The only Bearded Vulture in Álava (Spain) dies

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The moment when the Bearded Vulture Flumen was rescued © Hontza Natura Elkartea

In early September, the only Bearded Vulture in Álava, Spain, needed rescuing after it suffered a collision with a powerline that immobilised the bird for 30 hours. A rescue mission managed to retrieve the injured Bearded Vulture named “Flumen” and transfer him to a recovery centre, but he did not make it in the end.

The story and movements of Flumen

Back in November 2020, a team from the Government of Aragon (Gobierno de Aragón) caught the 6-year-old male vulture near Jaca and fitted him with a GPS transmitter and wing tangs before releasing him back to the wild. 

When data from the GPS transmitter showed that Flumen arrived in Álava in the following months, the Government of Aragon alerted the Environment Department of the Provincial Council to look after him. The vulture first visited Álava, specifically Sierra de Arangio, in April 2021, has been moving between Navarre and Álava ever since. His latest summer movements suggested he settled in the Alavese Mountains, specifically between the Entzia and Iturrieta mountains.

Rescue and rehabilitation mission to save Flumen

But, in early September, something was wrong. The GPS data indicated that Flumen remained in the same location in a forest near Narbaiza without moving for hours. Environmental rangers and members of the Hontza Natura Elkartea association checked the area and eventually located the injured bird.

Although the Bearded Vulture was alive, he was in a critical position. They found him hanging from a tree upside down. Everything indicated that Flumen suffered a collision with an unmarked powerline, fell and got trapped in a tree for approximately 30 hours. He also sustained a wound on one of his wings. It was a difficult rescue mission, taking the field team about 6 hours until they recovered the vulture. They then transferred him to the Protected Species Recovery Centre in Martioda to receive the necessary treatment in the hope of a successful recovery. 

But, he did not make it. Five days after the rescue, despite the best efforts of the veterinary team, Flumen died in Mártioda. The cause of death is still under examination. The specialised Neiker centre is currently is conducting a corresponding necropsy to shed some light on this mortality case.

Source: Gasteiz Hoy 

Mitigating the threat of collision

The Vulture Multi-species Action Plan (Vulture MsAP), co-developed by the VCF and endorsed by the Convention for Migratory Species, concluded that electricity infrastructure, particularly electrocution and collision, are serious but under-estimated threats to vultures.

Vultures are often unable to distinguish powerlines or blades of wind turbines against the background of the natural vegetation, causing collisions that are mostly fatal. The deaths from such threats are sadly underreported, for example, in Spain, only 10% of the mortality caused by collision with energy infrastructure is recorded. These incidents, as with most human-caused mortalities, are known to contribute to declines in populations of protected bird species, including vultures, so it is important to reduce and eliminate any potential threats.

The Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) is involved in different projects to mitigate the threat of collision. There are many projects, including our own LIFE-funded projects such as Vultures Back to LIFELIFE GypConnect and LIFE with Vultures, that are working to protect vultures from the risks posed by the electricity infrastructure by adding high visibility reflectors and spirals to cables to help improve the visibility of power lines which reduces the risk of collision with power cables. The MAVA Foundation is also funding projects across the eastern Mediterranean flyway to minimise the danger of electrocution and collision. 

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