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Young Egyptian vultures from the Balkans suffer high loss during their first migration – would they fare differently if they travelled with adults? Data suggests that the overland route

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As part of the LIFE+ project “The return of the Neophron” (LIFE10 NAT/BG/000152, started in 2011, finishing in 2016, led by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds), ten young Egyptian vultures from nests in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and Albania were fitted last July with satellite tags by our Balkan colleagues .

The birds were thus followed closely in their dispersion and then migration, through data received at regular intervals. The results obtained were somehow unexpected, but nevertheless important to unravel the conservation challenges facing this species in southeastern Europe – only 2 out of the 10 young survived their first migration in 2013. From the deatd juveniles, one was killed near his nest, probably by a terrestrial predator, but seven others died during migration, two on Greek islands, and 5 drowned in the high Mediterranean while trying to cross to Egypt and Libya straight down from Greece.

Only one of the juveniles that migrated to Africa across the Mediterranean survived – called Pachalis, he crossed the sea (over 400 km in a direct line) on September 14. He then continued across the Sahara – and is now wintering in Niger.

The only other surviving juvenile from 2013 – named Sanie, migrated through Turkey and the Middle-East, and is now wintering in Chad.

Egyptian vulture researchers and the project managers are now debating the importance of the once-common post-breeding roosts of Egyptian vultures for safe migration and enhanced juvenile survival of young Egyptian vultures. These gatherings are now virtually gone, as the species continues to decline across the region. This could mean that young Egyptian vultures may now attempt to do the trip alone, rather than in the company of other (more experienced?) individuals.

Results of this tagging suggest that the Mediterranean crossing is very dangerous, resulting in a significant mortality. Only one of the birds that attempted the sea crossing so far has survived, while several of the birds that travelled via Turkey and the Middle-East made it to Africa. The only adult tagged so far within the project (in 2012) also flew overland to Africa through Turkey and the Middle-East, but it may be possible that some adult birds also cross the Mediterranean. Tagging more adults from the Balkans would be necessary to try to determine this puzzle.

You can see the routes taken by all Egyptian vultures tagged so far in this project here

Egyptian Vultures. Photo by Angel Sanchez

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