Conservation Biology Group

Threats and solutions

Monitoring the Egyptian vulture population in Central and Eastern Catalonia in 2015

In Catalonia during the 60-70 the Egyptian vulture suffered a sharp decline and its population was reduced to the area of the Lleida Pyrenees. However, from the 80’s the species began to colonize old territories as well as new areas far from its historical distribution, increasing the number of breeding pairs in the central and eastern Catalonia. During the 80s and 90s expert naturalists from different areas of Catalonia, monitored the population and the reproduction of its pairs and confirmed its expansion.

In 2012 the Conservation Biology Group together with the “Grup de Naturalistes d’Osona” (a Naturalists’ association) started a research project for monitoring the population of Egyptian vulture in Central and Eastern Catalonia. The project objective is to know the conservation state of the Egyptian vulture population in this geographical area and describe the factors that affect the recent expansion of the species. The main tasks of the project are the annual monitoring of the occupied territories as well as to know the reproductive parameters of the territorial pairs and to ring its chicks in the regions of Central and Eastern Catalonia.
Ringing fieldwork carried out by members of the Conservation Biology Group of the UB. Photo: Eva Puigpelat (Cos d'Agents Rurals)

During 2012 and 2013, 12 territories were monitored in the counties called Vallès, Bages, Anoia, Osona, Ripollès and Garrotxa, but in 2014 two more counties called Berguedà and Solsonès were included in the study area. This task was carried out with the support of the naturalists Pere Aymerich and Joan Santandreu who monitored the population until date. The addition of these two regions, as well as an increase in the census effort caused that in 2014, 27 territories were monitored, 19 of them reproduced successfully and 21 chicks flew at the end of the season.

During the last season (2015), the monitoring allowed to detect a new occupied territory inside the study area and rising to 28 the number of occupied territories at least one time since 1988. 23 of all of these territories were occupied by territorial pairs, 21 of them initiated the reproduction, but only 14 reproduced successfully. Despite all these reproductive failures, half of the couples that reproduced successfully bred two chicks, thus, in 2015 flew 21 chicks, like in 2014. The most reproductive failures produced in 2015 were during hatching or when the chicks were a few days old. Some of these pairs failed systematically every year, probably caused by fertility problems, but other could failed because the presence of human disturbances in the nests’ neighboring areas because it is frequent to observe climbers, paragliders or forestry works near the reproductive areas. Another possible cause of the reproductive failures could be the weather, because 2015 had abnormal weather conditions, with a particularly dry spring that could cause a lower availability of prey.

To study the movements and the survival of the individuals of the population, since 2012 the chicks of the Egyptian vulture have been ringed. In this regard, during 2015 were observed for the first time individuals ringed in previous seasons outside his area of birth. An individual born in 2012 Ripollès was observed in June 2015 in Osona and a month later in Pallars Jussà, over 100 km away. In addition, another individual born in this same territory in 2015 was observed two months after his ringing in a landfill near Zaragoza, over 300 km away.
Ringed Egyptian Vulture chick. Photo: Kiku Parés (Conservation Biology Group of the UB)

All this fieldwork was carried out thanks to the collaboration of several naturalists such Jordi Baucells and Carles Martorell from Grup de Naturalistes d’Osona, Josep Maria Bas from Girona University as well as Ferran Fontelles, Pere Aymerich, Joan Santandreu, Daniel Mañas, Josep Bosch, Pere Ignasi Isern, Joan Fort, Gabriel de Jesús, Ferran Gonzalez, Jordi Calaf, Jordi Faus, Joan Montserrat, Albert Peris, Toni Mampel, Francesc Parés, David Torrens, Gabriel Lampreave, the “Cos d’Agents Rurals” and particularly the “Grup de Suport de Muntanya”. Thank to Diego Garcia from “Servei de Biodiversitat de la Generalitat de Catalunya”, Àngel Miño from Parc Natural de Sant Llorenç del Munt, Jordi Calaf from Parc Natural de Montserrat and Emili Bassols from Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa. Finally, thank to Red Eléctrica de España the project support and especially to Mercedes Gil Pozo her interest on the monitoring and development of the project. Helena Tauler was supported by a predoctoral grant from de IRBIO-University of Barcelona (APIF 2014).