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Captive-bred Egyptian vultures released in the Balkans reach wintering grounds

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Akaga spotted traveling on her migration
Akaga spotted traveling on her migration

Following on from our update on the migrating Egyptian vultures on the western flyway of the African-Eurasian Flyway in Spain, today we are heading over to the eastern flyway to catch-up with birds that were released as part of the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project.

Egyptian vultures on the Balkan Peninsula

 Overall Egyptian vultures have declined 50 percent over the last 40 years. On the Balkan Peninsula the population is still declining, leaving just 60 breeding pairs. 

Heading to wintering grounds

Unlike the western flyway of the African-Eurasian Flyway, there are several routes Egyptian vultures and other migratory birds from the Balkans can take to their wintering grounds in Africa and the Middle East, and the birds we’ve been monitoring made good use of all these routes, crossing the Mediterranean and crossing the Bosphorus. 

Egyptian vultures undertake their first migration after fledging and it is often a very perilous journey that can lead to significant mortality – in a study done with wild tagged young egyptian vultures in Bulgaria and Greece, around 70% died during the first migration, often drowning while trying to cross the Mediterranean through less conventional routes. 

Young bearded vultures Polya, Boyana, Panteley and Akaga
Young bearded vultures Polya, Boyana, Panteley and Akaga

We have joined forces with the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project to test different techniques of releasing captive-bred Egyptian vultures in a standardised way and test for survival of the young.

This year four captive-bred birds that hatched last year have been released through the delayed release method in Spring, Polya, Boyana, Panteley and Akaga, one young bird was released through fostering in a  wild nest, Blanca, and two others were released through the hacking method, Anna and Vanya.

We last caught up with them at the beginning of their migration. So, where did they get to?

Anna and Zikmund

Map showing Anna's migration
Map showing Anna’s migration

The start of Anna’s migration was nerve wracking for the team, as we reported she chose to take a dangerous route to start her migration flying over the Sea of Marmara through the islands of Marmara. Anna migrated all the way to Adana in southern Turkey.

Zikmund on the roof of a house in Greece
Zikmund on the roof of a house in Greece

Zikmund meanwhile chose to head south from the release site to Greece and her behaviour, settling on roofs of churches and houses, caused concern amongst the team and the decision was taken to recapture her – he is currently at the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre – Green Balkans in Stara Zagora. 


Last we heard from Blanca, who was fostered in a wild nest, she had crossed the Bosporus and was near Istanbul in Turkey. Since then she headed south east and was spotted by the raptor migration count team at Sarimazi with a flock of lesser spotted eagles heading further south. Amazingly her travels continued south and she made it to the Arabian Peninsula and onwards to Ethiopia.

Map showing the travels of Blanca after reaching Turkey
Map showing the travels of Blanca after reaching Turkey

Akaga, Boyana, Polya and Panteley

Of the four birds released by the delayed release technique it was Akaga who made it to her wintering grounds first heading across the Bosporus and south through Turkey traveling 1900km, making the last part of her journey, some 700km in just three days. Akaga is now wintering in Ethiopia.

Map showing the travels of Akaga
Map showing the travels of Akaga

Of the four it was Boyana who was the most adventurous in their migration – unlike all the other birds chose to head south to Africa. From the release site she traveled to Greece and remarkably made a 470km flight from Greece to Libya directly across the Mediterranean sea, a third of it overnight! After successfully making it to Libya, the team lost Boyana’s signal. However, seven days later they received the data telling them she had traveled a staggering 2300km and made it across the Sahara Desert into Chad. She finally crossed into North Cameroon.

UPDATE – 31/10/18

Polya left the release site and headed to Crete where she spent a month, until Tuesday 30 October when she surprised the team by making a brave move and heading on her migration to warmer climates. Taking advantage of the strong south wind from a storm she headed east through the Greek Islands and yesterday she reached Turkey. 

We’re still awaiting news from the fourth Egyptian vulture released through the delayed release technique, Panteley, who appears to still be in Bulgaria and have not migrated and the team is monitoring their behaviour.

Tomorrow we’ll share a field report from a migration count at a migratory bottleneck in Turkey.

The Egyptian Vulture New LIFE 

The programme aims to reinforce the Egyptian vulture population in Europe’s easternmost range by delivering conservation measures that eliminate major known threats such as illegal poisoning and electrocution in their summer breeding grounds. In the whole of the Balkans there is just 60 -80 pairs left in the whole of the region. The Egyptian Vulture New LIFE is a partnership of organisations, led by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds and Bulgarian conservation organisation Green Balkans,from 14 countries spanning Europe, the Middle East and Africa, to protect and conserve Egyptian vulture not only in Europe but all along their migratory flyway.

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