Get to know the Species

Griffon vulture

With a wingspan of almost 3 metres, the griffon vulture is one of the largest birds that can be found in Portugal. However, this species of vulture does not only stand out because of its size, but above all because of the “sanitary” function it performs in ecosystems.

In the same way that the people who dispose of our waste are essential to society, the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) also plays an indispensable role in ecosystems. It is a necrophagous species, a word which comes from the Greek nekrofágos, meaning that which feeds on corpses, and it lives off the carcasses of mammals (wild mammals, but also livestock). By consuming them, it helps them decompose and prevents the spread of disease.

Like all birds of prey, the griffon vulture is equipped with the appropriate tools needed to carry out its tasks: strong, sharp claws, used to hold its food, and a sharp, powerful beak with which it can tear through even the toughest of skins. Its long, featherless neck seems to have been designed to facilitate access to the inside of carcasses in search of food (which includes muscles and viscera). It also has telescopic eyes, which are capable of locating a corpse from a height of more than 300 metres.

The griffon vulture is also known as the Eurasian griffon vulture and is covered by a bicoloured plumage. While most of its body is light brown (golden, from which some common names in Portuguese are derived), its tail and the back of its wings are dark brown. As a result, its brownish colour contrasts with a characteristic white collar in adults and with its light-coloured neck and head.

Its wide and long wingspan can reach 2.7 metres and, when it is in flight, large feathers stick out at the ends, which reduce turbulence at the tip of its wings and increase lift, reducing energy consumption in flight. These characteristics make it a remarkable glider, capable of covering great distances—over 100 km in a single day—almost without flapping its wings. However, these trips, which require little energy, cannot be made at any time. They can only take place when the sun is high in the sky and when its rays are heating up the atmosphere, creating thermal updraughts that lift the griffon vulture into the air. This assistance is invaluable as they can weigh up to 11 kg.

This majestic bird forms colonies and it is in these groups that it reproduces. It builds its nests mainly in the rocky escarpments of steep river valleys, as is the case in the stretches of the Douro and Tagus rivers that straddle the border between Portugal and Spain, as well as their tributaries. There are still some mating pairs on the rocky ridges of Vila Velha de Ródão and Proença-a-Nova and in the mountains of Penha Garcia, Malcata, and São Mamede. Above all, they are found close to Portugal’s border with Spain.


Did you know that the griffon vulture…

  • It is one of three vulture species in continental Portugal. In addition to the more common griffon vultures, both black vultures and Egyptian vultures can also be found, but are rarer. These amazing scavenger birds are a real clean-up crew!
  • With a wingspan of about 3 metres, the Griffon Vulture is one of the largest birds in Portugal, second only to the black vulture (Cinereous vulture).
  • Is very vulnerable to the use of illegal poisons, which are deployed against wildlife. As a result, it is the most poisoned species in Portugal. For this reason, it is considered by the scientific community as a sentinel species and has become one of the leading members of the Sentinels Project – Threat Monitoring Network for Wildlife, run by Palombar – Nature Conservation and Rural Heritage, in partnership with the University of Oviedo (Spain).
  • In 2018, it had an estimated population of between 1131-1217 pairs, which were distributed across the Castelo Branco and Bragança regions (accounting for almost two thirds of the population in Portugal), the Guarda and Portalegre regions (accounting for a third), and the Santarém region (accounting for just 2% of the population), as stated in “O estado das aves em Portugal”(The state of birds in Portugal), by SPEA – the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds. The estimate indicates a positive demographic change since the last national census in 1999, with the population increasing about five times in 19 years.
  • BIRD

  • Griffon vulture

    Gyps fulvus

  • Genus:


  • Family:


  • Conservation status:

    “Least Concern” according to the IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, although it was considered as “Near Threatened” by the Livro Vermelho dos Vertebrados de Portugal (Red Book of Vertebrates of Portugal) in the early 2000s. It is protected by both Portuguese and European legislation (Birds Directive).

  • Habitats:

    It lives mainly in open areas with very few trees, including plains, mountains, or hilly plateaus with escarpments. It nests exclusively on rocky escarpments, connected to river gorges or mountain ridges.

  • Distribution:

    They can be found in Europe, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Asia (Palaearctic region). Since it exists naturally in Eurasia, it is referred to in English as the “Eurasian Griffon Vulture”. In Portugal, it is mainly found in the inland parts of the country and is more prevalent in the border areas and in the valleys of the hydrographic basins of the Douro and Tagus rivers.

  • Height/Length:

    1 metre in length and up to 2.8 metres in wingspan.

  • Lifespan:

    37 years (in the wild) and 55 years (in captivity).

Where have we spotted the griffon vulture?

The griffon vulture has been sighted on properties managed by The Navigator Company in various parts of the Portuguese interior, from Mogadouro in the north (Bragança district) to Aljustrel in the south (Beja district).

The International Tagus region and adjacent areas is where most griffon vultures have been sighted on Navigator holdings over time–specifically from 2008, the year in which the company began its Annual Biodiversity Monitoring Programme, to the present (early 2023).

As no nesting sites have been identified on or near the company’s properties, conservation measures are directed towards their habitat, maintaining and improving areas of interest for the conservation of biodiversity with the aim that these areas provide feeding, refuge, and reproduction conditions for this and other species.

It should be remembered that the inland regions around the Tagus, where the river water runs between cliffs and escarpments, are among the preferred locations for griffon vulture colonies, and as such this species has been identified in the International Tagus Natural Park, where Navigator is running the Zambujo reCover project.

This is an ecological restoration project which, although it is not directly targeting this or other birds, will promote the resilience of an area of 150 hectares in the middle of a natural park, improving the general state of this ecosystem which benefits hundreds of species and their habitats. Find out more about Zambujo reCover.