It is the smallest of the four species of European vultures, as it has a small size (wingspan of 180 cm (5.9 ft.) and the body length of 60 cm (2.2 ft.)).
The adults have white plumage with black flight feathers and featherless yellow-orange face. The crest of white, pointed feathers gives the bird its typical appearance. The tail is white and wedge-shaped.
The young are dark brown with light feather tips. As they mature the dark juvenile feathers are gradually replaced with the typical white of the adults. The bird reaches adult plumage in its fifth or sixth year.
In flight it can be mistaken for a white stork. The differences are the wedge-shaped tail and the short legs and neck.
Egyptian vultures feed mainly on carrion but are opportunistic and will prey on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. One of its favorite meals are the tortoises and for that reason, it is called by the locals of Kastraki and Kalambaka the Tortoise – eater. They also feed on the eggs of other birds, breaking the larger ones by tossing a large pebble onto them.
Heralds of spring, they arrive every spring in the area of Meteora after a long journey, from their wintering places in Africa. They usually return to their previous nest, which is usually occupied by the same couple for several years.
The species is monogamous, so as soon as the pairs arrive, during March or April, both birds start improving the nest. First they build or strengthen the base by entwining twigs and branches; then they meticulously cover the interior with wool and rags.
In the end the nest is decorated with bones, tortoise shells and other leftovers from their meals. During the period of the months April and May, the female lays 1-3 eggs. Once the incubation begins, both parents sit on their eggs.
They migrate in small groups, mainly over land, avoiding long distances over open sea, although some individuals from the southwestern Balkan population regularly cross the Mediterranean Sea. They fly over Turkey and the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and enter African land.
Along the migration routes, they gather in great numbers at places with an abundance of food such as dumpsites and feeding stations.
In spring the Egyptian vultures cover over 4 000 km (2 500 mi.) back to their nesting territories – it takes them about 30-40 days.
The migration is a critical ordeal for the young birds in particular, as they have less experience and there are a lot of dangers on the way.
This unique vulture is nowadays a globally endangered species, and its population is one of the most rapidly decreasing in the world.
Half of Europe’s Egyptian vultures have been lost during the past thirty years. In Greece, the species is considered critically endangered. With 70 pairs recorded in 2000, only 15 were recorded in 2012, mainly in Thrace and Meteora.
The main causes of population loss in Greece are: poisoning due to the consumption of poisoned animals, electrocution by hitting the overhead power lines, disturbance in nesting sites and the depletion of available food resources, particularly after most dumpsites in Greece were shut down.
The free disposal of slaughterhouse waste was banned and waste management turned to neutralization practices.
Today variouss programs try to prevent the total extinction of the Neophrons, and the good thing is that different countries participate to those programs, putting the preservation of the Egyptian Vulture above their differences.
Safeguarding the few remaining nests, providing supplementary food, insulating power line towers, countering the problem of poisoned baits and disseminating information among the area’s residents are some of the initiatives that are undertaken in order to conserve the existing pairs and allow their number to grow enough to reverse the collapsing course of the species.
The extinction of this majestic bird should concern us all, because they represent an important part of the legacy that we shall leave behind for the next generations.
Join us for the hiking tour and we will be more than happy to share with you everything that we know about those amazing birds!