Providing food for vultures in vulture feeding stations (also called vultures restaurants) is now common in many countries, and is often used as a conservation tool to minimize threats related to the quality and availability of food resources. Vulture feeding stations are also used for eco-tourism purposes in several places. However, providing supplementary feeding may have undesired effects, as it can trigger population growth of some dominant species (e.g. griffon vulture), and also behavioural changes (e.g. vultures becoming dependent on a vulture feeding station rather than looking for a spatially and temporally unpredictable food resource). It is clear that vulture feeding stations should be managed for specific objectives, clearly defined with within an ecological and conservation perspective.
A new paper analysing patters of feeding and food preferences among the four European vulture species in six Spanish feeding stations, recently published, is therefore a very relevant contribution to help shape recommendations.
By installing videocameras at some feeding stations and analysing thousands of hours of feeding events, Moreno-Opo et al found out that large inputs of unscattered carrion favour the griffon vulture, while bearded vultures, Egyptian vultures and cinereous vultures are benefited when less biomass and/or when the food provided was not presented as whole carcasses.
The main conclusions is that using medium-size ungulates (i.e. sheep and goats), presented as small, abundant and scattered pieces, favours the consumption of the resource by the most endangered species. The authors also recommend “light” supplementary feeding in extensive livestock exploitations (“light feeding stations”) to the “heavy” vulture restaurants where thousands of kilos of large carcasses are deposited in a predictable way throughout the year. (Photo above Iñigo Fajardo/VCF)