A young Egyptian Vulture that had an unfortunate start in life got a second chance thanks to cross-border collaboration, and of course a lot of diligence and dedication towards the conservation of the species. Found weak and with problematic feathers, the male Egyptian Vulture named Fangueiro, spent almost a year in recovery, with lots of operations and treatments to establish strong feathers and become strong, until it was able to return to the wild.
Nature photographer Carlos Rio found the juvenile Egyptian Vulture (or Britango in Portuguese) very weak last November at Fão (Braga) in the Atlantic coast. He alerted to the competent authorities, and Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas retrieved Fangueiro and transferred him to the recovery centre at Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD).
Once Fangueiro entered the recovery centre, the veterinarians detected that the bird suffered an episode of extreme hunger in the nest. Without the appropriate food intake at this early stage of his life, the growth of the feathers stopped, and when they started growing again, they were faulty. The bird experienced ‘fault bars’, where there are malformations in feathers and their structure changes. This case was so severe, causing his feathers to break one by one. To treat this, the team had to administrate anaesthesia and pluck out the feathers to let new ones grow. The problem was that each feather had fault bars and they couldn’t pluck them all at the same time since the bird still had to practise flying. So, the vet team decided to pluck the feathers in alternate sequence (i.e. 3rd, 5th, 7th), which allows new ones to grow and once they do, they can repeat the process so the bird can still fly. This process takes around one year, which is a long time for the bird to be in rehab and it means that they could only release it in November, which would be too late as young Egyptian Vultures already left for Africa. So, they did not perform this process to all the feathers, and instead carried out a method called ‘imping’ for the remaining ones. Imping entails anaesthetizing the bird and gluing feathers from another bird. The centre had a frozen Egyptian Vulture in their facility for this purpose and used some of its primary feathers to glue on Fangueiro. In total, the young Egyptian Vulture has six new feathers mended with this method. Thanks to the hard work of the team at the centre, Fangueiro was ready to return to the wild on time!
Fangueiro spent most of his time in recovery at the CIARA rehabilitation centre. UTAD provided the centre with veterinary support, and the operations were carried out by veterinarians from UTAD.
After months of various treatments and operations, the bird was nursed back to health and had strong feathers. On Monday 13 July, the stakeholders responsible for the bird’s recovery released Fangueiro in the Douro. Ahead of his release, the LIFE Rupis team equipped the bird with a GPS tag to monitor his movements in the wild. This is extremely important, especially for an inexperienced bird that had quite a few health issues and spent almost a year in rehabilitation. To help ensure its survival, the LIFE Rupis is keeping a close eye on the bird through the GPS data in case it needs help again. We hope that it will manage to cross the Mediterranean sea successfully, migrate to Africa and return to the Douro to breed in the future!
You can follow the movements of Fangueiro by visiting this online map.
Following his release to the wild, Fangueiro visited a LIFE Rupis feeding stationfor scavenging birds, located in the municipality of Mogadouro, and managed by Palombar – Conservação da Natureza e do Património Rural. On 17 July, Fangueiro was photographed by camera traps feeding together with at least ten other adult and sub-adult Egyptian Vultures, and stayed at the feeding station for more than three and a half hours. Feeding stations have proven to be a fundamental tool for the conservation of strictly and/or partially necrophagous threatened and protected species, not only in the Iberian Peninsula but also in Europe for birds like the Cinereous Vulture, Iblack vulture (Aegypius monachus) and Spanish Iberian eagle.
Fangueiro is so far adapting very well to the natural environment and effectively developing his food exploration capabilities.
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.