Thai National Parks

Birds of Thailand

Species of Thailand

Red-headed vulture

Thai: พญาแร้ง, pa-ya raeng

Binomial name: Sarcogyps calvus, Giovanni Antonio Scopoli, 1786

The red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus), also known as the Asian king vulture, Indian black vulture or Pondicherry vulture, is an Old World vulture mainly found in the Indian subcontinent, with small disjunct populations in some parts of Southeast Asia.

Description

It is a medium-sized vulture of 76 to 86 cm in length, weighing 3.5 - 6.3 kg and having a wingspan of about 1.99 - 2.6 m. It has a prominent naked head: deep-red to orange in the adult, paler red in the juvenile. It has a black body with pale grey band at the base of the flight feathers. The sexes differ in colour of the iris: males have a paler, whitish iris, whilst in females it is dark brown.

Taxonomy and systematics

This is a species of Old World vulture found in the Indian subcontinent. It has no subspecies.

Distribution and habitat

This gaudy-faced vulture was historically abundant, range widely across the Indian subcontinent, and also eastwards to south-central and south-eastern Asia, extending from India to Singapore. Today the range of the red-headed vulture is localized primarily to northern India. It is usually in open country and in cultivated and semi-desert areas. It is also found in deciduous forests and foothills and river valleys. It is usually found up to an altitude of 3000m from sea level.

Conservation status

The red-headed vulture used to be declining, but only slowly; in 2004 the species was uplisted to near threatened from least concern by the IUCN. The widespread use of the NSAID diclofenac in veterinary medicine in India has caused its population to collapse in recent years, however. Diclofenac is a compound now known to be extremely poisonous to vultures. The red-headed vulture population has essentially halved every other year since the late 1990s, and what once was a plentiful species numbering in the hundreds of thousands has come dangerously close to extinction in less than two decades. Consequently, it was uplisted to critically endangered in the 2007 IUCN Red List.

Several NSAIDs have been found to be harmful to scavenging birds. Diclofenac, carprofen, flunixin, ibuprofen and phenylbutazone were associated with mortality. Meloxicam has thus far been found to be "Vulture-Safe" and its use in veterinary treatment of livestock is being encouraged.

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Site notes

This species is extirpared in Thailand.

Scientific classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Accipitriformes
Family
Accipitridae
Genus
Sarcogyps
Species
Sarcogyps calvus

Common names

  • Thai: พญาแร้ง, pa-ya raeng

Synonyms

  • Aegypius calvus
  • Torgos calvus

Conservation status

Critically Endangered (IUCN3.1)

Critically Endangered (IUCN3.1)

Range map of Sarcogyps calvus in Thailand

Important note; our range maps are based on limited data we have collected. The data is not necessarily accurate or complete.

Special thanks to Ton Smits, Parinya Pawangkhanant, Ian Dugdale and many others for their contribution for range data.

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