Understanding the Critically Endangered Red-headed Vulture in India


The Red-headed Vulture, a bird of enigmatic beauty and severe vulnerability, is a feathered creature that once soared proudly over India’s sky. Noted for its vibrant crimson head, this vulture’s population has plummeted alarmingly due to artificial hazards. Its uniqueness doesn’t only rest on its striking features but also its critical role in the ecosystem. Let’s delve deeper into the life of this astonishing creature, which is a subject of both admiration and concern for bird lovers worldwide.


Serial NumberCharacteristicsDescription
1Common nameRed-headed Vulture
2Binomial nameSarcogyps calvus
3ColorBlack body with pale grey band and deep-red to orange head
4Average length76 to 86 cm
5Average height3.5 to 6.3 kg (measured vertically)
6Type of birdScavenger
7Found in statesNorthern India
8HabitatOpen country, semi-desert, deciduous forests, river valleys
9IUCN StatusCritically Endangered

Features of the Bird


The Red-headed Vulture is a medium-sized bird with an average length of 76 to 86 cm, allowing it to have a significant presence in its native habitat. The impressive length adds to its formidable appearance, making it one of the larger vulture species. This is particularly evident in bird photos, where its size is often captured in stunning detail.


The Red-headed Vulture weighs between 3.5 to 6.3 kg when measured vertically from tip to toe. The bird’s substantial body mass allows it to dominate its habitat, often discouraging potential predators. However, this weight also makes it more susceptible to the dangers of birdlife, like habitat destruction and poisoning.

Running Speed

Though not typically known for their running capabilities, Red-headed Vultures are efficient movers on the ground. They can reach moderate speeds when required, a handy feature when scavenging. Their speed makes them fascinating subjects for bird lovers and researchers who study their behaviour in different environments.


The vulture has a mainly black body with a distinct pale grey band at the base of its flight feathers. The head stands out most; it is deep-red to orange in adults and paler red in juveniles. This makes them reasonably identifiable in any bird or birdlife sanctuary where they might be spotted.

Habitat and Food of the Bird

  1. Distribution: Predominantly found in Northern India, this bird’s range once extended from India to Singapore but has become restricted due to habitat loss.
  1. Altitude: Often found at elevations up to 3000m from sea level.
  1. Environment: Thrives in open country, semi-desert areas, and deciduous forests as well as river valleys.
  1. Diet: Primarily a scavenger, the Red-headed Vulture feeds on carrion but can consume small mammals and fish.
  1. Human Interaction: Increasing human settlements and agriculture have impinged upon its natural habitat, making it a subject of conservation urgency.

Nesting and Nurturing

Red-headed Vultures don’t build elaborate nests. They opt for spots on high trees or cliffs, which offer a panoramic view of their surroundings. Their nesting sites often become points of interest for bird lovers and photographers.Females lay only one egg, which is incubated by both parents. The offspring are then nurtured by both parents, who teach them the ways of scavenging.This family-centric approach to nurturing is common among birds of prey but is rarely documented because of the bird’s elusive nature.


A catastrophic decline in the Red-headed Vulture population has been observed due to poisoning, particularly from the veterinary drug diclofenac. The illegal bird trade, hunting, and habitat destruction also contribute to their threatened status. The use of poisons in hunting has recently escalated, further aggravating their plight.

IUCN Status and Conservation

Once classified as ‘Near Threatened,’ the Red-headed Vulture is now a ‘Critically Endangered’ species. The drastic decline is primarily attributed to the widespread use of harmful drugs like diclofenac in veterinary practices. Conservation programs in places like Cambodia offer a glimmer of hope. However, much needs to be done to revive the dwindling numbers of this magnificent creature. A serious consideration for bird conservation is urgently needed.


The Red-headed Vulture, a marvel of avian biodiversity, stands on the brink of extinction. Its decline is a stark reminder of the unintended consequences of human activity on wildlife. This majestic bird, a vital part of India’s rich birdlife, needs immediate attention and collective conservation efforts to bring it back from the verge of disappearing forever.

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