Cinereous vulture: the largest bird of prey in Europe

There is something fascinating about the cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus), the largest bird of prey in Europe. And despite running the danger of extinction some nests with chicks were discovered in Portugal in the first six months of 2023. This is, undoubtedly, a small step as regards the survival of this species in Portugal and is rather encouraging for those fighting to ensure its preservation.

Along with the Eurasian griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) and the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), the cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus) is one of the types of vultures to be found in Portugal, although the latter is classified as Critically Endangered in our territory, according to the Red Book of Portuguese Vertebrates. The amazing thing is that this bird can live up to 35-40 years in the wild.

With a wingspan of around 3 meters when flying and an average weight of up to 11.5 kg this species has become the largest bird of prey in Europe and one of the largest, and heaviest, in the world. In terms of morphology, when they become adults, between the age of 3-6 years, these vultures display a short tail, plumage in shades of dark brown and their head is covered with a velvety greyish-brown fluff. However, in the juvenile phase, they are darker and their plumage is more homogeneous.

Where is the cinereous vulture to be found? These birds live preferably in places with extensive forest areas, grazing areas or cork oak forests , where they can find corpses of medium and large-sized  wild and domestic animals to feed: domestic herbivores, such as sheep and goats, and wild herbivores, such as deer, but also corpses and smaller animals, such as rabbits (one of the main prey). This is, after all, an almost exclusively scavenger bird that rarely catches live prey.

However, vultures take advantage of thermal air currents to fly at high altitudes, forage for food and eat the carcasses of animals killed in the field, thus preventing the spread of diseases and ensuring the functioning of the ecosystem’s trophic network.

As for their nesting habitat, they prefer remote regions, with steep and little humanized slopes, where they may live undisturbed. In Portugal, for example, this species builds large nests (145 to 190 cm in diameter) made of sticks and trunks, in holm oaks (Quercus rotundifolia), cork oaks (Quercus suber) and, in some regions, in maritime pines (Pinus pinaster). This is a monogamous species and reuses its nests year after year. 

Regarding reproduction, it occurs between February and September and these birds lay almost always an egg between February and April. After the incubation period, which lasts approximately 57 days, the nesting period of the chicks follows, which can go up to 120 days and is shared by the pair, as both parents care for and feed the chicks. In fact, the relationship between the couple is long-lasting, and may even be for life.

Did you know that…

After the extinction of the cinereous vulture in Portugal as a breeding species in the 1970s, this bird established its first nest in national territory in the Tagus International Natural Park in 2010. That’s precisely where Zambujo is located, a planted forest property managed by Navigator home to the“Zambujo reCover – Forest re-qualification and soil protection project ”. Promoted by the Company in partnership with RAIZ – Forest and Paper Research Institute, a R&D Laboratory owned by The Navigator Company, University of Aveiro, University of Coimbra and University of Lisbon, through the Higher Institute of Agronomy.

According to LIFE Aegypius Return, a conservation project that has been underway since 2022 to consolidate the return of this species, there are currently between 78 and 81 pairs of cinereous vultures nesting in Portuguese territory.

In the first half of 2023, the non-profit environmental organization Rewilding Portugal confirmed the existence of eight nests with chicks in Serra da Malcata, an important milestone that proves the importance of the implementation of actions to preserve this species.

  • BIRD

  • Cinereous vulture

    Aegypius monachus

  • Family


  • Conservation status

    Near Threatened (Global) / Critically Endangered (National) according to the Red Book of the Vertebrates of Portugal

  • Habitat

    The preferred habitats of the cinereous vulture are remote regions that are difficult to access and little humanized. It usually lives in places with extensive forest areas or wooded shrubland.

  • Distribution

    In Portugal, this species can be found in the East and Center-South of the continental territory, along the border region of the continental territory between Beira Baixa and Baixo Alentejo and is a sporadic visitor in the Douro International Natural Park.

  • Length

    98-120 cm

  • Wingspan

    250-310 cm

  • Weight

    6.3 to 11.5 kg

  • Longevity

    35 | 40 years

How to tend to this species?

The main threats to the conservation of this species have long been identified, which include death from poisoning, collision and electrocution, illegal killing, reduction of available food, degradation of feeding habitats and nesting areas and human disturbance during this time.

Hence, through the “Zambujo reCover – Forest re-qualification and soil protection project”, in the heart of the Tagus International Natural Park, we have implemented an ecological restoration action in an area of 153 hectares (equivalent to about 150 football fields) to improve the protected habitats of more than a hundred species of flora and fauna, including the cinereous vulture.

The project “Zambujo reCover – Forest re-qualification and soil protection project” takes place in Zambujo, a forest property located in the municipality of Idanha-a-Nova, in the Special Protection Zone of the International Tagus, Erges and Pônsul, an area classified as Natura 2000 Network.

Promoted by The Navigator Company in partnership with RAIZ – Forest and Paper Research Institute, this initiative has an overall budget of EUR 225,774.79 and is financed by the COMPETE 2020 Program under the measure “Support for climate transition/Resilience of territories to risk: Combating desertification through reforestation and actions that promote the increase of carbon and nutrient fixation in the soil” (REACT-EU/ERDF).