Red-Headed Vulture

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Red-Headed Vulture

Sarcogyps calvus

Last updated: February 21, 2022
Verified by: IMP
Image Credit Ishor gurung/

Not exclusively carrion eaters, these birds are also opportunistic hunters

Red-Headed Vulture Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Sarcogyps calvus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Red-Headed Vulture Conservation Status

Red-Headed Vulture Locations

Red-Headed Vulture Locations

Red-Headed Vulture Facts

Carcasses and pirated prey
Fun Fact
Not exclusively carrion eaters, these birds are also opportunistic hunters
Estimated Population Size
Less than 10,000
Biggest Threat
Nesting challenges and poisoning of food sources
Most Distinctive Feature
Bright red head
Other Name(s)
Asian king vulture, Pondicherry vulture, Indian black vulture
Incubation Period
45 days
Litter Size
Foothills, river valleys, wetlands, open country
Common Name
Red-Headed Vulture
Number Of Species
Northern India
Average Clutch Size
Nesting Location
Crown of tall trees

Red-Headed Vulture Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Red
  • Black
Skin Type
Top Speed
30 mph
30 inches

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The red-headed vulture is critically endangered. You can read more about the various conservation statuses of wildlife here.


The bright red head of this bird makes it easy to recognize. While imposing to look at, these birds are actually quite timid. Easily chased away from a carcass while feeding, the bird, although in rapid decline population-wise, has benefited from the decline of other large carrion feeders, reducing competition for meals.

The birds are surprisingly agile, a trait they show off during their mating ritual. It is common to see these large birds swoop, soar, and even grasp talons with each other as they appear to dance in the sky.

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Their reproduction habits of laying only a single egg at a time, combined with the devastating effect of consuming poisoned meat, have dropped the population level of these majestic birds to critically low levels.

Red-Headed Vulture Amazing Facts

  • Both parents play an equal role in raising their young
  • These vultures repair and add to their nest year after year
  • Also known as Indian black vultures, these birds are most numerous in India

Where to Find Red-Headed Vultures

These birds typically live alone or in breeding pairs across India. There are some remaining birds in Cambodia. While red-headed vultures also lived in Thailand, they are considered nearly extinct in the area now.


Look for these vulture’s nests at the top of tall trees. Their nests are large and flat.

Red-Headed Vulture Scientific Name

The red-headed vulture, also known as the Asian king or Indian black vulture, is a member of the Accipitridae family. Its scientific name is Sarcogyps calvus.

Red-Headed Vulture Appearance

This vulture is noticeable by its bare, red head. Loose flaps of skin hang along either side of the neck. The body of this vulture is covered in dark feathers, ranging from dark brown to black.

Young red-headed vultures are lighter than their mature counterparts and have pale, scruffy feathers on their head.

red-headed vulture in a tree
Red-headed vultures are found largely in India but sometimes also in parts of Southeast Asia as well.

faisal magnet/

Red-Headed Vulture Behavior

This vulture generally resides alone or as part of a breeding pair. They are rather timid while feeding, although the decline of the more dominant Gyps vulture has led to better feeding conditions for the red-headed vulture.

Once part of a breeding pair, the birds will defend their territory, chasing away other vultures.

Red-Headed Vulture Diet

As a carrion feeder, the majority of the red-headed vulture’s diet is carcasses of animals such as deer, livestock, and turtles. They occasionally feed on fresh meat, killing fish that are stranded on dry land and killing already injured birds or other prey.

What does the red-headed vulture eat?

The red-headed vulture mainly eats a diet of carrion but does occasionally make an opportunistic kill of stranded or injured animals.

Predators and Threats

The greatest threat to these vultures is the prescription medication diclofenac. Used to treat illness in livestock, it remains in the tissue after an animal passes away. When vultures feed on the carcass, they are poisoned.

While the use of diclofenac in livestock is now officially banned, it is still widely available, and it is believed that similar medications can also harm the birds.

Red-Headed Vulture Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

The reproduction and mating ritual of this vulture is spectacular. The large birds are surprisingly agile in the air, and their courtship involves mutual displays of soaring, diving, and twisting.

Both members of the pair build their nest, defining the structure with twigs before lining with softer materials, such as fur and grass. A breeding pair maintain one nest, year after year. They make repairs and add to it as needed. Nests can eventually reach 3 feet in diameter.

Once the female lays her egg, both parents tend to the young. The fledgling will emerge from the egg in around 45 days and require another 2 months or so of constant care.


Considered critically endangered, the red-headed vulture’s population is declining, with an estimate of less than 10,000 of these birds remaining.

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About the Author

Ashley Haugen is a lifelong animal lover and professional writer and editor. When she’s not immersed in, she can be found hanging out with her dogs and birds.

Red-Headed Vulture FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do red-headed vultures migrate?

Also known as the Asian king vulture, these birds do not typically migrate. In some cases they migrate locally, moving elevations while staying in the same general vicinity.

Where do red-headed vultures live?

The majority of these birds live in the open lands and forests of India. There are also some red-headed vultures found in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Myanmar, and Malaysia.

How many red-headed vultures are left?

There are estimated to be less than 10,000 of these birds remaining.

Is the red-headed vulture endangered?

Yes, they are considered critically endangered.

What is the red-headed vulture’s wingspan?

The red-headed vulture’s wingspan ranges between 6.5 and 8.5 feet.

When do red-headed vultures leave the nest?

The Asian king vulture flies for the first time between 4 and 5 months. For the next few weeks, they will continue to roost in the nest and be fed by their parents as they become more confident fliers and learn to find food. Soon after, they are ready to leave the nest.

What do red-headed vultures look like?

Known for their bright red, naked head, these birds are easy to recognize. The feathers on their body are dark brown to glossy black. Early in their lifespan, they are lighter brown with fluffy, light-colored feathers on the head.

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