Wild adult white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) in flight.Pinjore, Haryana, India

Vulture fact files

Vultures are an essential part of the ecosystem in South Asia.

Help Asian vulture numbers soar again

Vultures are an essential part of the ecosystem in South Asia.

When an animal dies, huge numbers will flock to clean up the carcass, devouring it in just a couple of hours and ridding the surrounding countryside and communities of decomposing flesh that can harbour disease and attract other, less desirable scavengers. A single bird can consume around 120kg of flesh in a year.

Although they may possess an ungainly gait on the ground, these amazing birds are the epitome of elegance and grace above it. Thanks to their huge wings, they can glide through the sky on rising thermals while using their remarkable eyesight to search for food.

Without them, the whole South Asian countryside and environment has changed and diminished. But there's still time to bring these amazing birds back from the brink by giving £4 a month to support vital breeding centres and Vulture Safe Zones.

With your support, we aim to help white-backed, long and slender-billed vulture numbers soar again. Let's take a closer look at each and discover why these birds are so special...

Oriental White-backed Vulture pair perched in tree

Five fascinating vulture facts

  1. When on the ground and feeding in huge squabbling groups, 200 vultures can strip an animal carcass to the bone in less than half an hour. With the decline of vultures comes an increase in animal carcasses just left lying around to rot — in India, an estimated 12 million tonnes of meat every year is no longer consumed by vultures
  2. Vultures' incredibly strong stomach acid defends them against dangerous bacterial diseases, including cholera and anthrax
  3. Vultures are entwined in the fabric of everyday life in South Asia. People and vultures have lived alongside each other for centuries. Without vultures to consume the body, the Parsi community are unable to carry out their traditional sky burial
  4. To cool off, vultures defecate on their legs — an evaporative cooling effect much like sweat. This also serves as a way of disinfecting their legs after standing in rotting carcasses
  5. Vultures are magnificent birds of prey. To see one floating effortlessly in a windless sky is an unforgettable experience — a vast silhouette soaring high in the air, riding the thermals with surprising elegance and grace.
Asian vultures eating a carcass

Slender-billed vulture

Slender-billed vultures are found in India, north and central Bangladesh, and southern Nepal, Burma and Cambodia.

This vulture, which nests in trees, is mostly grey in colour, but paler underneath with a black bare neck and black head.

They typically vary from 31 to 37 inches (80–95 cm) in length. 

Today, their population numbers fewer than 1,000 birds.

Slender-billed vulture being released, pinjore breeding centre, haryana

Oriental white-backed vulture

The Oriental white-backed vulture was so abundant in India in the 1980s that it was probably the most common large bird of prey in the world. Only one in a thousand now survives, a staggering 99.9 per cent decline for this species.

Oriental white-backed vultures naturally have a whitish back with the same colour extending to their rump and underwing, in contrast with otherwise dark plumage. They weigh 3.5–7.5 kg (7.7–16.5 lbs), measure 75–93 cm (30–37 in) in length, and have a wingspan of 1.92–2.6 m (6.3–8.5) ft.

Their sense of smell is poor but they have incredible eyesight which allows them to spot possible food from high in the air. They will also keep an eye on one another and if one birds starts descending, others will quickly follow.

There are now fewer than 11,000 birds in the wild, which tend to favour plains and flatlands and are less likely to be found in upland areas.

White-backed vulture

Long-billed vulture

Long-billed vultures are closely related to the Griffon vulture and breed mainly on rocky cliffs and crags, although they will use trees if necessary, as in Gujarat and Rajasthan. 

This vulture sports a bald head, very broad wings and short tail feathers. 

Long-billed vultures typically weigh between 5.5 and 6.3 kg (12–13.9 lbs), measure 80–103 cm (31–41 in) long and boast a wingspan of between 1.96 and 2.38 m (6.4 to 7.8 ft).

Their current population numbers around 45,000 birds.

Vulture chicks