Only four species of vulture occur on the hills of South India. One of these is the smaller white scavenger vulture (Neophron ginginianus), which is probably the ugliest bird in the world. Its plumage is dirty white, except the tips of the wings, which are black. The head is not bald, as is the case with most vultures; it is covered with projecting feathers that form an exceedingly bedraggled crest. The bill, the naked face, and the legs are yellow. This vulture is popularly known as the shawk or Pharaoh's chicken. Young scavenger vultures are sooty brown.
The other three vultures common on the Nilgiris are the Pondicherry vulture (Otogyps calvus), the long-billed vulture (Gyps indicus), and the white-backed vulture (Pseudogyps bengalensis). The first is easily identified by means of its white waistcoat, a patch of white on the thighs, and large red wattles that hang down like the ears of a blood-hound. With the above exceptions the plumage is black.
The long-billed vulture is of a uniform brown-grey colour.
The white-backed vulture is a dark brown, almost black, bird, with a white back and a broad white band on the under surface of each wing, which is very noticeable when the bird is soaring high in the air on the watch for carrion.
The two commonest vultures of the Nilgiris are the scavenger and the white-backed species.