Himalayan Griffon fly-past

on 5th February 2008


Three Himalayan Griffons (Gyps himalayensis) were sighted by Lee Tiah Khee flying over the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on 23rd January 2008. Tiah Khee managed to capture two of the three in the above image.

On the morning of 26th January, James Heng similarly made contact with these birds: “The bird flew overhead at 10.10am when I was at the northern part of the island that faces Johor. Where I was, there were also a pair of Black-winged Kites (Elanus caeruleus) and a White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster).

“That solitary Himalyan Griffon flew higher than the usual White-bellied Sea Eagles. As it was against a clear blue sky, the fold of feathers around its head (when its neck is retracted) was clearly seen. Even the small baldy head and large curved beak was very

“It flew inland from the Johor side for about 300-400m, took a left turn and then flew back out to the Straits of Johor again. You’d probably have a higher chance to see it flying along the Straits of Johor.

“In fact, I had probably seen the same bird gliding near the same location the previous day at about 2pm. It was seen from the beach in front of Bottle Tree Village at Sembawang Park. That raptor was soaring above the Straits of Johor towards Johor’s side.


“At that time, I thought that it was strange that the colors on that “adult WB Sea Eagle’s” tail were the wrong way round, i.e. white above black. I excluded the WBSE’s juvenile plumage as the lower primaries were lacking the pale patches and the breast and its lower coverts were grayish-white. Though I was very puzzled, the bird was too far away for my binoculars to get any further details. In hindsight, it may very well have been that same bird.

“In fact, as a scavenger, it makes more sense for the Griffon to feed at Johor’s side as there are far more mangroves, kelongs and kampungs. Singapore’s side is far too urbanised for them to find any carrion.”
James Heng
February 2008
(Image of Himalayan Griffons flying by Lee Tiah Khee, that of the bird crouching by Wang Luan Keng was taken in January 2006 at Changi)

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

4 Responses

  1. One tired Himalayan Gyps was spotted perching on a roadside tree along Braddell Road
    (opp of SPH) on 2 Feb 2008 (Sat) morning 11.20am while i was driving there. Unfortunately i couldn’t stop to snap a photo along this busy stretch of road.

  2. with all the birders and bird photographers in singapore so actively in birding, it helps to update the records. thanks for sharing.

    now since it is spotted flying from johor, i believe, some of the individuals are feeding from the kampungs, farms and open lands along the johor shorelines. i don’t think there are many birders in johor perhaps only a few bird photographers who may not been able to go out often. this kind of information is very helpful to determine the locations of the griffon.

  3. It’s really very interesting that this rare vagrant is apparently being sighted more often in recent years.

    What’s even more interesting to me is that of all Asian vulture species, the Himalayan Griffon Vulture strikes me as one of those least likely to venture down into the tropical lowland areas. Why this bird of the high, cold Himalayan plateaus, and not the other vulture species of the tropical owlands? This is especially puzzling, considering that other vulture species were formerly present in the Malay Peninsula. And what could be driving these birds to fly all the way from the Himalayas to visit the southern Malay Peninsula and Singapore? (Can we rule out the possibility that these are escapees from a private collection?)

    I’m also wondering at this point that since there are already at least 4 other griffon vulture species* inhabiting the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia, whether the vultures seen lately in Singapore have all beenpositively ID’ed beyond a shadow of doubt as the Himalayan Griffon Vulture. Is size one way of telling the griffon species apart? Or are there plumage differences or anatomical features unique to the Himalayan Griffon, since I believe the Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) might also approach the Himalayan Griffon Vulture in size and wingspan. Or can the flight pattern of the Himalayan Griffon Vulture be told apart from those of other related vultures?

    *The other four Gyps species that live in southern and southeast Asia:

    Griffon Gyps fulvus
    Indian White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis
    Indian Vulture Gyps indicus
    Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris

  4. Very good point you have there, Hai-Ren. Will need to look closely into this… Whether the birds were properly ID’ed or did we simply assume that they are HV just because two years ago one landed in Changi. But the bird then could be examined at close range. Here, only Ashley claimed to have seen it perching on a tree but did not examine it closely.

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