Most species of vultures are not migratory birds by nature, and a vulture that lives in a region with a stable climate and food supply will probably remain in the same area year-round. Some vultures are nomadic, traveling long distances in search of comfort and food, and over time, some groups of vultures have established seasonal migratory patterns. Often, a vulture species will include sedentary, nomadic, and migratory individuals. This is true of both Old World vultures and New World vultures, even though the two sets of species are not closely related.
Many vulture species are sedentary by nature, maintaining a territory for their entire adult lives. When African cape vultures and American black vultures, for example, are old enough to leave the nest, they travel until they find a safe area, then remain in that territory for the rest of their lives. Some species of vulture, like the griffon vulture, can be sedentary in cold regions if the food supply is steady. Even the turkey vulture, which is largely migratory, will become sedentary if it lives in a particularly pleasant region.
Some individual vultures will travel long distances over their lifetimes in search of safe breeding grounds, good weather, and plentiful food. Scientists tracked one Eurasian black vulture that was born in the Republic of Georgia before flying south to Saudi Arabia, then north to Russia. In many species, such as the griffon vulture of Europe and West Asia, some juveniles are temporary nomads until they can establish a territory but become sedentary as adults. As some vulture species find their habitats threatened, they become more nomadic: Rüppell’s vulture, native to central Africa, has recently been seen as far north as Spain.
Migration seems to be a cultural adaptation in vultures: groups of vultures will develop a migratory pattern only when doing so gives them a survival advantage. The Eurasian black vulture, common throughout Asia, often migrates. For example, some Eurasian black vultures breed in Mongolia but travel to South Korea in winter. While most griffon vultures are sedentary, a large group of griffon vultures from Spain and France migrates to North Africa in winter. The turkey vulture is the only vulture species that is migratory by nature. Flocks of thousands of turkey vultures migrate in autumn and spring, seeking comfortable weather and plentiful food.
“Birdlife Data Zone.” BirdLife International – conserving the world’s birds. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.
“Global Raptor Information Network.” Global Raptor Information Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.