The migratory Egyptian vulture carries out a 7,000km round trip between their breeding areas in Europe and their winter grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. To better understand their behaviour, LIFE Rupis has been tracking Egyptian vultures with GPS transmitters, a first for Portugal. In the last few days, the team has been monitoring the breeding success of the local breeding population and tagged two more young birds in the Douro area!
Monitoring Egyptian Vultures
Monitoring Egyptian Vultures in the Douro (c) Carlos Pacheco ATN/António Monteiro ICNF
The LIFE Rupis project continually monitors Egyptian Vultures in the Douro Valley on the Spain-Portugal border to help inform conservation initiatives. The latest action happened last week, when our partners from Associação Transumância e Natureza and Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas surveyed the breeding productivity of Egyptian Vultures in the Douro, as part of the project. Fieldwork is still continuing, and data will be properly analysed, but a preliminary review suggests that breeding this year was not that good. Before they begin their migration journey to Africa, the team also managed to equip two young birds with GPS tags provided by us here at the VCF under the LIFE project.
Following Egyptian vultures
Weighing between 30 and 40 grams, GPS transmitters are fitted on the backs of vultures to track their movements, without having any significant impact on the birds themselves. The highly efficient solar-powered transmitters send their GPS position over the mobile communications network and can provide as many as 500 location-fixes per day. Each transmitter has a lifespan of three to four years. Visit our online public maps to follow the movements of the LIFE Rupis Egyptian Vultures. The maps of the two latest birds will be put online as soon as they leave the nest, which should happen in the next two weeks.
Understanding Egyptian Vulture behaviour
Egyptian Vultures are classified as endangered and are the only species of Europe's four vulture species that have a globally declining population. The tracking data is vital to help understand what measures can be implemented to help protect the species, and understand how they move across the whole of the migratory flyway to identify any risks they may encounter and take action.
The data from all of the tracked birds illustrate the high degree of 'site fidelity' for specific foraging locations, which is a characteristic of the species. In contrast to Egyptian Vultures that have been tracked in the Middle East and the eastern Sahel, the birds from the Douro do not visit landfills in their winter ranges but tend to prefer to forage in more natural Sahelian-savannah type habitats rather than human-modified landscapes.
Unfortunately, the conflict and insecurity in the region where Iberian Egyptian vultures winter make it difficult to conduct fieldwork to understand the behaviour of the vultures there, and the threats that they face. But we are engaging with local stakeholders such as the Boundou Community Reserve in Senegal to receive valuable information.
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 learning more insights into the behaviour of fascinating birds! The LIFE Rupis project team will continue their essential work to conserve this vital population on the Spain-Portugal border.
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.