Like everywhere, the Egyptian vultures in the eastern part of the species´ European range have begun their annual migration, including the young birds released as part of the experimental release programme within the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE vulture conservation project.
Egyptian vultures on the move
Spending their summer breeding in Europe and parts of asia, Egyptian vultures undertake each year long migrations to warmer overwintering grounds. This migration travel is often very perilous, and can lead to significant mortality – in a study done with wild tagged young egyptian vultures in Bulgaria and Greece, around 70% died during the first migration, often drowning while trying to cross the Mediterranean through less conventional routes.
This was also the case for some of the captive-bred individuals released two years ago. In this case the migration may be even more risky, as they often undertake their long migration without the presence of other members of their species, specially adult birds, that tend to migrate early – captive-bred individuals tend to fledge very late in the season.
Releasing Egyptian vultures into the wild
As part of the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project, we at the Vulture Conservation Foundation are supporting and contributing to a comprehensive experiment that aims to test different techniques of releasing captive-bred Egyptian vultures in a standardised way and test for survival of the young. These techniques have involved the traditional hacking method, fostering chicks in wild nests and delayed release. This year four that hatched last eyar have been released through the delayed release method in Spring – named Polya, Boyana, Panteley and Akaga, one young was rleased rhiough fosteting ina wild nest – named Blanca, while two others were released through the hacking method (Anna and Vanya)
Following the released birds
Since the end of August some of these birds have started their journey south and the team at Egyptian Vulture New LIFE have been following their progress closely. Since the start of the migration a team from the LIFE project has traveled to the migratory bottleneck of Sarimazi in Turkey to observe and count the Egyptian vultures as they travel south too.
The first of the released birds to start their journey was Akaga, in the end of August.
Akaga was one of the birds released via the delayed release technique and traveled from the release site in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains first making her way to Turkey, near Istanbul. She then moved south to the Dardanelles, where she crossed into Asia, and continued her journey to southern Turkey. In the Adrasan Peninsula, rather than crossing to nearby Cyprus – a route that often leads to drownings, Akaga flew around the heavily built-up coast across Antalya Bay and roosted near the town of Ceyhan.
Incredibly, after a 1,200km journey the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE team caught up with Akaga as her roosting site was near the town where the Sarimazi observation team were staying. Since the sighting in Ceyhan Akaga traveled 700 km south in less than three days at an amazing 70 km/h, at an altitude of 2000m, and her last recorded location was in Saudi Arabia.
The captive-bred chick Blanca – fostered in a wild nest - has also started her journey south. Since fledging the nest Blanca has been adventurous making journeys around the release site and visiting feeding stations and meeting some of the other release birds. Blanca started her migration in the beginning of September traveling across Greece and crossing the Bosphorus over Istanbul.
Unlike Blanca and Akaga, Anna, the bird released via the hacking method, started her migration on the 7th september, and had a more perilous start to her migration. She chose to cross the Sea of Marmara through the Marmara islands, and when she arrived to the Adrasan peninsula Anna flew off twice to sea, only to return again to shore - after departing from Adrasan she made it 15km over the sea flying south but was dangerously losing height so returned to land. But not more than 30 minutes later she took to the air again and the signal from the transmitter stopped. Thankfully she appeared in Antalya, after flying around Antalya bay over the sea.
It is very important to see the relative survival of all these young Egyptian vultures, and compare with previous experiments and survival of the wild-tagged ones, to evaluate the best methods.
In the meantime, the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE team continues to log Egyptian vultures flying to the Middle East thorough Sarimazi – yesterday they had 134 birds in one day!
Egyptian Vulture New LIFE
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 and Bulgarian conservation organisation Green Balkans,from 14 countries spanning Europe, the Middle East and Africa, to protect Egyptian vultures not only in Europe but all along their migratory flyway.