Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The palm-nut vulture is one of the very few birds-of prey that regularly eats vegetable matter (4) (7). The fleshy husks of oil palm and raffia palm fruits, along with wild dates and other fruits, make up an astonishing 58 to 65 percent of the adult diet and up to 92 percent of the juvenile's. This unusual vulture derives its remaining nutritional requirements from more conventional sources such as fish, crabs and invertebrates, through to small mammals, birds and reptiles, which it hunts or occasionally takes as carrion. Accordingly, it cannot be considered strictly frugivorous, but it is very rarely seen at the big carcases that are the staple of other African vultures (2) (7). Breeding pairs construct large stick nests high up in tall trees and will often exhibit a strong attachment to the nest site, staying within its vicinity year round. At the beginning of the breeding season, pairs soar together in an aerial display of rolling and diving, much more acrobatic than most vultures (2) (7). During each breeding cycle, a single, white and chocolate-brown egg is laid, which is incubated by both sexes, over a period of four to six weeks (2) (7) (8). Normally around 85 to 90 days after hatching, the young brown chicks will fledge (2).
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Description

Vultures are popularly portrayed as gruesome scavengers, an injustice even more pertinent for the fruit eating palm-nut vulture (4). With its extensive white plumage, and black wing and tail feathers, the adult palm-nut vulture can be crudely mistaken for both the African fish eagle and the Egyptian vulture, but clearly lacks the chestnut body of the former and the white tail of the latter (2) (5) (6). While the head, throat and neck is well feathered, reddish bare skin, conspicuous around the face and eyes, is distinctly vulturine (2) (7) (8). The sexes are almost identical in appearance, with the female being only slightly larger than the male. Juveniles on the other hand are predominately brown with partially black wings and take a lengthy three to four years to make the transition into the adult plumage (2) (7).
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Distribution

Range

Oil-palm forests and savanna of tropical Africa.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Range

The palm-nut vulture has a widespread and locally abundant distribution in Africa, from the Gambia across to Kenya, and south as far as north-east South Africa (2) (7).
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Physical Description

Diagnostic Description

Description

Length: 60 cm. Plumage: white with black back, secondaries and tail; tail tipped white, primaries tipped black. Immature brown. Bare parts: iris yellow; bill yellowish grey with a pale blue cere; facial and malar skin deep pink to red to orange; feet and legs dull orange to flesh pink to yellow. Habitat: Mangroves, marine shores, and coastal forest; usually associated with raffia palms Rapfia australis or oil palms Elaeis guineensis. <388><391><393>
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Ecology

Habitat

Zambezian Halophytics Habitat

The Makgadikgadi spiny agama (Agama hispida makarikarika) is endemic to the Makgadikgadi Pans complex within the Botswana element of the Zambezian halophytics ecoregion. This agama typically inhabits the edges of the pans but it is difficult to spot, since it buries itself in the sand during the heat of the day.

One of the largest saltpans in the world, the Makgadikgadi Pan complex in Botswana stretches out over 12,000 square kilometres. The ecoregion is classified within the Flooded Grasslands and Savanna biome. Surrounded by the semi-arid Kalahari savannas, the pans experience a harsh climate, hot with little rain, and are normally a vast, glaring expanse of salt-saturated clay. These pans are sustained by freshwater from the Nata River, and more infrequently, from input from the Okavango Alluvial Fan by way of the Boteti River. Saline- and drought-tolerant plant species generally line the pan perimeters, with grasslands further removed from the pans.

For most of the year the pans are depauperate in bird numbers, except for ostriches and species such as the Chestnut-banded sand-plover and Kittlitz’s plover (Charadrius pallidus, C. pecuarius). The sole hospitable area to birds during these times is the Nata Delta, which has a permanent water source and a small resident population of waterbirds including grebes (Podiceps spp.), cormorants (Phalacrocorax spp.), ducks and plovers (Charadrius spp.) with a few flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber, Phoeniconaias minor) and pelicans (Pelecanus spp.). The grasslands surrounding the pans support a moderate bird fauna with species such as ostriches, secretary birds (Sagittarius serpentarius), kori bustards (Ardeotis kori), korhaans (Eupodotis spp.), sandgrouse (Pterocles spp.) and francolin (Francolinus spp.) being common. The Hyphaene palms to the west of the pans are nesting sites for, among others, the greater kestrel (Falco rupicoloides) and the palm-nut vulture (Gypohierax angolensis). After good rains the pans are transformed into a vibrant paradise, attracting thousands of waterbirds, most of which come to breed on the pans. Wattled and southern crowned cranes (Grus carunculatus, Balearica regulorum), saddle-billed, marabou and open-billed storks (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis, Leptoptilos crumeniferus, Anastomus lamelligerus), African fish eagles (Haliaeeetus vocifer), black-necked grebes (Podiceps nigricollis), Caspian terns (Hydroprogne caspia), eastern white and pink-backed pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus, P. rufescens), geese and waders such as avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta), black-winged stilts (Himantopus himantopus), plovers, sandpipers and teals (Anas spp.) congregate around the pans. The most spectacular arrival are the greater and lesser flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber and Phoeniconaias minor) that flock to the pans in their thousands.

Most mammalian taxa within the ecoregion inhabit the grasslands surrounding the pans. These include Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus), Gemsbok (Oryx gazella), Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis), Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris), Greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardus), Burchells zebra (Equus burchelli), Blue wildebeest (Connocheatus taurinus), black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas), Brown hyaena (Hyaena brunnea), Spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta), Lion (Panthera leo), Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), Painted hunting dog (Lycaon pictus) and even African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) along the Boteti River. The Nxai Pan has a sizeable Springbok population and is one of the few places where Springbok and Impala cohabit. These two antelope are normally separated by habitat preference, but the Acacia savanna surrounding Nxai Pan provides the impala with a suitable habitat while the grass covered pan mimics the desert conditions preferred by Springbok.

  • A. Campbell. 1990. The nature of Botswana: a guide to conservation and development. IUCN, Harare, Zimbabwe. ISBN: 2880329345
  • C.MIchael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2015. Zambezian halophytics. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and Environment. Washington DC
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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology

Behaviour This is an Afrotropical species (15N to 29S), distributed throughout west and central Africa and as far south as north east South Africa. In the northern and central latitudes of its range it is common to abundant, but becomes rarer in the south and east. The species is sedentary with adults not moving more than a few kilometres, whilst juveniles and immatures will wander vast distances; up to 400km into the Sahel region and as far as 1300km further south than the most southerly breeding location (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001). Habitat The species occupies forest and tall wooded habitats, particularly -but not exclusively- where oil and raffia palms are present and frequently near water bodies. It is often found near small settlements and is tolerant of human approach. It is altitudinally distributed from sea level up to 1800m (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001). Diet The species eats the fruits of oil and raffia palms as well as the fruits and grains of other plants, which collectively form up to 65% of its diet. However it will also predate amphibians, fish and invertebrates, as well as larger prey such as small mammals, birds, and reptiles, and it will also feed at small carcasses (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001; del Hoyo et al., 1994). Breeding Site Nesting occurs in large stick nests 60-90cm in diameter, located in tall trees. Breeding occurs from October to May in West and Central Africa, from May to December in Angola, June to January in East Africa and August to January in southern Africa (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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As the name suggests, the distribution of the palm-nut vulture closely tracks that of oil (Elaeis sp.) or raffia (Raphia sp.) palms. Consequently, it is most common in coastal forests and mangrove swamps below 1,500 metres, but also occurs in wet savannahs (2) (7).
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Life History and Behavior

Life Expectancy

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 27.1 years (captivity)
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2015

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • 2012
    Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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