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First flights of the first-ever Griffon Vulture fitted with a GPS tag in Mallorca

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Tagging the Griffon Vulture (c) Giacomo Tavecchia/ GEDA-IMEDEA (CSIC_UIB)

For the first time, conservationists are following and studying the movements of a Griffon Vulture in Mallorca with GPS tracking. The species is a relatively new resident that naturally colonised the island in 2008 and joined the native Cinereous Vultures. 

The IMEDEA (CSIC_UIB) together with the Vulture Conservation Foundation, the Grup Balear d’Ornitologia i Defensa de la Naturalesa (GOB), the Conselleria de Medi Ambient i Territori and Estación Biologica de Doñana (CSIC) recently tagged a Griffon Vulture nestling with a GPS tag to track its movements and help understand the behaviour of the species on the island. A few weeks following this event, the young vulture left the nest, taking its first flight and exploring Mallorca.

Movements of the first Griffon Vulture tagged in Mallorca

On Saturday, 4 July, the IMEDEA (CSIC_UIB) together with Grup Balear d’Ornitologia i Defensa de la Naturalesa (GOB) and Conselleria de Medi Ambient i Territori marked a Griffon Vulture in the Serra de Tramuntana (Mallorca, Illes Balears, Spain) with a GPS tag provided by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF). The bird was still in its nest and was around three months old. The team also equipped the bird with a ring to identify the individual in flight and took morphometric measures and diverse samples to determine the sex and parameters of health status. 

After approximately a month following the tagging, it seems that the Griffon Vulture finally left the nest on 27 July, a little later than usual. He behaved as expected on the first day and stayed near the area of the colony. He then flew freely around the island, relying on feeding sites where both vultures species co-occur. The bird behaves normally, and the GPS is sending very valuable information.

Studying Griffon and Cinereous Vultures in Mallorca

Dr Ainara Cortés-Avizanda from GEDA-IMEDEA (CSIC_UIB), with the support of the VCF, is leading a research project to study the behaviour and use of space by the two vulture species that live in Mallorca. The project also examines the ecological, conservation and socioeconomic consequences of the arrival of the Griffon Vulture on the island. In addition to the Griffon Vulture, so far, three Cinereous Vultures are equipped with a GPS tag in Mallorca, providing great insight into the movements of the vultures that helps improve knowledge and management.

Griffon and Cinereous Vultures in Mallorca

At the beginning of the 21st century, only two species of scavenger birds lived in the Balearics: the Cinereous Vulture in Mallorca and the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) in Menorca. But in November 2008, another vulture species that was carried by strong winds from a storm arrived at the archipelago – the Griffon Vulture.

Strong westerly winds carried over a hundred individuals from mainland Spain and rather than leaving, they stayed and colonised Mallorca. Most of them were juveniles and, began to breed after reaching their sexual maturity. In the spring of 2012, the first chicks were born in the Serra de Tramuntana, solidifying the establishment of the species in Mallorca and expanding its range. There are presently about 15 pairs of Griffon Vultures that breed successfully. Scientific researchers, local administrations and conservationists have monitored the new species ever since, and it seems to have adapted quite well to the Balearic habitat.

The Cinereous Vulture, which is native to Mallorca, was rapidly diminishing and it was on the brink of extinction, but thanks to conservation efforts that reduced direct human persecution, among other actions, the population has multiplied by 10 in the last 40 years. The Fundació Vida Silvestre Mediterrània and the Department of Species Protection of the Balearic Govern estimate that in the 80s there were about twenty birds and, currently, there are around 200 Cinereous Vultures on the island, including approximately 39 breeding pairs nesting in the Serra de Tramuntana. 

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