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  • LIFE Rupis: Investigating the movements of breeding Egyptian vultures in the Douro region.

LIFE Rupis: Investigating the movements of breeding Egyptian vultures in the Douro region.

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We recently posted about the migration routes of the Egyptian vultures that are being tracked as part of our contribution to the LIFE Rupis project (funded by the EU LIFE Fund and co-funded by MAVA Foundation). Egyptian vultures are the only one of Europe’s four vulture species that migrate to Africa every year.  As part of the project we are analysing their movements during the breeding season in Spain and Portugal, along their migration routes and their movements in Africa as they overwinter there. 

The video above shows the simultaneous movements of 5 breeding Egyptian vultures – Poiares (blue), Douro (red), Faia (light green), Batuesca A (yellow) and Huebra (dark green) – from their capture date in June-July 2017 to the onset of their southwards migration in September.

Although their movements are generally quite close to their nest sites in the Arribes del Douro and Douro Internacional Natural Parks either side of the Portugal-Spain border, several of the vultures made regular eastwards journeys from their nests to the farmland 40-60 km away towards Bañobárez and La Fuente de San Esteban. From the images below –  aerial views of two of the farms that were regularly visited by Faia (pink markers) and Poiares (blue markers and lines) – and a previous study by Lopez-Lopez et al. (2014), we think these farms have a good supply of food. 

What is interesting from this data is that even though the area between the breeding sites and the farmland is arable croplands, the vultures tended to prefer more natural shrubland or savannah type habitats in both their summer and winter ranges.

Compared to the six birds in the Lopez-Lopez et. al (2014) study, these breeding birds have much smaller ranges, which suggests that they are able to find sufficient food close to their nesting sites in the Douro Valley. Batuesca A and Huebra had the most restricted ranges, with the former often using more human-modified landscape features, including regularly using power-line pylons for roosting as shown in the image below (the image also shows the proximity of the pylon to the “Palomar de Los Hilos” – a traditional dovecote typical of the region (green marker). 

As the analysis continues and the vultures are tracked for longer periods we will gain a much better understanding of what drives their movement patterns and identify the most important areas for their survival, enabling targeted mitigation of threats such as poisoning and collisions or electrocutions on power lines. The aim is to fit additional tracking units to more Egyptian vultures this summer to provide a better representation of the population in the Douro region. 

Special thanks to Saloro Exploration SLU for sharing their tracking data towards Egyptian vulture conservation.

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