It has already been a month since the two captive-bred Egyptian Vultures, Fer and Andi, left their aviary and started exploring the nature of Bulgaria. How have they been experiencing their first month of freedom?
Testing different release techniques
Over five years, the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project is testing different techniques of releasing captive-bred Egyptian Vultures and 2019 is the second year of the unique experiment. The team recently opened the door of the aviary built in the Eastern Rhodopes where the one-year-old birds, Fer (donated by Zoo Zoobotánico Jerez, Spain), Andi (donated by the Zoo Vienna Schönbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria) and Sharka (donated by the Zlín-Lešná Zoo in the Czech Republic) resided as part of the delayed release technique. Before they were released, all three were fitted with GPS transmitters to track their movements as they explored their new home. Unfortunately, Sharka was assaulted and killed on the third night of freedom by a predator.
Challenges and Adventures
Fer and Andi faced many difficulties at the beginning of their release, from finding safe places to spend the night to handling the attacks by crows and ravens. Thankfully, the birds persevered and survived!
Andi was the first to visit the feeding station near the release site, and after a few days, Fer followed. After figuring out the food situation, the two vultures were focusing on practising their flight skills. They were soaring up with the help of the warm air thermals or gliding over the cliffs and even swirling towards the ground and then proudly rising. They also learned how to repel the crows and soon started to tease them themselves. Andi and Fer kept building their confidence by gaining strength and experience, which would help them to meet the ultimate challenge – surviving into the wild!
Andi was the most adventurous of the two, starting to explore the Eastern Rhodopes first. He began making one-day trips first to the east, then south, then north and east again. He slowly enlarged his range and visited some other Egyptian Vulture territories. He even decided to visit Greece one day, and it took him less than three hours to reach the Greek part of the mountain! Once there, he met up with adult Egyptian Vulture Iliaz, who was GPS tagged as a chick by the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE team. Andi stayed two days at Iliaz territory and was even roosting not far away from Iliaz’s nest, so obviously, the two were getting along well. A week later Andi decided to revisit Greece but this time flew straight towards Dadia National Park and joined the Cinereous Vulture colony for the weekend.
Fer explores the surrounding area but is still more attached to the feeding station and the release site. He moves east and north from the place and also visits some other Egyptian vulture territories. He visited the feeding station near Madzharovo and was even spotted feeding together with a big group of Griffon Vultures. Fer seems to be very calm and is always friendly with the other birds visiting the feeding station. He is flying exceptionally well and is excellent at spotting carcasses in the wild.
Panteley is another Egyptian Vulture that was released in the same location last year. He was raised by the same parent that raised Fer in Jerez Zoo, Spain. Ahead of his return to the release site in Bulgaria, Panteley wintered in Crete, Greece. In the first few days upon his arrival, he was intensively feeding on the feeding station and recovering from the migration. He immediately started feeding together with Andi and Fer.
Once he got his strength back, he was quick to continue his adventures and started exploring the Balkans. First, he made a one-day visit to Sakar mountain, and then he made a two-day visit to Turkey and Strandzha mountain. After a while, he decided to go even further and undertook the longest trip until now by reaching the Danube river in the north of the country. He even moved southwest from the release site and reached the lowlands near Plovdiv but didn’t like the flat landscape and quickly returned to the mountains where he belongs. After his travels, Panteley always returns to the feeding station in Eastern Rhodopes.
You can track the movements of all tagged Egyptian vultures by the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE here.
We are looking forward to seeing what Andi, Fer and Panteley do next!
Egyptian Vulture New LIFE
Working collaboratively projects like the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE aims to reinforce the Egyptian vulture population in their Europe’s easternmost range across the Balkans. By actively managing and restocking the population by releasing captive-bred birds the project will support the small Balkan population which number between 60 and 80 pairs across the whole region. The project is working to deliver conservation measures that eliminate major known threats such as illegal poisoning and electrocution in their summer breeding grounds. Monitoring the population closely using GPS transmitters will also help the project tackle the major threats Egyptian vultures face. The Egyptian Vulture New LIFE is a partnership of organisations, led by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds from 14 countries spanning Europe, the Middle East and Africa, to protect Egyptian vultures not only in Europe but all along their migratory flyway.