Batbayar et al. 2006).

The two main threats to the species are direct mortality caused by humans (either accidentally or deliberately) and decreasing availability of food. The main cause of unnatural death is the use of poisoned baits for predator extermination (Anon. 2004b), although shooting and destruction of nests also occur (Anon. 2004b; N. Batbayar in litt. 2005). Shooting and poisoning are increasing in Mongolia (N. Batbayar in litt. 2005), and many birds are trapped or shot in China for their feathers. There are fears that veterinary application of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac, which has caused the near-extinction of several Gyps vultures in India, may have a negative impact on A. monachus (N. Batbayar in litt. 2005), particularly as increasing numbers of the species are wintering in northern India (T. Katzner in litt. 2005). A study in central Spain during 2003-2005 found high concentrations of antibiotics in blood samples from 57% of nestlings tested (Lemus et al. 2008). The same study found two antibiotics in the liver samples of all dead nestlings that were tested. It is hypothesised that antibiotic residues, particularly quinolones, cause liver and kidney damage, and deplete lymphoid organs and alter bacteria flora, facilitating pathogenic bacterial and fungal infections (Lemus et al. 2008). In Europe, decreased food availability was formerly caused by European Union legislation on carcass disposal (Anon. 2004b); however, recently passed regulations will allow the operation of feeding stations for scavengers (A. Brunner in litt. 2010). In eastern Europe and central Asia, particularly in the former Soviet Union, changes in agricultural practices and human migration from the countryside to the cities have greatly reduced numbers of domestic livestock. In Georgia and Armenia, declines may be linked to the loss of subsidies for sheep-herding in the post-Soviet era (M. McGrady in litt. 2007). Additionally, there have been steep declines in many populations of wild ungulates which provide a major food source for the species. The Saiga antelope (Saiga tartarica), for example, numbered over one million individuals ten years ago, and has now been reduced to a population of 30,000-40,000 owing to uncontrolled hunting and severe winters (W. Fremuth in litt. 2005). In South Korea, food limitation is a serious problem such that the species relies on supplementary food (Lee et al. 2006). Habitat loss is also thought to be important (Anon. 2004). The majority of brood losses occur during the incubation period and it is suspected this may be partially due to low and fluctuating temperatures (Batbayar et al. 2006) and so changes in air termperatures resulting from climate change may be a potential future threat to the species.

Conservation Actions Underway
The EU Birds Directive has contributed to the recovery and conservation of the species in Europe, particularly Spain, where the population has increased from an estimated 290 pairs in 1984 to a minimum of 1,845 pairs at present (De la Puente et al. 2007). Co-operation between Spanish government agencies and conservationists under the 'Antidote Programme' also appears to have been effective in mitigating the effects of poisoned baits. Both the Spanish and the Andalusian Governments have produced anti-poisoning strategies, but the former still remain to be financially supported while the latter need more decisive official endorsement. A reintroduction project in Grands Causses, Southern France has resulted in the establishment of a small breeding population (16 pairs were breeding in 2006 [Eliotout et al. 2007]) with good prospects. Supplementary feeding programmes have been initiated in Spain and France to provide a safe, poison-free food source, although there are concerns that the species may be not very prone to feed at conventional feeding stations. Captive breeding populations have also been established (Tewes et al.1998).  In the Balkans, the species has only one stable colony in the Dadia forest reserve in northern Greece, where WWF has long been involved. Supplementary food is also provided in Bulgaria for breeding birds (Anon. 2007) and South Korea during the winter, which may be the factor attracting birds from Mongolia (Lee et al. 2006). In eastern Europe and central Asia, fewer conservation actions are known, although the species occurs within a number of protected areas in the region. The Balkan Vulture Action Plan aims to transfer expertise and technology relating to the conservation of the species from western to eastern parts of Europe (Anon. 2004b).

Conservation Actions Proposed

Survey to determine the species's status and population trends on breeding grounds outside Europe and on wintering grounds (Anon. 2004b). Research threats, particularly the decline in abundance of prey species. Carry out reintroductions to link up the western and the eastern sub-areas of the present range, following the recommendations of The World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Black Vulture Conservation Foundation.  Develop the captive breeding programme to support both this and future reintroduction and supplementation efforts.  Restore wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus populations in the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands (Spain) as this may help to increase food availability, particularly during the breeding period. Promote cooperation and information exchange among people working on the species, both at a national and international level. Strengthen and enforce legislation regulating trade in pesticides that are used to poison meat baits. Increase the rate of prosecution and the severity of judicial sentences for illegal poisoning.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Anon. 2007. Species under the wing: what BSPB is doing for globally threatened species. Neophron: 2-3.

Barov, B and Derhé, M. A. 2011. Review of The Implementation Of Species Action Plans for Threatened Birds in the European Union 2004-2010. Final report. BirdLife International For the European Commission.

Batbayar, N.; Fuller, M.; Watson, R. T.; Ayurzana, B. 2006. Overview of the Cinereous Vultures Aegypius monachus L. ecology research results in Mongolia. In: Batbayar, N.; Paek Woon Kee; Ayurzana, B. (ed.), Conservation and Research of Natural Heritage. Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium between Mongolia and Republic of Korea,Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in September 30, 2006, pp. 8-15. Wildlife Science and Conservation Centre of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar.

BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

Collar, N. J.; Butchart, S. H. M. 2013. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook.

De la Puente, J., Moreno-Opo, R. y Del Moral, J. C. 2007. El buitre negro en España. Censo Nacional (2006). SEO/BirdLife, Madrid.

Eliotout, B.; Lecuyer, P.; Duriez, O. 2007. Premiers résultats sur la biologie de reproduction du Vautour Moine Aegypius monachus en France. Alauda 75(3): 253-264.

Heredia, B. 1996. Action plan for the Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) in Europe. In: Heredia, B.; Rose, L.; Painter, M. (ed.), Globally threatened birds in Europe: action plans, pp. 147-158. Council of Europe, and BirdLife International, Strasbourg.

Heredia, B.; Yarar, M.; Parr, S. J. 1997. A baseline survey of Cinereous Vultures Aegypius monachus in Western Turkey.

Lee, K.S., Lau, M.W.-N., Fellowes, J.R. and Chan, B.P.L. 2006. Forest bird fauna of South China: notes on current distribution and status. Forktail 22: 23-38.

Lemus, J. A.; Blanco, G.; Grande, J.; Arroyo, B.; García-Montijano, M; Martínez, F. 2008. Antibiotics threaten wildlife: circulating quinolone residues and disease in avian scavengers. PLoS ONE: 1-6.

Tewes E, Terrasse M, Bagnolini C & Sönchez Artez JJ. 1998. Captive Breeding of the European Black Vulture Aegypius monachus and the Reintroduction Project in France. . In: Chancellor, R. D., B.-U. Meyburg & J.J. Ferrero (ed.), Holarctic Birds of Prey: Proceeding of an International Conference, pp. 417-435. Meyburg Bernd-Ulrich.

Thiollay, J.-M. 1994. Family Accipitridae (Hawks and Eagles). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (ed.), Handbook of the birds of the world, pp. 52-205. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

WWF Greece. 1999. Dadia project report.

Ye Xiao-Ti. 1991. Distribution and status of the Cinerous Vulture Aegypius monachus in China. Birds of Prey Bulletin 4: 51-56.

Further web sources of information
Action Plan for the Cinereous Vulture in Europe

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Jump to the case study for this species in Wildlife comeback in Europe: The recovery of selected mammal and bird species (Deniet et al. 2003)

View photos and videos and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Capper, D., Derhé, M., Taylor, J. & Temple, H.

Baral, H., Batbayar, N., Brunner, A., Burfield, I., Fremuth, W., Galushin, V., Katzner, T., Khan, A., McGrady, M., Parveen, A. & Yasmeen, R.

The species distribution map was updated with the generous support of the African Raptor Databank, habitat INFO and the Peregrine Fund.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Aegypius monachus. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1766)
Population size 14000-20000 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 13,700,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment