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The extraordinary 170km flight of Griffon vulture Kvarner

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It’s a flight that makes Croatian Griffon vulture Kvarner a record breaker, travelling 370km covering the whole of the Adriatic from Croatia to Italy. 


Found and rescued after unsuccessful fledging, Griffon vulture Kvarner spent the summer at the Beli Rescue Centre for Griffon Vultures on the northern Croatian island of Cres. After a successful rehabilitation the team at Beli Rescue Centre released Kvarner along with several other rescued birds on Cres on 17 September. Kvarner like the other birds was fitted with a GPS transmitter to its back., Weighing between 30 and 50 grams these transmitters  send GPS position data over the mobile communications network and can provide as many as 500 location-fixes per day. This data is vital to help conservationists gather information about how the birds move around, where they feed, and eventually how they die.

At this time of the year the team regularly release young birds that have been rescued after having had trouble fledging from the sea cliffs and taken to the rehabilitation centre until they are ready to leave. 

What happened next left the team at Beli and experienced vulture experts astonished.  

A flight like no other

Kvarner left the release site and traveled a distance of 170 kilometers over open sea traveling west from Cres to the Italian town of Ravenna in just three hours, reaching a speed of 117 km/hour.  

This sort of flight is unheard of for Griffon vultures as the species tends to avoid flying over open waters preferring traveling over mountainous areas benefiting from the upward currents which are vital for soaring birds. Kvarner may have been assisted by the direction of the Bora Winds that flow across the Adriatic sea but for a young Griffon vulture successfully navigating such a risky route is an accomplishment. 

Travels across Italy

The journey continued once Kvarner reached the Italian coast, he continued his journey before settling for the evening in Cressena near the town of Parma, on the banks of the River Po at 6.30pm for a well-earned rest. In total Kvarner travelled 370km since the release at 12pm earlier that day.

Griffon vulture Kvarner photographed near the Italian town of Cesena
Griffon vulture Kvarner photographed near the Italian town of Cesena

Fulvio Genero, from the VCF scientific board, and one of Italy´s best griffon vulture expertssays 

“Griffon vultures often arrive in Italy from the Balkan area but usually climb from the mountains of Slovenia and then fly over the Alps. That specimen was very brave: it had been rescued by our Croatian colleagues just after a fall into the water, probably the result of his inexperience, and when he was released he did not hesitate to return to the direction of the sea”

Griffon vultures like Kvarner are regular visitors to Italy with over three hundred birds being spotted over the last two months by Fulvio Genero and the team at the Lake Cornino Nature Reserve at the supplementary feeding stations. Thanks to several reintroduction projects across Italy the species is making a remarkable comeback to the country after nearing extinction.

Griffons vultures in Croatia

Once widespread across the country, Griffon vultures can only be found today on the Kvarner islands of Cres, Krk, Plavnik, Prvic and Rab. The population has slowly been increasing in the country from 60 pairs in the 1990’s to around 108 breeding pairs last year, thanks in large part to dedicated conservation efforts. As well as the pioneering Grifon, BIOM (BirdLife in Croatia) and governmental conservation agencies have been working hard to conserve the species. 

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