Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Rüppell's Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) is a large vulture that ranges across much of central Africa, including Ethiopia, the Sudan, Tanzania and Guinea. It is also known as Rüppell's Griffon, and is named for the 19th century German explorer, collector and zoologist Eduard Rüppell.
Adults are close to a metre in length, with a wingspan of aroud 2.6 m, and a weight of between just under 7 and 9 kg. Both sexes are alike: mottled brown or black overall with a whitish-brown underbelly and thin, dirty-white fluff covering the head and neck. The base of the neck has a white collar, the eye is yellow or amber, the crop patch deep chocolate brown.
Rüppell's Vultures are highly social, roosting, nesting, and gathering to feed in large flocks. Silent as a rule, they become vocal at the nest and when at a carcass, squealling a great deal.
They are creatures of the more arid and mountainous areas of Africa: particularly semi-desert and the fringes of deserts. They roost on inaccessible rock ledges if these are available, or in trees, usually Acacia. When thermal currents start to develop enough lift, about two hours after sunrise, Rüppell's Vultures leave the roost and begin to patrol over the plains, using their exceptionally keen eyesight to find large animal carcasses, or carnivores which have made a kill. They will wait, several days if necessary, until a carnivore leaves a carcass. (They have been known to take live prey on occasion, but this is rare.)
Rüppell's Vultures have several adaptations to their diet. They have an especially powerful bill and, after the most attractive soft parts of a carcass have been consumed, they will continue with the hide, and even the bones. gorging themselves until they can barely fly. They have backward-facing splines on the tongue to help remove meat from bone.
They can travel fast at need, cruising at up to 35 km/h, and will fly as far as 150 km from a nest site to find food. They can reach great heights, 20,000 ft (6,000 m) is not uncommon, and on one exceptional occasion, a commercial aircraft over the Côte d'Ivoire collided with a Rüppell's Vulture at the astonishing altitude of 37,000 ft (11,300 m).
- The White-backed Vulture, which is slightly smaller and has a shorter neck.
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