Five of the Egyptian Vultures being tracked for the LIFE Rupis project have successfully returned to their summer ranges in the Douro region on the Spain-Portugal border. This means that all of the birds that migrated in the autumn of 2018 survived the winter period in West Africa and the arduous spring migration and can now prepare for a successful breeding season.
It is particularly good news because one of the breeding adults, Faia, had not transmitted any data since the 6th September 2018, during migration in northern Algeria, and the sub-adult Rupis (tracked since 2016) had also been out of transmission range for an extended period.
Thankfully, all of the birds are now regularly transmitting data and appear to be behaving normally. The map shows that Faia spent the winter period in very remote areas in southern Mauritania where there was no signal required to transmit data from the tracking unit.
The migration dates were remarkably similar for all of the adults apart from Faia, which departed approximately a week later than in 2018 but completed migration 3 days faster. The dates that the other adult birds crossed the Strait of Gibraltar were all within one or two days of the 2018 crossings, ranging from the 22nd February for Douro to the 3rd March for Batuecas.
Taking the same route
The migration routes also followed similar routes to 2018, with occasional detours possibly caused by differences in weather conditions, particularly wind. For example, the map shows that Douro travelled very close to the Moroccan coast for a few hundred kilometres after taking a more westerly route than in spring 2018. This is a common pattern for Egyptian Vultures that winter in West Africa, with spring migrations tending to be less direct and further west than the routes taken in the autumn. This is illustrated by the straight line distance between the winter and summer ranges being 550 km shorter than the cumulative distance taken for the birds to migrate between the two. The cumulative distances covered by the five birds ranged from 3,532 km (Batuecas) to 4,032 km (Rupis).
A new breeding season
The 2019 breeding season will be particularly interesting because the sub-adult Rupis is now entering its sixth calendar year and might have reached maturity and attempt to breed. Rupis arrived in the summer range 10 days earlier than in 2018 and so it is more likely that the bird will successfully find a breeding territory, but only time will tell.
We will be closely following the movements of all of the birds throughout the breeding season and until they migrate again in the autumn. Hopefully they will breed successfully and add to this important cross-border population of Egyptian Vultures.
Helping to protect Egyptian Vultures
The tracking data continue to reveal interesting aspects of the Douro Egyptian Vultures’ annual cycle and will inform the implementation of conservation actions throughout their range following the “flyway approach” that has been pioneered in the east of the range. We look forward to the return of the rest of the vultures in the coming months when the LIFE Rupis project partners will continue their important work to conserve this important population on the Spain-Portugal border.
Acknowledgements: We thank all of the LIFE Rupis project partners and everyone involved in the deployment of the transmitters and monitoring of the birds. We also thank Saloro SLU for generously contributing the tracking data from four individuals (Batuecas A, Huebra, Batuecas P and Camaces) to the LIFE Rupis project.
The LIFE Rupis conservation project, led by Portuguese wildlife organisation Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA), and funded by the European Union's LIFE Fund and the MAVA Foundation, is working in the cross-border Douro region of Spain and Portugal to protect and strengthen the populations of Egyptian vultures and Bonelli´s eagle. With around 135 breeding pairs, the region has one of the largest population of Egyptian vultures in Europe. Creating a network of feeding stations, improving habitat and nesting sites as well as tackling the major threats of electrocution from electricity pylons and illegal wildlife poisoning, the LIFE Rupis project will strengthen the population and improve breeding rates.