Never-seen-before Cinereous vulture & 5 Himalayan Griffon vultures gather at S'pore Botanic Gardens

An incredible year for birders.

Zi Shan Kow | December 30, 2021, 04:48 PM

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To close off an exciting year in birding, birdwatchers in Singapore leapt into action once again when a never-before-seen migrant vulture was discovered at Singapore Botanic Gardens.

A thrilling find

When some birdwatchers caught wind of the appearance of vultures at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the news spread like wildfire amongst the birding community.

Founder of the "Bird Sightings" Facebook group Francis Yap recounted the whole affair.

On Dec. 29, photographers spotted a committee of six majestic vultures perched on a tree just as it started to rain.

While these migrants are rare, Himalayan Griffon vultures sometimes take a pit stop in Singapore during this time of the year.

Curiously enough, one of six stuck out like a sore thumb.

Can you spot the odd one out?

Image via Francis Yap/Bird Sightings.

Image via Shiu Ling/Bird Sightings.

As the rain started to clear, long-time birder Martin Kennewell confidently identified the bird on the lowest perch as a Cinereous vulture, also known as a Black vulture or Monk vulture, and spread the word about its first known sighting in Singapore.

A Cinereous vulture. Image via Vincent Yip.

Wingspan up to three metres

Cinereous vultures are the largest Old World vultures found in the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, with the Himalayan Griffon vultures being a close second.

Both vultures have wingspans that can reach up to three metres.

Himalayan Griffon vultures weigh between eight and 12kg while the Cinereous vulture weigh up to 14kg.

Both species are currently classified as "near threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Teo captured a photo of the Grey-headed fish eagle defending its territory and chasing away the Himalayan Griffon vulture.

Despite the vast difference in size between the two, the fish eagle is unafraid of the surprise visitor.

A Grey-headed fish eagle attacks a Himalayan Griffon vulture. Image courtesy of Trevor Teo.

A Himalayan Griffon vulture. Image by Bhupesh Kurade/Bird Sightings.

A Cinereous vulture. Image courtesy of Trevor Teo.

The Himalayan Griffon vulture landed in a tree near the carpark, which provided an opportunity for the photographers to take more close-up shots of the beautiful bird.

A Himalayan Griffon vulture. Image via Justin Jing Liang/Bird Sightings.

A Himalayan Griffon vulture. Image via Sangmen Wong/Bird Sightings.

Cinereous vultures vs Himalayan Griffon vultures

Singapore Birds Project member Movin Nyanasengeran told Mothership that the Cinereous vulture has a darker and more feathered head, compared to the paler and less feathered head and necks of the Himalayan Griffon vulture.

The Cinereous vulture also has a larger and more powerful bill.

"Both vulture species can be seen at carcasses together where they co-occur in the Himalayas and other parts of Asia like China and Indochina," said Movin.

The six vultures migrate to Southeast Asia for the winter, primarily in the Indochina region, which is north of Malaysia.

They then fly northwards towards the Himalayas during their summer.

This Cinereous vulture is likely a vagrant that accidentally found its way to Singapore.

An exciting season for birding

"This is a very exciting season for birding with a lot of different new species seen for the first time in Singapore," Yap told Mothership.

Image courtesy of Martin T.

"The latest, which is the Cinereous Vulture, was not expected," he said, "I think Singapore is the southernmost place they have been found so far."

Trevor Teo, an avid birder, also found this year's birding scene to be quite surprising with the sighting of many new birds that have never been seen before.

"Everyone is very encouraged by this as they can’t travel to go birding," he told Mothership.

This time, with a fantastic vantage point, the birdwatchers have perhaps taken the best photos of these rare visitors in Singapore.

Himalayan Griffon vulture. Image courtesy of Trevor Teo.

Himalayan Griffon vulture. Image via Low Frankie/Bird Sightings.

Past sightings of Himalayan Griffon vultures

Top images by Shiu Ling, Low Frankie and Vincent Yip.