The Egyptian vulture is a large bird, measuring 55 to 70 cm in length and weighing 1,600 to 2,400 grams. The wingspan is 140 to 175 cm. The adult vultures have white plumage with black flight feathers. The plumage may appear rusty brown due to soiling with red soil. The bill is slender and long with hooked mandible and black tip. The facial skin is orange yellow. The bill is black in subspecies N. p. percnopterus and yellow in subspecies N. p. ginginianus.
The Egyptian vultures inhabit a variety of habitats ranging from semi-desert areas, scrub forests, foothills and sub-urban areas.
The Egyptian vultures feed mainly on carrion. They also feed on small mammals, birds and reptiles. The Egyptian vultures have been observed to scavenge from garbage in urban areas and sometimes feed on faeces of mammals.
Their call is a low whistle and they also make groaning and grunting sounds.
The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), also called the white scavenger vulture or pharaoh's chicken, is a small Old World vulture and the only member of the genus Neophron. It is widely distributed; the Egyptian vulture is found from the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa to India. The contrasting underwing pattern and wedge-shaped tail make it distinctive in flight as it soars in thermals during the warmer parts of the day. Egyptian vultures feed mainly on carrion but are opportunistic and will prey on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They also feed on the eggs of other birds, breaking larger ones by tossing a large pebble onto them.
The use of tools is rare in birds and apart from the use of a pebble as a hammer, Egyptian vultures also use twigs to roll up wool for use in their nest. Egyptian vultures that breed in the temperate regions migrate south in winter while tropical populations are relatively sedentary. Populations of this species declined in the 20th century and some island populations are endangered by hunting, accidental poisoning, and collision with power lines.
The adult's plumage is white, with black flight feathers in the wings. Wild birds usually appear soiled with a rusty or brown shade to the white plumage, derived from mud or iron-rich soil. Captive specimens without access to soil have clean white plumage. It has been suggested as a case of cosmetic colouration. The bill is slender and long, and the tip of the upper mandible is hooked. The nostril is an elongated horizontal slit. The neck feathers are long and form a hackle. The wings are pointed, with the third primary being the longest; the tail is wedge shaped. The legs are pink in adults and grey in juveniles. The claws are long and straight, and the third and fourth toes are slightly webbed at the base.
The bill is black in the nominate subspecies but pale or yellowish in adults of the smaller Indian ginginianus. Rasmussen and Anderton (2005) suggest that this variation may need further study, particularly due to the intermediate black-tipped bill described in rubripersonatus. The facial skin is yellow and unfeathered down to the throat. The sexes are indistinguishable in plumage but breeding males have a deeper orange facial skin colour than females. Females average slightly larger and are about 10–15% heavier than males. Young birds are blackish or chocolate brown with black and white patches. The adult plumage is attained only after about five years.
The adult Egyptian vulture measures 47–65 centimetres (19–26 in) from the point of the beak to the extremity of the tail feathers. In the smaller N. p. ginginianus males are about 47–52 centimetres (19–20 in) long while females are 52–55.5 centimetres (20.5–21.9 in) long. The wingspan is about 2.7 times the body length. Birds from Spain weigh about 1.9 kilograms (4.2 lb) while birds of the Canary Island subspecies majorensis, representing a case of island gigantism, are heavier with an average weight of 2.4 kilograms (5.3 lb).