Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus


Justification of Red List Category
This species has been uplisted to Near Threatened owing to evidence that is has undergone a moderately rapid population decline over the past three generations.

Population justification
Ferguson-Lees et al. (2001) estimated the population to number 1,000-10,000 individuals, but in Europe the population is estimated at 580-790 pairs, which equates to 1,200-1,600 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). A revised global estimate is therefore 2,000-10,000 individuals, roughly equating to 1,300-6,700 mature individuals.

Trend justification
This species is declining throughout its range with the exception of northern Spain, where the population has increased since 1986. Poisoning, both accidental and targeted, as well as habitat degradation, disturbance of breeding sites and collision with powerlines are considered to be the main threats (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Overall, it is suspected that the population has declined by 25-29% over the past three generations. Within Europe the population is estimated to be decreasing by at least 10% in 53.4 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015).

Distribution and population

This species is widely and disjunctly distributed across the Palearctic, Afrotropical and Indomalayan regions, but is very rare in some areas and thought to be in decline overall (Ferguson- Lees and Christie 2001).

In India, the species is locally common throughout the Himalayas, from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh (R. Naoroji in litt. 2011, P. Trivedi in litt. 2013). Some altitudinal movements occur during winter, when individuals are occasionally seen as low as 600 m (R. Naoroji in litt. 2011). It is a widespread altitudinal migrant in Nepal (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2011), with its population in the country estimated at c.500 individuals in 2010 (K. Paudel and T. Galligan in litt. 2014). The species is described as rare in Bhutan (S. Sherub in litt. 2013). In Iraq, there may be fewer than 20 pairs (R. Porter in litt. 2013), with less than 100 mature individuals in the Arabian Peninsula (Symes et al. 2015).

The species is regarded as rare and at high risk in Egypt (W. A. L. Ibrahim in litt. 2011). There are estimated to be a few hundred pairs in Ethiopia (I. Angelov in litt. 2011). In 2011, there were only three nest-sites known in Kenya, and six or more in Tanzania, with the population in Uganda unknown, although there was evidence of near total loss of the Mt Elgon population (S. Thomsett in litt. 2011). There are estimated to be 5-10 pairs in Morocco, but not recent information on its status in Algeria, and it is considered extinct in Tunisia (F. Cuzin in litt. 2011). In southern Africa, including South Africa, the population is estimated at c.100 breeding pairs (S. Krüger in litt. 2012).

In Europe, the population has grown in the Alps (with the emergence of new breeding pairs due to a reintroduction project, with 19 pairs in 2010), and in the Pyrenees, particularly in its central part (Aragon, Spain), from its population of 39 pairs in 1994 to 72 pairs in 2010. In Spain, two reintroduction projects are under way in Andalusia and the Cantabrian Mountains. The total Spanish population was estimated at 117 pairs in 2012 (BirdLife International 2015). The total population in EU countries was estimated at 175 pairs in 2010 (J. A. Gil Gallus in litt. 2011) and the total European population was recently estimated at 580-790 pairs (BirdLife International 2015).The population in Azerbaijan is estimated at 50-100 pairs and the population in European Russia is estimated at 150-250 pairs (BirdLife International 2015). There were thought to be 2-5 individuals in the Macedonia-Greece and Bulgaria-Greece border areas at the turn of the century, however there has been a lack of records in these areas since 2005 (E. Stoynov in litt. 2011). In Turkey, the population is estimated at around 160-200 pairs (K. A. Boyla in litt. 2014, BirdLife International 2015). In Armenia, the population is estimated at 15-25 breeding pairs (BirdLife International 2015). Population trends vary regionally and locally.
In the Himalayas of India, there has been a perceived decline in recent years (P. Trivedi in litt. 2013). It was once commonly seen in the western and central Himalayas, but in recent years it has not been observed as frequently in the central lower Himalaya, perhaps owing to disturbance (R. Naoroji in litt. 2011), and there has been an apparent decline in Uttarakhand since the late 1990s (M. Sharma in litt. 2014). Populations in Ladakh and along the high Himalayas are regarded as likely to be secure (R. Naoroji in litt. 2011). Steep declines have been recorded in the Upper Mustang region of Nepal recently, with numbers recorded per day and per kilometre decreasing by 73% and 80% respectively between 2002 and 2008 (Acharya et al. 2010). The population appears to be stable in south-eastern Kazakhstan (S. Sklyarenko in litt. 2011). In Yemen, the species appears to have declined since the early 1980s (R. Porter in litt. 2013). The species's range and population in Turkey also appear to have declined in recent years (K. A. Boyla in litt. 2014, BirdLife International 2015). In Armenia, the population has been stable since the 1990s (M. Ghasabyan in litt. 2011). In southern Africa, the species's breeding range has declined by about 27% since the early 1980s, with the number of breeding territories declining by 32-51% between 1960-1999 and 2000-2012 (Krüger et al. 2014, S. Krüger in litt. 2012).


Behaviour It is resident where it occurs, but has vast home ranges, and juveniles will wander even more widely than adults (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Habitat The species occupies remote, mountainous areas, with precipitous terrain, usually above 1,000 m, though can occur down to 600 m (R. Naoroji in litt. 2011, H. Ibrahim in litt. 2016), and in particular areas where large predators such as wolves and Golden Eagles are present, and there are herds of mammals such as mountain goats, ibex, and sheep (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Diet The species will forage over vast distances (up to 700 km in one day has been recorded), using a soaring flight. Its principle food is carrion, with its diet including a large proportion of bones (as much as 85%) whereupon the bird gets nutrition from the marrow inside. The rest of its diet comprises tortoises, and occasionally also live mammals and birds. It is generally unwilling to compete with vultures at carcasses, and will wait patiently to feed, scavenging older carcasses if fresh meat is scarce. Bones are either consumed whole, broken using the bill, hammered against the ground, or lifted into the air and dropped from 50-80 m high onto hard rock. Tortoises and hyraxes are generally treated in the same way as bones.  It is known to scavenge in rubbish dumps, including urban areas in Ethiopia (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Breeding The species will construct large nests (averaging 1-m diameter), composed of branches and lined with animal remains such as skin and wool, as well as dung and occasionally also rubbish. Nests are located on remote overhung cliff ledges or in caves and will be re-used over the years. Breeding occurs from December to September in Europe and northern Africa; October–May in Ethiopia; May-January in southern Africa; year-round in much of eastern Africa; and December-June in India (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001).


The main causes of on-going declines appear to be non-target poisoning, direct persecution, habitat degradation, disturbance of breeding birds, inadequate food availability, changes in livestock-rearing practices and collisions with powerlines and wind turbines (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001, Barov and Derhé 2011, S. Xirouchaki in litt. 2012). Despite the provision of targeted conservation actions, the European population remains susceptible to poisoning and mortality caused by powerlines (J. A. Gil Gallus in litt. 2011). Since European reintroductions began, mortality from shooting has decreased, however poisoning (both intentional and accidental) has increased (Margalida et al. 2008). Rapid increases in grazing pressure and human populations in the mountains of Turkey are causing habitat degradation there (S. Viter in litt. 2014). Suitable habitat is also threatened by pipeline construction through the Caucasus mountains (S. Viter in litt. 2014). Three of five failed eggs of this species and four dead nestlings sampled in the Spanish Pyrenees from 2005-2008 had high concentrations of multiple veterinary drugs (especially fluoroquinolones) and evidence of several livestock pathogens (Blanco and Lemus 2010). 

In South Asia, the most significant potential threat may be from diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used in livestock and responsible for catastrophic declines in three of the region's Gyps species since the 1990s, through ingestion at contaminated carcasses and resultant kidney failure (reviewed by Das et al. 2010). The species is primarily a bone-eater, and it is not known if diclofenac residues remain within bones of treated animals, although residues are known to be passed into feathers and hair; however, the local collapse in Gyps species could allow this species to access and feed on soft tissues from which it would have been excluded (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2013).

In the Himalayas of India, the species may be impacted by the increase in feral dogs, which potentially compete for food (P. Trivedi in litt. 2013). Rapid increases in grazing pressure and human populations in the mountains of Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and western Pakistan are causing habitat degradation in these countries (S. Viter in litt. 2014). Suitable habitat is also threatened by pipeline construction through the Altai and Caucasus mountains, and powerline construction is planned from Tajikistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India (S. Viter in litt. 2014). In parts of Nepal at least, the species may suffer from the collection of nestlings, as they are seen by local people as a good omen for prosperity, as well as the destruction of nests to reclaim human-made materials such as rope and fabrics, and hunting pressure driven by the use of the species's intestines in traditional medicine (Acharya et al. 2010, K. Paudel and T. Galligan in litt. 2014). The use of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides may also have impacts on the species (Acharya et al. 2010).

In Africa, the most prevalent threat to scavenging birds is said to be poisoning (Krüger 2015, S. Thomsett in litt. 2011). The species is threatened by the construction of powerlines and wind farms in the highlands and the use of poisons to control dogs at refuse tips (Rushworth and Krüger 2014, Krüger 2015, I. Angelov in litt. 2011). Simmons and Jenkins (2007) suggested that population trends in this species in southern Africa may be correlated with climate trends. Better access to the highlands of Lesotho may be increasing the rate of anthropogenic disturbance of the species there (Krüger 2015). The species may also be hunted in Africa for food, as well as for its use in traditional medicine (Krüger 2015, W. Goodwin in litt. 2016) Despite the threat of habitat degradation, the species has been noted to adapt to and nest in modified landscapes, such as in Ethiopia (S. Thomsett in litt. 2011).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. EU Birds Directive Annex I. The production of a Multi-species Action plan for the conservation of Africa-Eurasian vultures is underway. In Europe, captive breeding and reintroduction programmes have been carried out in the Austrian, French, Italian and Swiss Alps with individuals subsequently spreading into other parts of France (Snow and Perrins 1998, Frey and Walter 1989). Reintroduction programmes are underway in parts of Spain (J. A. Gil Gallus in litt. 2011). Feeding stations have been provided in the Pyrenees with resulting increases in numbers of the species, and the provision of similar stations across the species’s range could improve its global population density (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). However, while these have helped to increase population growth and individual survival, they can have negative impacts on vultures; for instance they can lead to habitat saturation, with individuals' territories overlapping at these areas, and can lead to reduced productivity (Carrete et al. 2009, Gil et al. 2014). A reintroduction programme was attempted in Kenya in 1999-2003 (S. Thomsett in litt. 2011). The species is monitored in Southern Africa, with an annual count day which not only aids in the monitoring of the species, but also raises awareness (Krüger 2015).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct coordinated surveys to monitor the species's global population trend. Assess the threat posed by diclofenac and other drugs used in livestock, as well as the impacts of climate change and feral dogs. Reduce disturbance in and around nesting areas. Mitigate against the impacts of wind turbines and powerlines. Combat the threat of persecution through laws and awareness-raising activities. Provide feeding stations throughout the species's range. Try to address the illegal trade and use of vultures in medicine (Krüger 2015). Assess methods of negating the negative impacts that result from feeding stations (see Carrete et al. 2009, Moreno-Opo et al. 2015).


Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Westrip, J., Butchart, S., Ashpole, J, Derhé, M., Symes, A., Wheatley, H., Harding, M., Taylor, J.

Ghasabyan, M., Xirouchakis, S., Cuzin, F., Krüger, S., Gil, J., Galligan, T., Angelov, I., Viter, S., Baral, H., Goodwin, W., Thomsett, S., Inskipp, C., Sharma, M., Ibrahim, W., Rodenbaugh, C., Ibrahim, H., Stoynov, E., Naoroji, R., Boyla, K., Trivedi, P., Porter, R., Paudel, K., Sklyarenko, S., Viter, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Gypaetus barbatus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 21/10/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 21/10/2021.