LAMMERGEYER (Ger. Lammergeier, Lamm, lamb, and Geier, vulture), or bearded vulture, the Falco barbatus of Linnaeus and the Gypaetus barbatus of modern ornithologists, one of the grandest birds-of-prey of the Palaearctic region inhabiting lofty mountain chains from Portugal to the borders of China, though within historic times it has been exterminated in several of its ancient haunts. Its northern range in Europe does not seem to have extended farther than the southern frontier of Bavaria, or the neighbourhood of Salzburg; ' but in Asia it formerly reached a higher latitude, having been found even so lately as 1830 in the Amur region where, according to G. F. Radde (Beitr. Kenntn. Russ. Reichs, xxiii. p. 467), it has now left but its name. It is not uncommon on many parts of the Himalayas, where it breeds; and on the mountains of Kumaon and the Punjab, and is the " golden eagle " of most AngloIndians. It is found also in Persia, Palestine, Crete and Greece, the Italian Alps, Sicily, Sardinia and Mauritania.
In some external characters the lammergeyer is intermediate between the families Vulturidae and Falconidae, and the opinion of systematists has from time to time varied as to its proper position. It is now generally agreed, however, that it is more closely allied with the eagles than with the vultures, and the sub-family Gypaetinae of the Falconidae has been formed to contain ii, The whole length of the bird is from 43 to 46 in., of which, however, about 20 are due to the long cuneiform tail, while the pointed wings measure more than 30 in. from the carpal joint to the tip. The top of the head is white, bounded by black, which, beginning in stiff bristly feathers turned forwards over the base of the beak, proceeds on either side of the face in a well-defined band to the eye, where it bifurcates into two narrow stripes, of which the upper one passes above and beyond that feature till just in front of the scalp it suddenly turns upwards across the head and meets the corresponding stripe from the opposite side, enclosing the white forehead already mentioned, while the lower stripe extends beneath the eye about as far backwards and then suddenly stops. A tuft of black, bristly feathers projects beardlike from the base of the mandible, and gives the bird one of its commonest epithets in many languages. The rest of the head, the neck, throat and lower parts generally are clothed with lanceolate feathers of a pale tawny colour sometimes so pale as to be nearly white beneath; while the scapulars, back and wing-coverts generally, are of a glossy greyish-black, most of the feathers having a white shaft and a median tawny line. The quill-feathers, both of the wings and tail, are of a dark blackish-grey. The irides are of a light orange, and the sclerotic tunics equivalent to the " white of the eye " in most animals which in few birds are visible, are in this very conspicuous and of a bright scarlet, giving it an air of great ferocity. In the young of the year the whole head, neck and throat are clothed in dull black, and mos.t of the feathers of the mantle and wing-coverts are broadly tipped and mesially streaked with tawny or lightish-grey.
The lammergeyer breeds early in the year. The nest is of large size, built of sticks, lined with soft material and placed on a ledge of rock a spot being chosen, and often occupied for many years, which is nearly always difficult of access. Here in the month of February a single egg is usually laid. This is more than 3 in. in length by nearly 25 in breadth, of a pale but lively brownish-orange. The young when in the nest are clad in down of a dirty white, varied with grey on the head and neck, and with ochraceous in the iliac region.
There is much discrepancy as to the ordinary food of the lammergeyer, some observers maintaining that it lives almost entirely on carrion, offal and even ordure; but there is no question of its frequently taking living prey, and it is reasonable to suppose that this bird, like so many others, is not everywhere uniform in its habits. Its name shows it to be the reputed enemy of shepherds, and it is in some measure owing to their hostility that it has been exterminated in so many parts of its European range. But the lammergeyer has also a great partiality for bones, which when small enough it swallows. When they are too large, it is said to soar with them to a great height and drop them on a rock or stone that they may be broken into pieces of convenient size. Hence its name ossifrage, 2 by which the 'See a paper by Dr Girtanner on this bird in Switzerland ( Verhandl. St-Gall. naturw. Gesellschaft, 1869-1870, pp. 147-244).
2 Among other crimes attributed to the species is that, according to Pliny (Hist. Nat. x. cap. 3), of having caused the death of the poet Aeschylus, by dropping a tortoise on his bald head! In the Hebrew Peres is rightly translated in the Authorized Version of the Bible (Lev. xi. 13; Deut. xiv. 12) a word corrupted into osprey, and applied to a bird which has no habit of the kind.
The lammergeyer of north-eastern and south Africa is specifically distinct, and is known as Gypaetus meridionalis or G. nudipes. In habits it resembles the northern bird, from which it differs in little more than wanting the black stripe below the eye and having the lower part of the tarsus bare of feathers. It is the " golden eagle " of Bruce's Travels, and has been beautifully figured by Joseph Wolf in E. Riippell's Syst. Ubers. der Vogel Nord-Ost-Afrika's (Taf. i). (A. N.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)