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After wintering in Sicily every year, the Egyptian Vulture Diego migrated to Africa for the first time

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Egyptian Vulture Diego
Egyptian Vulture Diego © Carlo Fracasso

Do you remember the incredible Diego that keeps on surprising us with his movements? The ‘Italian’ Egyptian Vulture Diego, with a captive breeding background, reached Africa during his autumn migration this year for the first time – before he selected Sicily as his wintering grounds.

Released into the wild to help boost the local population 

Diego hatched in captivity at Centro Rapaci Minacciati Association (CERM) in 2018. A year later, CERM and ISPRA released Diego in the Murgia Materana Regional Park with the delayed-release method within the LIFE Egyptian Vulture project to restock the species’ population in Italy following the dramatic drop in recent years. Ahead of his release, the project team equipped Diego with a GPS transmitter provided by us at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), allowing us to keep a close eye on his daily progress. Based on the GPS tracking data, it appears that Diego has been going back and forth between his release site and Sicily. He chose southwestern Sicily as his wintering grounds, avoiding the long migration to a sub-Saharan wintering area. In spring, the vulture has been returning to his release site in the Murge area. But, this year, when he returned ‘home’, he surprised us with his movements.

Diego wanders in the Balkans and beyond

Egyptian Vulture Diego Balkans
Movements of Egyptian Vulture Diego in the Balkans and beyond © VCF

This spring, Diego returned from Sicily on 2 April, stopped near Matera, and then resumed moving, heading eastward. He then did something unexpected. For the first time, after more than 32 captive-bred Egyptian Vultures have been liberated in the Italian wild, Diego became the first to cross the Adriatic Sea on the morning of 26 April 2021. Once he arrived in Monopoli on the Apulian coast, he reached an altitude of 1,800 metres and flew the Adriatic in a 190 km stretch of sea. After three and a half hours of flight, at an average speed of 87 km/h, he reached the coast of the former Yugoslavia and headed north the following day, arriving in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The young vulture likely followed the many raptors who, in that stretch, cross the Adriatic to reach Eastern Europe, especially Pallid harriers and Honey buzzards. Ever since he arrived in the Balkan Peninsula, he began an endless journey during which he visited 12 European countries, covering almost 19,000 km.

Diego migrates to Africa for the first time

Egyptian Vulture Diego
The movements of Egyptian Vulture Diego since his release © VCF

At the beginning of September, Diego arrived in the southernmost part of the Peloponnese in Greece, an area he had already visited in the previous months. He remained in the region for some time while occasionally attempting to venture over the sea. But, he never followed through and always turned back until 10 September, when he finally made the journey, covering 440 km over the sea in 10 hours and reaching the Libyan coast, 60 kilometres west of Tobruk. From there onwards, he began his adventure in Africa. He flew through Libya and Egypt to Chad after 2,600 km in several stages. 

Diego is still exploring Chad, a country where the Balkan Egyptian Vultures often choose as a wintering destination. Before Diego, out of all the Egyptian Vultures part of the Italian restocking project, only young Brandy, released by the CERM in 2012, arrived in Chad. Diego may still move on to another country – we are looking forward to tracking his movements, and we will, of course, keep you updated. 

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