The  Forgotten  bird

Egyptian Vulture


Text and photos by Ernesto Francini


Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus).


In silence, sadly it is disappearing, with the dignity of whom doesn't want to disturb, as if it was aware of the indifference of the man towards it, the Egyptian vulture, the smallest European vulture, is going slowly toward the extinction. 


It would like to say us that we are doing too few things for its survival, that the things done, till now, have not been enough, that once it had respect and protection from our progenitors, while today it is only an unknown or ignored animal for the most greatest part of the people. 


And my thought goes still instinctively to remember the good sense of our ancestors, which, aware of the importance of the nature, they respected it and they understood it more than us today. As to indicate that the man's evolution, reaching unexpected goals through the technological progress, causes a loss of wisdom of the human being. 


The vulture of the ancient Egyptians, so also called , since already at the time of this civilization it was appreciated for its quality of nature sweeper; eating carrion of deceased animals and organic rubbishes contributed to maintain the man estranging from the pestilences and illnesses. 

Revered to such point to become one of the ideograms of the Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabet, still today visible on the obelisks and in the frescos of the Pharaoh graves, now it is disappearing forever from our territories. 


Egyptian vulture ancient effigy.


An intelligent vulture, solitary, calm, silent, whose proximity a sensation of serenity gives me, the same feeling that is tried when a trusted friend is near to us. 

With length between 53 and 65 cm, it has a pure white plumage with the wings having blackish primary remiges. The head and the throat have yellow naked skin to whose base detaches a whitish hairy collar and its wings opening is of 1,6 mt. about. 

It possesses a very agile flight with sudden turns, glides, and quick ascents of altitude. 

Its great agility in the flight allows it to face and to compete, for the control of the territory, with others fast birds as the Buzzard (Buteo buteo) the Red kite (Milvus milvus) and the Raven (Corvus corax).   


Smaller than the other european vultures as Griffon (Gyps fulvus) and the Bearded (Gypaetus barbatus) it’s satisfied with very little eating foods, that these vultures, bigger than it and with which cannot have a confrontation, leave on the ground. Endowed of a thin bill as a " finisher " that allows it to dig between the bones of the dead animals, where the others cannot arrive. 


It is fed of deceased animals and it never attacks alive, wild or domestic animals. 

It is also nourished of placentas left by the livestock on the ground, vegetables and rotten fruit, insects and eggs. 


It knows how to use utensils, as only few birds are able to do, to obtain food.  

When it desires to feed with eggs, but these have a resistant shell, it uses a stone. Holding it up in the bill it lets it to fall down repeatedly on the shell to get its breakage.  


Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) in glide. 


It frequents mountainous open zones mainly or lowlands destined to the pasture of livestock at the wild state. 


Migratory, it winters in Africa to south of the Sahara and it returns in southern Europe during the spring season to nest. 


It builds the nest on hollow or windowsills of isolate impregnable rocky walls, that allows it a vast visual control of the territory, so that it can individualize the rests of deceased animals quickly. It possesses a very acute sight and it has the exceptional ability to discover also food of small dimensions. 

The nest is a branches heap of different greatness and it is internally garnished with wool of sheep and other soft material. 

The mating happens in the nest proximities and it is preceded by spectacular flights of parade in dive and in glide. 

The female deposes 1 or 2 eggs of white color and they are incubated then by both the adults for around 42 days.

After the birth the chicks have fed from both its parents and they remain in the nest for around 80-90 days, after which they fly away. 

The births are programmed so that the take-off of the young birds from the nest happens in the month of August, before undertaking the migration toward the winter districts that it usually happens in September.   





Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus).


Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus)





Completely extinct in the north Italy, it survives only with few exemplars, about ten pairs, in the south of the country, while in the rest of Europe it is in strong decline. 


The reasons for this decline are once more attributable to the man. 


Decimated by the poaching, from the wild hunting in proximity of the nest-building areas

to get as trophy a bird become now rare, from the almost disappearance of the wild pasture replaced by the most profitable breeding in the farms, from the poisoning of dead livestock to keep further the raiders as the wolf and the fox. 


The Egyptian vulture, in Italy, it is often forced to feed in the rubbish dumps. 


As consequence of this we have reached to such point that, if, in our country, drastic measures won't be taken immediately for its protection and safeguard, within few time it will be extinct surely. 


To avoid its disappearance is necessary to have new Italian centres for the reproduction in captivity; the actual reproduction cannot be founded on few centres and few exemplars only. 


I realize that the thing it is not easy to be effected, but I am also sure that the nature salvation, on this planet, it will pass only through the stubbornness and the passion of  irreducible men, which won't be stopped in front of the obstacles that they will find on their way. 


It’s therefore necessary to increase the number of the unities destined to the reproduction in captivity and to release as soon as possible, on the whole national territory, a number of born birds more great, installing in the oases opportune mangers where these birds can feed in case of scanty availability of food. 


If every national park and every protected oasis of the Italian territory decided to adopt 

a pair of Egyptian vultures and they will provide for its reproduction in captivity, for then  

to release the new born in nature, they would have given a great contribution against the extinction of this necessary bird.


In this manner they will have contributed to adorn and to repopulate the fauna of their own region and of the whole our country, and, surely, the Egyptian vulture will compensate us for this. 


The Pharaoh can ascend to the sky 

assuming the features of an Egyptian vulture. 


Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) in flight.