Posts Tagged ‘Egyptian Vulture’

Dr. Mike McGrady, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Research Associate

13 Feb 2018


An adult Egyptian vulture that was captured and fitted with a GPS transmitter in Oman.  Adult Egyptian vultures are mostly white from about 4 yreas of age, with black flight feathers.  Juveniles are brown, and subaduts are mottled, becoming ever whiter with age.  Photo: M. McGrady.

Like so many Old World vultures, the Egyptian vulture is globally endangered.  The threats to Egyptian vultures are pretty much the same as those that other Old World vultures face, and include electrocution, changes in food availability, direct and indirect persecution, targeted and inadvertent poisoning, and hunting for the black magic market.  Its endangered status and the threats notwithstanding, the Sultanate of Oman is a stronghold for Egyptian vultures, because it apparently has a healthy resident population and is a wintertime destination for a substantial number of migrants from farther north.

Since 2012, International Avian Research (IAR) has been working with the Environment Society of Oman (ESO) conducting research on Egyptian vultures in Oman.  That work has included surveys on Masirah Island (which was found to be home to the second densest breeding population in the world), monitoring numbers of vultures at landfills and satellite radiotracking of vultures.

Since 2015, the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA) has, through Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, supported the work of IAR.  Two vultures were fitted with GPS radiotags in both 2015 and 2016, and two steppe eagles were fitted with tags in 2017—steppe eagles are also endangered; they breed mostly in central Asia, but migrate south (including into Oman) in the winter.


An adult Egyptian vulture fitted with a GPS transmitter and ready for release being held by an Environment Society of Oman staff member.  Photo: M. McGrady

In January 2018, with the continuing support of GLAZA and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, along with additional support from the Bernd Meyburg Foundation for Raptor Research and Conservation, IAR and its cooperators were able to capture 13 Egyptian vultures, 12 adults and one 2-year-old, and fit them with GPS tags.  Since then, the birds have been doing what vultures do.  Most of the vultures have spent their days ranging mostly in northeast Oman in the Hajar mountains and surrounding foothills. They have made regular visits to landfills, roosted in steep wadis in the mountains, and perched on high voltage electricity pylons. One bird has behaved a bit differently and has made at least two laps of the northern part of the country, seemingly always on the move.


Adult Egyptian vulture in Oman in January 2018.  The GPS transmitter is fitted as a backpack and can be barely seen. Photo: M. McGrady

What do or will we learn from tracking, and how can this help conserve Egyptian vultures?  Well, the tracking of four vultures since 2015 has revealed that in Oman, Egyptian vultures suffer from electrocution and make regular use of landfills for feeding.  The data indicate that the vultures may move around in a way so as to keep tabs on the availability of food.  This, if you think about it, makes sense for a species that must find food that is not reliably available at all times.  The data further suggest that ongoing upgrades to waste management in Oman, reducing the number of dumps from over 300 to 12, may not have negative effects on vultures.  Indeed, improved waste management may make food resources safer for vultures and at the same time find benefits for human health, which is really good news.   IAR and ESO have also used the information to educate the public, including school children, about vultures and the important ecosystem services they provide as nature’s waste managers.

The data from these newly deployed tags should help the cooperating groups do more.  As we try to understand the ecology of the Egyptian vulture in order to conserve them, more data is important to the pursuit of science-based solutions.  From a public education standpoint, a complete “story” that includes more individuals over more years, provides a compelling case for conservation.  Also, with so many tagged adult birds, at least some are expected to be migrants, so new information on timing and routes of migration should be collected, and the location of breeding areas farther north can be determined. Such information is important in devising effective conservation strategies that span the huge range covered by migratory individuals, and it demonstrates the connectivity between breeding and wintering areas, which are sometimes separated by thousands of kilometers.


Movements of 13 Egyptian vultures caught and fitted with GPS transmitters in Oman in January 2018.


If you want to keep up with this effort, IAR posts information every so often on the project at https://egyptianvultureoman.blogspot.co.at/ .  If you would like to support this project, please do so through an earmarked donation to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

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7 September is International Vulture Awareness Day.  Have a look at this link to learn more and show your support http://www.vultureday.org/2013/index.php

On other fronts we have a lot of news similar to that found in previous posts:

Assamo is still hanging around Adigala in Ethiopia…


Vultures are being poisoned in large numbers in Africa…


The Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds are doing a lot of good things…





Also, newly published…

Angelov, I., Yotsova, T., Sarrouf, M. & McGrady, M. J. 2013. Large increase of the Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus population on Masirah island, Oman. Sandgrouse 33: 140-152.

Happy International Vulture Awareness Day!

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Assamo, the Egyptian vulture we fitted with a satellite tag in Djibouti this past spring, has spent his time during the end of July 2013 in an area of about 20 square km around the town of Adigala, Ethiopia.   Have a look at his blog for more information.  Below is a map showing his location in relation to regional geography.


On a sadder note, vultures continue to be poisoned.  Follow this link to a report on a poisoning event that killed almost 50 vultures.  This report illustrates many features of vulture poisoning events, including that vultures are often not the target, large numbers of vultures can be killed at a single event, and that the loss of adult vultures can have a disproportionate effect on productivity.  Such events are sad and are a huge threat to scavengers worldwide.

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The Egyptian vulture we fitted with a satellite tag this past spring has been staying in Ethiopia during early July… near the town of Adigala.  All the movements are within about 30 km of one another, and the pattern suggests to me that the abattoir or rubbish dump must be located just east of the town.  Below is a map.

Assamo's movements in early July, 2013

Assamo’s movements in early July, 2013

Some other developments from various studies of Egyptian vultures include the sighting of a color marked Egyptian vulture from Greece:


and there are some photos of Egyptian vultures at their nest at this link:



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Assamo, the Egyptian vulture we fitted with a satellite-received transmitter in March, is now in Ethiopia, and spent the whole of the second half of June there.  Very little information is available about the region, although it does seem to have some potential, though unproven, petroleum reserves.

Assamo's locations during late June 213

Assamo’s locations during late June 213

He has been moving in a fairly restricted area around the town of Adigala, not far from the Djibouti and Somalia borders.   The pattern of locations off to the south of the town parallel to a road suggest that there might be a powerline on which Assamo is roosting.  I hope he is careful and that the pylons are safe (or both).

Assam's movements around the town of Adigala, Ethiopia

Assamo’s movements around the town of Adigala, Ethiopia




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Assamo, the Egyptian vulture we fitted with a satellite transmitter in March, continues to provide information. During the past two weeks he has spent his time in southern Djibouti.  Over the course of the tracking Assamo’s behavior has been variable, highlighting the importance of flexibility for a scavenging bird, particularly in a desert environment.  So, we have seen how Assamo apparently makes use of ephemeral settlements, moving from one to the next.  We have seen him commute to what seems to be a reliable food source at the town of ‘Ali Sabieh.  We have also seen him move over relatively large distances between north and south Djibouti.

During the first half of June 2013 Assamo has spent a lot of his time perched on electricity pylons.  Have a look at the two images below and you can see the pylons on which Assamo roosted (Hint: If you click on the image, it will open up larger in a new window).  This highlights a problem that vultures and other birds face: Electrocution.  Electrocution can be a significant cause of mortality, especially for large soaring birds.  Some pylons designs are more dangerous than others and most of the ones we saw in Djibouti seem to be relatively benign.  Indeed, the pylons in these images appear to be large enough so that electrocution is unlikely.

Here is a link to a report from Bulgaria about an Egyptian vulture electrocuted there, and here is one thing the Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds is doing about it.  Still, if you want to read more about this problem, try to dig out this reference:

Angelov, I., Hashim, I., and Oppel, S. 2012.  Persistent electrocution mortality of Egyptian vultures Neophron percnopterus over 28 years in East Africa. Bird Conservation International 1-6.

You might also want to visit the blog that is dedicated to Assamo’s movements, where you will find out a little more about him.

Assamo's locations on pylons north of the town of 'Ali Sabieh, Djibouti.

Assamo’s locations on pylons north of the town of ‘Ali Sabieh, Djibouti.

More locations from Assamo on pylons

More locations from Assamo on pylons

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We have posted more information about Assamo’s movement around Djibouti.  Have a look at it here. However, I wanted to point out a pretty interesting feature of his behavior that this tracking is showing.  During most of the tracking Assamo has seemed to move from place to place in a rather random fashion, presumably looking for feeding opportunities and then taking them. During 23-28 May 2013, Assamo abandoned that strategy and seemed to become a commuter to and from what appears to be the garbage dump in the town of Ali Sabieh. He made daily trips in the early morning to the town, then mostly spent his afternoons and nights about 10 km south, just into Ethiopia.  The map below shows you what I mean.  Here is what he did:

22 May 1130 in Ali Sabieh, 1430 in Ethiopia
23 May 0530 in Ali Sabieh, 0830 in Ethiopia
24 May 0530 in Ali Sabieh, 1130 in Ethiopia
25 May 0830 in Ali Sabieh, 1430 in Ethiopia
26 May 0830 in Ali Sabieh, 1430 in Ethiopia
27 May 0830 in Ali Sabieh, 0830 in Ethiopia, 1130 back just east of Ali Sabieh, 1430 farther north
28 May 0830 in Ali Sabieh, 1130 back north of town.

Assamo's locations in Ali Sabieh (mornings) and in Ethiopia (afternoon and night)

Assamo’s locations in Ali Sabieh (mornings) and in Ethiopia (afternoon and night).

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This is just a quick note to say that Assamo, the Egyptian vulture we are tracking in the Horn of Africa made a quick excursion into Eritrea for some hours early this month.  Have a look http://egyptianvulturedjibouti.blogspot.co.at/

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First the good news… Assamo, the Egyptian vulture we are tracking in Djibouti, is still on the move and doing some interesting things.  Here is a map of his/her recent movements (Click on the map to enlarge it into a new window).

Movements by Assamo during 5-18 April

Movements by Assamo during 5-18 April

About 2 weeks ago Assamo was moving around mostly just north of the Ethiopian border, though a foray into Ethiopia was made. On the 16th of April Assamo started heading north, spent about two days near Arta, then moved farther north into northern Djibouti.  As of 18 April Assamo was about 30 km NE of where we caught her/him.  Visit the Djibouti vulture blog for more informationhttp://egyptianvulturedjibouti.blogspot.co.at/.  I have also posted a link on that site to a Google Earth kml with which you can take a closer look at Assam’s movements earlier this month.

And now the bad news…  Egyptian vultures live in a perilous world.  They face threats due to targeted and accidental poisoning, use for bushmeat and traditional medicine and magic, electrocution, collision with wind turbines, and shooting, amongst other things.  Here are two pieces of bad news:  The poisoning of an Egyptian vulture in Greece http://lifeneophron.eu/en/news-view/150.html, and the shooting of an Egyptian vulture in Sudan http://lifeneophron.eu/en/news-view/151.html

Lazarus (HOS/L. Sidiropoulos)

Lazarus, an adult Egyptian vulture poisoned in Greece, spring 2013

Satellite-tagged Egyptian vulture shot at Al Kuraynik, Darfur

Radio-tagged Egyptian vulture shot at Al Kuraynik, Darfur

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By Mike McGrady, Ph.D.
Ecologist at International Avian Research and Research Associate at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is globally endangered; it has, like so many other vulture species, declined as a breeder across its range, which extends from central Europe and Asia to Africa. The causes for its decline are varied, including (amongst other things) accidental and targeted poisoning, persecution, disturbance, decline of food availability, electrocution, and use of body parts for traditional “medicine”.

Egyptian vultures or “Pharaoh’s chicken” is a visually distinctive

Adult Egyptian vulture near the abattoir at Tadjoure.

Adult Egyptian vulture near the abattoir at Tadjoure.
Photo by H. Rayaleh

species, that can be aged in the field from plumage characteristics.  Birds that breed in the northern part of the distribution and their young migrate to Africa, Arabia and maybe India.  It appears that immature birds (< 4 years of age) spend the years prior to maturation in southern parts of their distribution.  In other words, young birds do not generally migrate back to more northerly parts of their breeding range in Asia and Europe.

Given the declines in Egyptian vulture populations in Europe, we undertook a pilot count of the spring migration of raptors, particularly Egyptian vultures, between Africa and Arabia at the Bab el Mandeb Straits.  You can visit our blog about that effort by visiting http://egyptianvulturedjibouti.blogspot.co.at/

Hawk Mountain teamed with us and made available a solar powered, GPS satellite transmitter (a.k.a. GPS PTT or sat tag) to fit to an Egyptian vulture.

Fitting the satellite tag to *Assamo"Photo by H. Rayaleh

Fitting the satellite tag to *Assamo”
Photo by H. Rayaleh

So, on 11 March we captured an adult Egyptian vulture (“Assamo”) and fitted it with the sat tag.  Since then it has been wandering around north central Djibouti.  In the coming weeks, months and hopefully years, we will be regularly posting maps (hopefully about every 10 – 14 days) of Assamo’s movements on this blog and on the Djibouti Egyptian Vulture blog, and discussing what is happening with the bird and with Egyptian vultures, in general.  Please visit the Vulture Chronicles every so often or the Djibouti Egyptian Vulture blog to keep up with Assamo, and comment on his activities or about vulture or Egyptian vulture biology, ecology or conservation.

Let’s get started…

Below is a somewhat dumbed-down map of what Assamo was doing between being captured and 17 March.  I say that the map is dumbed-down because I have removed many of the actual locations of the bird where they were part of a cluster, and then I re-labelled the location with the date or range of dates when Assamo was there.  This has resulted in a “cleaner” map that I hope will be easier to follow.

Movement of Assamo during 11 – 17 March, immediately after release.

What is shown in this initial map is that Assamo has not migrated (yet), and so may be part of a resident population.  He (or she… we can’t tell) has been moving within about 60 km of where he was caught, and been moving between scattered locations, sometimes revisiting locations after a gap of some days or hours.

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