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Aves bird of the week - Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus

The Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus -  is widely distributed and may be found in southern Europe, Africa and Asia. Unfortunately it is now extinct in South Africa. It has sometimes also been known as the Pharaoh's Chicken. It is a small vulture with white and black flight feathers and a wedge tail. The bill is slender and long and the tip of the upper mandible is hooked. The feathers on the neck are long and the bill is black. The facial skin is yellow and crop is unfeathered. Young birds are blackish or chocolate brown with black and white patches.

This species is often seen soaring in thermals often with other vultures. They are usually silent but near the nest they make high-pitched mewing or hissing notes.

Most of its foraging time is spent scavenging, soaring high up in the air before descending to the ground once it has found a carcass. It sometimes uses stones to break the eggs of birds making it one of the few birds that make use of tools. They feed on a range of food including mammal faeces, [especially human], insects in dung, carrion as well as vegetable matter and sometimes small live prey.

They roost communally and nests are often traditionally used year after year. Birds are however usually seen singly or in pairs. They are socially monogamous and pair bonds may be maintained for more than one breeding season. Extra-pair copulation with neighbouring birds is however noted and adult males tend to stay close to the female before and during the egg laying period. The nest sites include cliffs, buildings as well as trees.

The nesting season is February to April in India. Both parents incubate and the two eggs hatch after about 42 days. The second chick may hatch after an interval of 3 to 5 days or more. The longer the interval, the more likely is the death of the second chick due to starvation. The chicks stay in the nest for approximately 77 days.

The Egyptian Vulture is declining in large parts of its range, often severely. In Europe and most of the Middle East it is half as plentiful as it was about twenty years ago, and the populations in India and Southern Africa greatly declined.


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