New scientific publication reveals interesting facts about the migration of Egyptian vultures from the Balkans

09.04.2015
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Photography: Javier Elorriaga

Do you know that juvenile Egyptian vultures travel on average 5,275 km during their first migration, and fly for 35 days with an average speed of 172 km per day on their way to Africa? Under specific weather conditions they can even reach a speed of 80 km per hour and fly over 500 km per day! These interesting facts were discovered by the use of satellite transmitters attached to 19 juvenile Egyptian vultures from Bulgaria, Greece, FYR of Macedonia and Albania between 2010 and 2014, to identify important migratory routes and wintering areas.

Unfortunately, we discovered that 25% of the birds died during the first autumn migration because they chose the wrong route when they tried to cross Mediterranean Sea. The unlucky birds that died originated mostly from the western part of the Balkans – Greece, FYR of Macedonia and Albania, and only one out of 10 birds successfully managed to cross the 250 km of open water between Crete and northern Africa, probably due to stronger tailwind. We think that in a declining population with fewer experienced adults, more and more juvenile birds are being forced to migrate without the guidance of their elders and are therefore choosing the more hazardous route, resulting in high juvenile mortality. On the other hand, all tagged juvenile birds that took a long detour over land via Turkey and the Middle East successfully arrived on their wintering grounds in Africa.

The tagged juvenile Egyptian vultures that survived the journey wintered across a vast range of the Sahel and eastern Africa, and had large movement ranges (individual wintering territory ranges between 5,000 and 90,000 sq. km), with core use areas at intermediate elevations in savannah, cropland or desert. Even though they had survived the perilous journey, the juvenile vultures that arrived at their wintering grounds were not out of danger. Two of the tagged vultures were found shot in Africa, which shows that effective conservation in Africa is a challenging issue. The threats faced by Egyptian vultures on their migratory journey are several, and given the broad distribution of the birds and the threats, they will require long-term investment to be tackled effectively. We recommend that in the short term, more efficient conservation could target narrow migration corridors in southern Turkey and the Middle East, and at known congregation sites in African wintering areas.

These interesting facts and much more is described in a new scientific paper written by the team of the LIFE+ project “The Return of the Neophron”and published in the ornithological journal Ibis. The paper can be downloaded from here (pdf, 500 kB).

 

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