Bio Facts: Vulture, Palm-nut
Coastal forests and mangrove swamps below 4,921 ft (1,500 m) and wet savannahs
Adult length: 24 in. (60 cm); adult weight: 2.6-4 lbs (1.2-1.5 kg); wingspan: 59 in. (150 cm); coloration: plumage is all white except for black areas in its wings; red patch around the eye; juveniles are brown with a yellow eye patch; sexes are almost identical in appearance, with the female being only slightly larger than the male.
About 27 years in captivity
About 3 - 5 years
In the wild, they eat the fruits of the African oil palms (Elaeis guineensis) and raffia palms (Raphia sp.), crabs, mollusks, locusts, and fish; in the Zoo, they are fed a scientifically developed, commercially available bird of prey diet of ground meat, a variety of prey items such as rats, mice, chickens and fish, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
IUCN – Least Concern; CITES – Appendix II
The palm-nut vulture is one of the very few birds-of prey that regularly eats vegetable matter. The fleshy husks of oil palm and raffia palm fruits, along with wild dates and other fruits, make up an astonishing 58% to 65% of the adult diet and up to 92% of the juvenile’s. This unusual vulture derives its remaining nutritional requirements from more conventional sources, which it hunts or occasionally takes as carrion.
When feeding on palm fruit they hang upside down below the fruit, pull it off the tree with their beaks and then hold it in their feet to eat it. Interestingly they have started to use a similar technique for taking carrion at game lodges. At Samburu Lodge the staff bait a branch to attract Leopard; they hang a goat haunch below an angled branch and the Leopards lie along the branch and haul the haunch up to feed on. The palm-nut vultures have developed the habit of hanging below the branch, using their palm fruit technique to enable them to pull off strips of meat.
In flight this species resembles an eagle more than a typical vulture, and it can sustain flapping flight, so it does not depend on thermals.
Breeding pairs construct large stick nests high up in tall trees and will often exhibit a strong attachment to the nest site, staying within its vicinity year round. At the beginning of the breeding season, pairs soar together in an aerial display of rolling and diving, much more acrobatic than most vultures. During each breeding cycle, a single, white and chocolate-brown egg is laid, which is incubated by both sexes, over a period of four to six weeks. Normally around 85 to 90 days after hatching, the young brown chicks will fledge.
The palm-nut vulture has several high-pitched, whistling calls used during copulation or territory defense; it can also produce a quacking similar to that of a duck.
Since its diet is not primarily carrion, the palm-nut vulture has a more fully feathered head than its carrion-eating cousins.
Despite its name, the palm-nut vulture probably isn’t a vulture at all. Some authorities (Zimmerman et al) consider it to be a vulturine eagle; others (Lewis and Pomeroy) place it with the vultures, while the Handbook of the Birds of the World says it is a “monotypic genus, apparently intermediate between fish-eagles and vultures.”
Other common names include Vulturine Fish Eagle and South African Fish Eagle.
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion. The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion. The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion. For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
Palm-nut vultures have been exhibited at the Jacksonville Zoo since 2006.