By Keith L Bildstein, Ph.D., Sarkis Acopian Director of Conservation Science
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
26 April 2011
As the First Great South American Vulture Migration Race draws to a close, a new Turkey Vulture migration corridor appears to have been confirmed. Our lead bird, Domingo, appears to be closing in on its wintering grounds in northern Bolivia approximately 2600 km north of where it was tagged in southern La Pampa Province; and Young Luro, whose migrations we have tracked for the last three years, appears to be closing in on its traditional wintering grounds in central Boliva, 2300 km north of its 2009 trapping site.
Argentina, who continues to move north, is now in northern Argentina, 970 km north of his trapping site. And Whitey, who too appears to be continuing north, is a bit farther along in northern Argentina, 1600 km north of its trapping site. LaPampa, who has veered a bit East, is in northern Argentina close to border with Paraguay, 1500 km north of his trapping site.
The relative consistency of all five birds’ movements suggests that Turkey Vultures breeding in southern La Pampa, Argentina, overwinter more than 2000 km north in Bolivia and, possibly, Paraguay. The tracks of these birds represent the first large-scale study of migratory raptors breeding in the Temperate Zone of South America. Although much remains to be learned, the distances moved by these five migrants are similar to those of migratory Turkey Vultures in the eastern United States, suggesting that “mirror image” Turkey Vulture migration south of the Equator largely parallels that of vultures in eastern North America.
Our work represents the first time that migratory movements of vultures south of the Equator have compared with those of vultures north of the Equator. Knowing when and where vultures migrate is essential to understanding this species movement ecology, as well as their potential vulnerability to human influences.
As we continue to track the movements of these birds, I ask you to join me by watching them on the Hawk Mountain website by clicking on “track migrants online” at www.hawkmountain.org, or, simply click here to watch now.
Expect another update on our travelers early next week.
Meanwhile, back home in Pennsylvania, plans are underway to trap local Turkey Vultures this weekend. Included in our anticipated captures is an unusual “white” Turkey Vulture who has been spotted in the neighborhood. If we do trap this exceptional bird, you will be the first to know.