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Griffon vultures caught feeding at night for first time

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Scientists at University of Castilla-La Mancha’s Research Institute for Hunting Resources (IREC) made an interesting discovery whilst studying camera trap footage, they found Griffon vultures feeding at night, the first time this has been documented.

Griffon vultures

Griffon vultures are one of Europe’s four species of vultures and can be found across southern Europe surrounding the Mediterranean. Once widespread across its southern European range the species became extinct in parts of the range and populations in the east part of its Mediterranean range are currently small and fragmented. 

Today around 90 percent of the European population, between 20,000 and 30,000 breeding pairs, are found in Spain, Portugal and France. 

One such population in the Cantabrian mountain range, in Spain’s Somiedo Natural Park was the focus of a study into the feeding behaviour of Griffon vultures by scientists from the IREC using camera traps and published in a recent edition of the Ecology journal (Mateo‐Tomás, P. and Olea, P. P. (2018), Griffon Vultures scavenging at night: trophic niche expansion to reduce intraspecific competition?. Ecology

Unusual behaviour 

The footage of these normally day feeding birds left scientists surprised. Griffon vultures are adapted to scavenging on carrion using their large flight capacity and using the warm air currents to travel great distances scouring the landscape with their powerful vision for carrion with minimal effort. Patricia Mateo Tomás, one of the researchers on the project predicts that this “unusual behavior” could be related to a specific shortage of food.

The research team highlights that “greater attention be paid” to the possible ecological consequences of the loss of traditional livestock management techniques in the aftermath of the BSE or ‘mad cow’ crisis. Changes in carcass management have led locally to a decrease in food availbility for this species and could be a driving factor in the recording of unusual behaviour such as night time feeding. 

Our work with Griffon vultures

The Vulture Conservation Foundation is working to conserve and protect Griffon vultures across Europe. In the Balkans we have helped reintroduce the species to mountain ranges where they have gone extinct. In Sardinia we are helping conserve and restock the threatened island populations with the LIFE Under Griffon Wings project and using our expertise to help develop national species and conservation action plan for the species in Croatia.  Through our work on the Balkans Anti-Poisoning Project we are also fighting the biggest threat to Girffon vultures in Europe, illegal poisoning. 

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