Results from the first Griffon Vulture census of the decade in Cyprus

The rescued Griffon Vulture Nepheli was observed roaming the skies during the census (c) Eleni Karatzia/VCF
The rescued Griffon Vulture Nepheli was observed roaming the skies during the census (c) Eleni Karatzia/VCF

Every year, BirdLife Cyprus coordinates two large-scale Griffon Vulture surveys, one in winter and one in late spring, aiming to check on any nesting activity and estimate the current population size of the species, by carrying out simultaneous counts across the entire feeding range of the vultures and also their known breeding and roosting cliffs. On Friday 24 January, observers were stationed at nine key look-out points, and camera-traps were set up at one of the vulture supplementary feeding stations, to complete the first Griffon Vulture census of the decade and the first such count since the launch of the LIFE with Vultures project. The results are now out together with some fascinating observations!

 

Interesting observations

The action-packed day started off bright and early with high winds and powerful gusts – perfect flying conditions for the vultures. First thing in the morning, thirteen vultures were seen being active and stretching their wings around Episkopi Cliffs by the sea, the only breeding colony in Cyprus, before gradually breaking up into smaller groups and making their way inland.

A Griffon Vulture carrying nesting material to the colony (c) Eleni Karatzia/VCF
A Griffon Vulture carrying nesting material to the colony (c) Eleni Karatzia/VCF

One of the highlights of the survey was when a wing-tagged female (brought from Crete and released in Cyorus as part of Project GYPAS) was seen copulating with an untagged male that hatched in Cyprus at a usual nesting site on Episkopi cliffs. At the same time, a second couple of tagged vultures were tending their newly-built nest and later on, the second pair was also observed copulating. Interestingly, one of these birds was observed visiting the nest of the Cypro-Cretan pair while it was unattended and stealing nesting material. 

 

Activities of GPS tagged vultures 

The LIFE with Vultures project team recently equipped two young Griffon Vultures, Ikaros and Nepheli, with GPS tags provided by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and have been closely monitoring their movements ever since. During the census, the team was glad to see the two birds again, being quite active and making a few appearances!

Ikaros was seen further inland together with eight other vultures feeding on a carcass of a goat, demonstrating the value of this species as nature's clean-up crew.

 

Later on, in the early afternoon, the vultures began returning to their roosting cliffs at Episkopi, including Nepheli who was recently rescued and released. Thanks to the GPS tracking, the team was able to see how the vultures spent the day, and as it turns out, Nepheli was wandering around usual vulture haunts.

 

 

Griffon Vulture census results

 

Griffon Vultures flying above observers during the census (c) Eleni Karatzia/VCF
Griffon Vultures flying above observers during the census (c) Eleni Karatzia/VCF

Overall, the estimated size of the Cyprus Griffon population remains stable at around 20 individuals, with three territorial pairs identified. BirdLife Cyprus will continue to keep an eye on the nests and hope that with the LIFE with Vultures project kicking into gear the 2020 winter census marks the start of a bright new future for the Griffon Vultures of Cyprus.

 

BirdLife Cyprus organised the census with the support of the Game and Fauna Service, the SBA Environment Department and the Department of Forests. The VCF and Terra Cypria also participated during the census. The census would also not be possible without the dedicated volunteers that participate every year. 

 

 

LIFE with Vultures CY

 

 

 

To preserve vulnerable Griffon Vulture population in Cyprus, BirdLife Cyprus, in cooperation with Game and Fauna Service, Terra Cypria and us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation, are implementing LIFE with Vultures, a conservation project funded by the EU's LIFE Programme. The project "Saving Griffon Vultures in Cyprus through concrete conservation actions" will address the main threats the species face such as poisoning, lack of safe food, collisions with power lines and restock the Griffon Vulture population to the island by transporting birds from Spain.

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