When one thinks of majestic birds that soar through the sky, the Slender-billed vulture usually doesn’t make the list. Yet, this overlooked vulture plays an essential role in the ecosystem. From the Gangetic plains in the North to Assam in the East, it has been a silent caretaker of India’s biodiversity. Today, however, this crucial species is hanging by a thread, listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. This blog aims to shed light on this magnificent yet embattled bird.
|Mostly grey with pale rump
|80 to 95 cm
|80 to 95 cm
|Type of Bird
|Found in India
|Gangetic plains, Assam
|Open country, near human habitation
Features of the Bird
Measuring at a medium size of 80 to 95 cm in length, the Slender-billed vulture isn’t the largest bird but possesses a dignified presence. Although its size is comparable to the Indian vulture, it holds its unique features. The bird’s length is primarily distributed in its wings and elongated neck, making it a proficient scavenger in the wild. Despite their medium size, they have a powerful build that allows them to forage efficiently for carrion, which makes them an essential part of the ecosystem.
The Slender-billed vulture stands at a height similar to its length due to its vertical posture. When upside down, this vulture measures between 80 to 95 cm, emphasizing its relatively medium stature in the avian world. It’s fascinating to note that the bird’s vertical dimensions contribute to its effective scanning of the ground for food, as it swoops down from great heights to grab a meal.
Though not renowned for their running capabilities, the Slender-billed vulture can move at a decent pace when needed. They mostly use their strong legs to hop and walk while searching for carrion. Their primary mode of transport is flying; however, their ground speed isn’t to be underestimated when they are evading threats.
One of the most distinguishing features of the Slender-billed vulture is its color. A sophisticated palette of grey feathers with a pale rump makes this bird blend seamlessly with its environment. The color provides it with the necessary camouflage while scouring the forest floor or open fields for food.
Habitat and Food of the Bird
- Grasslands and Open Country: Their primary habitat comprises grasslands and open areas where they can easily spot carrion.
- Proximity to Human Settlements: Often found near human habitation, as human activity often results in animal deaths, providing a food source.
- Carrion Based Diet: Their diet is mainly composed of carrion, particularly the remains of larger mammals.
- Aversion to Forests: These vultures avoid thick forested areas, preferring open spaces which make it easier for them to locate food.
- Regional Availability: The bird is found in several states in India including the Gangetic plains and Assam.
Nesting and Nurturing
Breeding and nesting for the Slender-billed vulture are a collaborative effort. The bird places its nest in tall trees, far from the reach of predators. The nest is often a simple structure made of twigs and leaves. Captive breeding programs in states like Haryana and West Bengal have shown promise in helping increase their numbers, albeit slowly.
The significant threats to the Slender-billed vulture include habitat loss and poisoning due to diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug used in livestock. This drug is toxic to the vultures and has led to a severe decline in their numbers. Even though the sale of diclofenac is illegal in India, it still finds its way into the ecosystem, posing a major threat to these vultures.
IUCN Status and Conservation
Listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, the Slender-billed vulture is in dire need of immediate action. Concerted efforts are being made to ban the harmful NSAID diclofenac. Captive breeding programs have also been started with the hope that these birds can eventually be reintroduced into an environment free of diclofenac.
The Slender-billed vulture is more than just a scavenger; it’s a vital part of the ecosystem. Its rapid decline should be a wake-up call for all of us to take immediate action. This bird’s survival depends heavily on the decisions we make today. Let’s not let it down.
More info about Slender-billed vulture – Link