Captive-bred Egyptian vultures released in the Balkans reach wintering grounds

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Akaga spotted traveling on her migration
Akaga spotted traveling on her migration

Following on from our update on the migrating Egyptian vultures on the western flyway of the African-Eurasian Flyway in Spain, today we are heading over to the eastern flyway to catch-up with birds that were released as part of the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project and overall it looks like it’s been a successful migration!

Egyptian vultures on the Balkan Peninsula

The majority of the European population of Egyptian vultures are found on the Iberian Peninsula, which although a stable population has declined 50 percent over the last 40 years. On the Balkan Peninsula, however, the population is still declining having already declined by 80 percent, leaving just 40 breeding pairs.

Heading to wintering grounds

Unlike the western flyway of the African-Eurasian Flyway, there are several routes Egyptian vultures and other migratory birds take to their wintering grounds in Africa and the Middle East, and the birds we’ve been monitoring made good use of all these routes, crossing the Mediterranean and crossing the Bosphorus.

Egyptian vultures undertake their first migration after fledging and 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.

Young bearded vultures Polya, Boyana, Panteley and Akaga
Young bearded vultures Polya, Boyana, Panteley and Akaga

In order to improve the chances for captive bred birds that are released as part of conservation projects to restock depleted populations like on the Balkan Peninsula, we have joined forces with the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project to test different techniques of releasing captive-bred Egyptian vultures in a standardised way and test for survival of the young.

This year four birds that hatched last year have been released through the delayed release method in Spring, Polya, Boyana, Panteley and Akaga, one young bird was released through fostering in a  wild nest, Blanca, and while two others were released through the hacking method, Anna and Vanya.

We last caught up with them at the beginning of their migration. So, where did they get to?

Anna and Vanya

Map showing Anna's migration
Map showing Anna’s migration

The start of Anna’s migration was nerve wracking for the team, as we reported she chose to take a dangerous route to start her migration flying over the Sea of Marmara through the islands of Marmara. After dangerously losing height during her flight over the sea she returned to land and is currently in Andana Province of Turkey.

Vanya on the roof of a house in Greece
Vanya on the roof of a house in Greece

Vanya meanwhile chose to head south from the release site to Greece and her behaviour, settling on roofs of churches and houses caused concern amongst the team and the decision was taken to recapture her by WWF-Greece and she is currently at the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre – Green Balkans in Stara Zagora.

Blanca

Last we heard from Blanca, who was fostered in a wild nest, she had crossed the Bosporus and was near Istanbul in Turkey. Since then she headed south east and was spotted by the raptor migration count team at Sarimazi with a flock of lesser spotted eagles heading further south. Amazingly her travels continued south and she made it to the Arabian Peninsula and Saudi Arabia.

Map showing the travels of Blanca after reaching Turkey
Map showing the travels of Blanca after reaching Turkey

Akaga, Boyana, Polya and Panteley

Of the four birds released by the delayed release technique it was Akaga who made it to her wintering grounds first heading across the Bosporus and south through Turkey traveling 1900km, making the last part of her journey, some 700km in just three days.

Map showing the travels of Akaga
Map showing the travels of Akaga

Of the four it was Boyana who was the most adventurous in their migration, unlike all the other birds chose to head south to Africa. From the release site she traveled to Greece and remarkably made a 470km flight from Greece to Libya directly across the Mediterranean sea, a third of it overnight! After successfully making it to Libya, the team lost Boyana’s signal. However, seven days later they received the data telling them she had traveled a staggering 2300km and made it across the Sahara Desert and was in Chad.

This is a great effort by the birds and even though we’ve not had any updates from Polya and Panteley, it’s a fantastic result.

Tomorrow we’ll share a field report from a migration count at a migratory bottleneck in Turkey.