The Douro Canyon is currently home to two Cinereous Vulture breeding pairs, and both of them successfully bred this breeding season! To understand the movements of young individuals in the region, the Associação Transumância e Natureza (ATN), the Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (ICNF) and the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) recently equipped both of the 2020 hatched Cinereous Vultures with GPS tags in their nests!
Tagging Cinereous Vulture nestlings
This summer, on two separate occasions, staff from ATN, ICNF and VCF equipped the two Cinereous Vulture nestlings in the Douro with GPS tags provided by the VCF and funded by the MAVA Foundation. The first Cinereous Vulture was tagged on the 26 June and the second one on Monday 13 July. Tagging Cinereous Vultures in the nest is not an easy task. Conservationists have to climb high to reach the nest of the birds, which is usually on the canopy of trees, and carefully extract the nestling with minimal disturbance, equip it with a tag, which takes skill and experience to do so properly, and then return it to the nest safely.
The GPS tag weighs between 30g and 40g, and yet it provides invaluable information that will help inform more accurate conservation actions. We can understand the bird's movements, foraging ranges and habits, and realize when a vulture is no longer moving and potentially injured. This information is vital to reveal any threats the bird may face during its travels, giving insights to conservationists that will allow them to carry out actions to reduce the threat it faces and help support the species comeback in the area.
Cinereous Vultures recolonized Portugal in 2010, after several decades absent as a breeding species, and the species now numbers 35 pairs breeding in three colonies, two in the north (Douro), one in the centre of the country (Tejo Internacional) and one in the Barrancos area (south). These recolonizations were mostly due to expansion of nearby Spanish colonies, following the spectacular recovery of the species in Spain (increased from 200 pairs in the 1970s to 3,000 breeding pairs now).
The first-ever tagging of a Portuguese nestling happened in 2018 when staff from Liga para a Proteção da Natureza tagged one young bird in Contenda. There has been a range of conservation projects supporting the conservation of the Cinereous Vultures in Portugal such as the LIFE Lynx-Vulture, managed by LPN, and the cross-border LIFE Rupis project in the Douro Canyon.
Cinereous Vultures in the Douro
The first Cinereous Vulture pair that established itself in the Douro nested in 2012 — this recolonization was surprising and unique, as the pair settled about 100 km from the nearest colonies, located in Spain. Cinereous Vultures usually live in colonies with dozens of individuals. Sometimes, newly formed couples move away from a colony, starting a new nucleus, but usually, these new nuclei form 10 or 20 km from the original colony - not 100km!
The LIFE Rupis team hopes that the chicks that hatched now in the Douro will return to settle to the region when they reach sexual maturity and will also be joined by birds from other origins that sometimes disperse into the Douro, so that little by little this colony of Cinereous Vultures in the north-east of Portugal grows and strengthens. For this endangered species, a new population in Portugal would be excellent news and a significant contribution to the recovery of the species in Europe.
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.