About the identification of Himalayan (Gyps himalayensis) and Eurasian (Gyps fulvus) Griffon Vultures

In practice, separating these two species is somewhat problematic, especially as few birdwatchers have much experience of both species. The best identification reference is Alström 1997: Field Identification of Asian Gyps Vultures, Oriental Bird Club Bulletin 25.

Part 1, the easier birds

(1.) Adult Himalayan Griffon Vulture. Pangot, Uttarakhand, India, 24 November 2007. The adult Himalayan is seldom a problem. Uniformly pale underwing-coverts (also upperwing), pale but somewhat streaked underbody, broad wings with black remiges.

(2.) Himalayan Griffon Vulture. Pangot, Uttarakhand, India, 24 November 2007. The identification of juveniles is somewhat more difficult. Ageing this bird as a first-year is easy because there is no sign of ongoing or previous moult. Underwing-coverts are darker than in Eurasian Griffon, and especially the underbody is darker brown with much larger white stripes. The wings are very broad and the body large and thick.

(3.) Juvenile Eurasian Griffon, Nainital, Uttarakhand, India, 23 November 2007. Shows a pale central bar on the underwing and a distinct separate patagial bar (in Himalayan Griffon, the central bar is not this pale or wide, but the patagial bar can be similar), rufous-brown lesser coverts and underbody, the latter with indistinct streaking (can be quite distinct when seen close, but still the pale areas are much narrower than in Himalayan Griffon, and the colours are less contrasting). In addition to moult status, the marks of young age are a dark bill, dark ruff and uniformly dark remiges.

(4.) Juvenile Eurasian Griffon, the same bird as in the preceding photo. Note plain, rufous-tinged coverts. Eurasian Griffons do not show streaked upperwing coverts, like Himalayan Griffon in juvenile and subadult plumages (those of adult Himalayan are so pale that they do not necessarily appear streaked).

(5.) Juvenile Himalayan Griffon. Kaziranga, Assam, India, 3 April 2010. Again, strongly streaked underparts and darkish underwing-coverts.

(6.) Juvenile Himalayan Griffon. The same bird as in the previous photo. Darkish upperparts. The streaks of the upperwing-coverts are not clearly visible in this photo (nor always in the field).

(7.) Subadult Eurasian Griffon. 17 December 2008 Naliya, Gujarat, India. Rufous tinge on the underwing-coverts. Himalayan Griffon will not show a dark, contrasting band of greater coverts.

To part 2, the more difficult individuals