Birds of Prey Nature Experiences

Griffon Vultures – Up Close and Personal

The effortless flight of a Griffon Vulture is a joy to behold. I was so lucky to see these vultures when I lived in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains

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by Annette J Beveridge

Editor Annette J Beveridge

Gliding across an expansive sky, wings outstretched, Griffon vultures are a sight to behold. Their flight appears effortless as they counter any changing winds, adapting, and using air thermals to gain height. Vultures may not be the most charismatic of birds – considered more as the undertakers of the bird world. Griffon vultures are no different feasting on the soft tissue of animals – the muscles and viscera where they have to plunge their heads deep into the bloodied carcasses. Their highly acidic digestive systems are able to manage rotting meat. It may not be pretty but these birds are vital for the health of the environment, for other animals and for us.  

Griffon vultures are so impressive. They are large – growing up to 38 inches in height and with a wingspan reaching up to 9ft, they soar effortlessly for miles reaching altitudes of up to 3,500 metres above sea level.

Where it began

My affinity for these impressive birds began about 9 years ago while living in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Living in a purpose-built eco home perched on the lower slopes of the Pyrenees, my daily views were of a green landscape, the valley below, and distant snow-capped mountain peaks. Every day, it felt as if the scene refreshed. At times, I could see the snow-capped peaks. At other times, those same mountain peaks were obscured, wrapped within shrouds of low clouds. Sunsets were a spectacular mix of vibrant hues spreading low over the horizon and the thunderstorms, which were magnificent, seeming to zone in on the mountains.  

It was a bird-watcher’s paradise. Each day, I watched Black Kites swooping low over agricultural fields and I watched Buzzards catching snakes and taking them to their nest. There were so many birds and even as I sat outside absorbing the sights and sounds of nature, wildlife existed alongside me. I did not however expect to see such incredible views of vultures flying right over the house. At first, it was disconcerting especially as they wheeled in circles right above me. It was a strange moment, connecting with these birds. I lay down in the grass and watched in awe as the birds circled. I felt small but so privileged to have experienced this moment.


Griffon vultures roost and nest in high mountain plateaus. The weather is ever-changing in the Pyrenees. As such, the birds adapt to weather extremes of snow, rain and mist. Their biggest challenge at the time was facing persecution. Farmers believed that these birds – the king of scavengers had started to take live animals. It was unlikely although dying animals could be fed upon. There was no proof but the birds were sadly, poisoned anyway.  

Griffon vultures are a joy to watch. They make the most of rising thermals while they monitor the landscape below.  Belonging to an old world order of vultures, their eyesight is incredible enabling them to monitor potential food sources from 4 miles away. Those birds within the new order of vultures have a finely-tuned sense of smell.

I watched the vultures gradually move away, disappearing into the hills behind the house. It was easy to see that they remained connected to each other, spreading out to collectively monitor larger areas. They monitored smaller birds of prey too and can be opportunistic. Once detected, the birds move in to clean up. They constantly squabble with each other vying for prime position. Afterwards, they spend time cleaning.

If you ever have the opportunity to watch Griffon vultures in the wild, know that some of these birds may be as old as 41 years. It is mesmerising to watch them, wings outstretched, a perfect foil to the backdrop of blue. It is impossible to not be captivated by them. When feeding, the term is a wake of vultures – and it is easy to see why. Flocks can also be called a committee, vault, or venue.

In conclusion

These are social birds, perhaps, the most social of the four species of vultures in Europe, and they play an important role within any ecosystems. Without them, we would certainly have more disease. I will never forget my close encounters with Griffon vultures.

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