Extremadura has about 175 breeding pairs of Egyptian Vultures, mostly in the northern part of the region, representing 10% of the total Spanish population, which in itself is the biggest in Europe.
This autonomous region in western Spain also has a unique, almost unknown, wintering population of this migratory species, previously under record. The Egyptian vulture is a partially migratory species across its vast global range, with vultures from Eurasia wintering in Africa, in a belt from Mali though Sudan to Ethiopia. Previous research has indicated that Egyptian vultures from the Iberian Peninsula winter mostly in an area comprising Mali-Burkina Faso-Chad. They normally arrive back to the peninsula in March.
Wintering Egyptian vultures in Extremadura have been first observed about 15 years ago, and more regularly in the last 10 years, with a group of 10 – 30 individuals being recorded regularly in one site.
This population has not been studied, and therefore it is not known if these birds are coming from elsewhere, or are resident.
Now the VCF and the Junta de Extremadura have started a project to study and monitor these birds. Throughout this winter, the species has been monitored at the regular wintering site – a maximum of 65 individuals were counted at the roosting site, with one third of them identified as juveniles or sub-adult.
The project also involved capturing and tagging a number of birds with GPS-GSM tags, in order to find out their origins, movements and use of space. Following 15 days of intensive fieldwork, two birds were finally caught last month: one adult and one juvenile. Blood samples were also taken for toxicological and parasitological analysis.
These birds will be followed throughout the Spring and Summer, and the VCF will post regularly their news. So far, in the two weeks following their capture, the juvenile bird – named Alagón – has stayed very close to the roosting site (where it was captured), but the adult Egyptian vulture – baptized as Tajo - has visited one place 60km away, that could be its breeding site.
Egyptian vultures are now globally endangered, and are declining fast across vast areas of their range, including in many regions in Spain. We hope that this study will help us understand more about its population dynamics, threat factors, including mortality causes, and thus help in their conservation.
Stay tuned to the VCF website-Facebook-Twitter for more news!