AppearanceUnlike most vultures, the Lammergeier does not have a bald head. This huge bird is 94–125 cm long with a wingspan of 2.31–2.83 m , and is quite unlike most other vultures in flight due to its large, narrow wings and long, wedge-shaped tail, which measures 43–52 cm in length. It weighs 4.5–7.8 kg , with the nominate race averaging 6.21 kg and ''G. b. meridionalis'' averaging 5.7 kg . Females are slightly larger than males.
The adult has a buff-yellow body and head, the latter with the black moustaches which give this species its alternative name. It may rub mud over its chin, breast and leg feathers, giving these areas a rust-coloured appearance. The tail feathers and wings are grey. The juvenile bird is dark all over, and takes five years to reach full maturity. The Lammergeier is silent, apart from shrill whistles at the breeding crags, and can live up to 40 years in captivity.
NamingThis species was first described by Linnaeus in his ''Systema naturae'' in 1758 as ''Vultur barbatus''. The name of the Lammergeier originates from German ', which means "lamb-vulture" or "lamb-hawk". The name stems from the belief that it attacked lambs.
StatusAlthough the Lammergeier is threatened within its range in Europe, the species has a large range across Asia and Africa and is relatively common across much of that range. As such the species is listed as least concern by the IUCN and BirdLife International, although there is some evidence of decline. It was formerly killed in significant numbers because people feared that it carried off children and domestic animals; the bird was also hunted as a trophy.
BehaviorLike other vultures it is a scavenger, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals. It usually disdains the rotting meat, however, and lives on a diet that is 90% bone marrow. The Lammergeier can swallow whole bones up to the size of a lamb's femur and its powerful digestive system quickly dissolves even large pieces. The Lammergeier has learned to crack bones too large to be swallowed by carrying them up to a height and then dropping them onto rocks below, smashing them into smaller pieces and exposing the nutritious marrow. This learned skill requires extensive practice by immature birds and takes up to seven years to master. Its old name of ''Ossifrage'' relates to this habit. Live tortoises are also dropped in similar fashion to crack them open. Although dropping bones is a regular habit, the Lammergeier also obtains food by other means and has been known to seize and carry off live prey such as a two foot monitor lizard.
HabitatThe habitat is exclusively mountainous terrain . An individual has been seen at 24,000 feet . The bird breeds from mid-December to mid-February, laying 1 to 2 eggs which hatch between 53 and 58 days. After hatching the young spend 106 to 130 days in the nest before fledging. Typically, the Lammergeier nests in caves and on ledges and rock outcrops.
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