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Wandering cinereous vulture in Bulgaria gives hope to the restoration of the species in the country

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Cinereous vulture (C) Svetoslav Spasov
Cinereous vulture (C) Svetoslav Spasov

Coming fresh from the release of two captive-bred birds in Bulgaria, the journey of a young cinereous vulture across the country offers hope that efforts to re-establish the species in Bulgaria may ultimately be successful. 

Cinereous vultures in the Balkans

Once a common sight in the Balkans until the 1930’s, the population of Europe’s largest vulture declined steadily until the species was declared extinct across most countries in the region in the 1980’s with only a small population of 30 pairs remaining in Greece’s Dadia National Park, in northeast Greece, close to the borders with Bulgaria and Turkey. Despite the proximity to the colony in Greece the species is not thought to have bred in Bulgaria, or any other Balkan state for decades. 

Lefteris, the wanderer

An immature bird from the Dadia National Park colony recently spent more than a week roaming the skies of Bulgaria. The two year-old juvenile, named Lefteris, was born in northern Greece and tagged with a GPS transmitter as part of the ongoing LIFE Re-Vultures project, in which the VCF is also participating.

Birds tagged as part of the project are traditionally named after members of the tagging team. In this case, the name Lefteris, derived from the Greek word for freedom, is particularly appropriate. 

Cinereous vultures are not well known for their nomadic behaviour – adult birds are generally thought to be sedentary birds, rarely straying far from their home territory. However, Lefteris, like many of the other tracked young birds, have ventured far afield with one young female traveling to Romania and there is also evidence of Dadia´s cinereous vultures reaching Anatolia..  

Lefteris surprised those monitoring his movements by travelling over 1000 kilometres during the 11-day period. He set out on his journey from the Rhodopes Mountains in Greece into Bulgaria, crossing the Sredna Gora and Stara Planina mountain ranges (site of the recent cinereous vulture release) to reach the plains of northern Bulgaria. He then headed west and explored Bulgaria’s Central Balkan National Park for five days, before returning to Dadia.

Following vultures

As part of the LIFE Re-Vultures project Griffon vultures and cinereous vultures are being tagged with GPS transmitters to help conservationists understand their movements around the Balkans. This work is vital to help reveal the threats they may face during their travels and carrying out actions to reduce the risk they face and help support their comeback in the area.   

Fitting a cinereous vulture with a GPS transmitter as part of the Vultures Back to LIFE project
Fitting a cinereous vulture with a GPS transmitter as part of the Vultures Back to LIFE project

LIFE Re-Vultures

Starting in 2016, the five-year LIFE RE-Vultures project was developed by Rewilding Europe, in collaboration with the Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds and us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation along with a range of other partners. The aim of the project is to support the recovery and further expansion of the cinereous and griffon vulture populations in the Rhodope Mountain by improving natural prey availability, and by reducing mortality through factors such as poaching, poisoning and collisions with power lines.

The news of the movements of Lefteris alongside the reintroduction of the birds by the Vulture Back to LIFE project last week offers hope that one day in the near future Bulgaria will be home to a breeding pair of cinereous vultures again.  

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