Just a few days after the first flight of the juvenile of the only wild pair of Egyptian vulture left in the region of Lomovete (NE Bulgaria), the hack of the three captive-bred fledglings that were earlier transported to Bulgaria to be released there was finally opened last week.
The juveniles were provided for releasing in the Rusenski Lom Nature Park from the Zoos in Prague, Vienna and Paris, in the frame of the European Endangered Species Programmes (EEP) of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), and in collaboration with the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF). The birds spent two weeks in a hack (artificial nest), constructed by Green Balkans, in order to adapt to the new environment. The three fledglings were observed on a daily basis and supplied with food through a tube by a team of BSPB and the Nature Park, without having direct contact with humans.
Additionally, on the top of the hill with the hacking site, the vulture restaurant was prepared for the new “guests”: it was cleared from shrubby vegetation and two decoys were installed, very skillfully made by the local sculptor Daniel Kanchev and thanks to the kind collaboration with the Regional History Museum in Ruse, to show where the safe source of food is located. So everything was ready for the releasing of the captive-bred juveniles.
On the 26th of August, it was the male Lom who first left the hack. He was followed by his sister Regina, while the French juvenile – Elodi preferred to stay in. Breathless, the BSPB team on the ground followed their first flights. The first day both juveniles from the Vienna Zoo exercised to fly and land, as well as investigated the surroundings. Regina roosted near the hack, while Lom chose a tree to spend the night.
On the second day, they continued to improve their skills in flight, and new actors appeared on the scene – the wild individuals from the neighboring pair. Non-intentionally the adults played the role of instructors in flight, with the captive-bred juveniles following them in the air but then always returning to the hacking cliff.
Amongst the major challenges for the captive-bred juveniles, after learning the art of flying, was to find the feeding site. The decoys perfectly played their function. Besides the fact that they attracted the wild adults who flew 6-7 times over the feeding in the site same day and landed to feed (in the last few months this was not observed as the pair has been provided supplementary food very close to its nest), the decoys were like a guiding light also for the unexperienced juvenile birds. Initially, Lom and Regina landed next to the decoys clearly seeing the food, but it seemed they were not confident (probably because of the “behavior” of the feeding adult decoy-bird) and did not touch the food this day. On the next day more food was provided and dispersed over the feeding site and the juveniles greedily benefited from this “service”. They adapted to the site so quickly that started to jump over the heads of the decoys and even Lom demonstrated atypical bird territorial behavior (for a juvenile) and chased away the wild adult male who came to feed on the site - see photo.
Finally, on 1st of September, Elodie – the smallest amongst the three vultures, successfully left the hack too. Thus, the first critical step in their new life has been made. We hope that soon all the tree captive-bred vultures will find a safe way along their first migration. Fingers crossed for all of them!