Cinereous Vultures on the move across the Balkan Peninsula

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Riga, the Cinereous Vulture photographed in Albania (c) Brano Rudić
Riga, the Cinereous Vulture photographed in Albania (c) Brano Rudić

With the arrival of spring, young Cinereous Vultures across the Balkan Peninsula are getting adventurous and migrating around the region, being spotted traveling across five different countries.

Funding provided by the  European Union’s LIFE programme has allowed our vulture conservation projects, the Vultures Back to LIFE and LIFE Re-Vultures, to use GPS transmitters to monitor the Balkan’s last colony of Cinereous Vultures in the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park in Greece and birds released in Bulgaria as part of the historic reintroduction project. This work is giving great insight into how Europe’s largest vultures are exploring the region which will ultimately help us better protect them as the population continues to grow over the coming years as more birds are released.


One of the Cinereous Vultures fitted with a GPS transmitter in 2017
One of the Cinereous Vultures fitted with a GPS transmitter in 2017

Fitted with a GPS transmitter back in 2017 in the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park in Greece, young Cinereous Vulture Chrysoula made her first trip outside the  Rhodopes Mountains traveling an epic 3200 km for 17 days taking in five countries in the region.

First, she took a long journey from the colony in Greece heading north to Serbia before returning to the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park. But getting the taste for traveling she decided to head back out a few days later and flew over North Macedonia and spent the day in Albania.

To much excitement of the wildlife enthusiasts in Albania, Chrysoula is the first first recorded Cinereous Vulture in Albania for decades since the species was declared extinct in the country.

Map showing the travels of Cinereous Vulture Chrysoula
Map showing the travels of Cinereous Vulture Chrysoula

With no hesitation she turned south and within three days reached Athens. She spent a night in the the outskirts of the city and decided to go back home. Following again the edge of the mountain chains Chrysoula returned to her native colony and immediately visited the supplementary feeding station in Dadia.


Map showing the spring movements of Cinereous Vulture Riga
Map showing the spring movements of Cinereous Vulture Riga

One of the three captive-bred birds released as part of the Vultures Back to LIFE project back in July 2018, Riga, has spent his winter in the Akarnanika/Messolnghi area of southern Greece since October but a few days ago got itchy wings and left the area.

Riga headed north from his wintering ground on Monday 22 April, traveling 257km north in one day, the following day he passed through the whole of Albania. Riga’s journey across Albania makes him the second recorded Cinereous Vulture sighting in the country, just days after Chrysoula became the first in decades to be recorded in Albania.

Riga spent the night in Prizen in Kosovo before continuing their journey back to Bulgaria traveling west and was spotted in the Uvac Special Nature Reserve in Serbia and spending the night in the company of the Griffon Vultures of the area. Riga made it back to the release site of the Kotel mountains on Wednesday 24 April but is not the only one of his species, he is joined by the other Cinereous Vultures that are now in the area that were released in March.

A historic sight

With Riga back in Bulgaria and the team at the Foundation for Wild Flora and Fauna in Bulgaria caught this sight that just a few years ago many wouldn’t have expected to see in the country. The sight of three Cinereous Vultures at a feeding station in the Kotel Mountains along with Griffon Vultures and an adult Egyptian Vulture. These birds face lots of challenges over the coming years across the region and along the migratory flyway for Egyptian Vultures but this image is truly inspiring and shows vulture conservation can work!

The importance of monitoring vulture movements

In their first few years young Cinereous Vultures travel extensively and these two birds are no exception, the young birds of the colony in the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park are great wanderers across the Balkan region. Thanks to the GPS transmitters fitted to wild birds just last year we followed Helena who flew directly over both the Southern Carpathians rewilding area in Romania, and the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area in Bulgaria before heading back to Greece. Whilst Lefteris a young male left Dadia and spent five days in Bulgaria’s Central Balkan National Park for five days, before returning to his home colony.

The travels of these birds through Bulgaria, Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania and Greece illustrates vultures know no borders and their successful conservations depends on the mutual actions of all countries across the region to tackle the threats they may face such as illegal wildlife poisoning. Through our Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project we are working across the region collaborating with wildlife organisations and governmental agencies from six different countries to work together to protect vultures.

Cinereous Vultures in the Balkans

The last remaining population of the Cinereous Vultures in the Balkan Peninsula is in the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park in the eastern Rhodope Mountains in Greece with a population of around 30-35 pairs breeding pairs. In 2018 our Vulture Back to LIFE vulture conservation project began efforts to create a second colony in the region with the reintroduction of the the species to Bulgaria where is has been extinct as a breeding species since 1993. This historic project began in 2018 with the release of three captive-bred birds followed by the release of four birds from Spain in 2019.

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