Avifauna of Crete


Griffon Vulture
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The griffon vulture (scient. Gyps fulvus) or just vulture is a large, heavy raptor with a wingspan of 260cm and a body length of 97-104cm. In Crete, it is found in large numbers in almost all mountains of the island. Indeed, Crete hosts the largest insular population of griffons in the world.

Its beak has the same length as its head and at the edge it is hooked. Its neck is naked (so that it can put it in the dead meat without getting dirty). Its legs are strong with toes that end up in thick and short claws, in contrast with the long and hooked claws of other birds of prey. This formation of its claws allows it to walk at ease on the ground.

During flight, the vulture is distinguished mainly by the short tail and the wide wings. Usually the vultures make large, slow circles, taking advantage of the hot air updrafts for gaining height and then planing passively, helping it fly very long distances.

The vulture feeds on carcasses of livestock animals of medium or large size (sheep, cows, goats, etc). It prefers mostly soft parts of dead animals, showing a strong preference in the intestines. This is a very useful animal because its sharp vision, flight habits and especially gregarious behavior helps it identify the corpses before decaying, which is particularly useful in warm climates where dead animals are causes of contamination. Vultures serve actually as a powerful rural health service!

A group of 60-80 vultures can eat a sheep's carcass in 5-10 minutes or a large animal (cow, horse, etc.) in 3-4 hours. It never touches an animal until it first makes sure it is dead, which happens only when it sees other animals eating carcasses gathered around it. The space of foraging is usually 30-40km, but can reach up to 200-300km.

The greatest threat for vultures is the abandonment of pastoralism, as this means there are less corpses of sheep and goats. Other threats for the vultures of Crete is illegal hunting and the use of poisoned baits. Recently, an additional danger was added, that is the wind turbines that attract the curiosity of the bird. Several dead birds have been found near the turbines, after crashing on them (see the related video).

At the end of February or at the beginning of March the female lays one egg having a thick shell, (up in the steeps in rocky caves where it has put dry branches and brushwood) which both parents brood in turns. The incubation lasts 55 days. The nestling has a thick, white plumage but is unable to fly until it becomes 4 months old. During this period the parents ensure its food with a pulp they prepare at their crop.

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