HawkWatch International Partners with the University of Utah to Study Raptors in Africa

28 June 2017
Strait of Bab el Mandeb from Djibouti Strait of Bab el Mandeb from Djibouti

HawkWatch International and the University of Utah are partnering on two studies in the Horn of Africa: a new effort studying raptor migration over the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait in Djibouti, and a continuation of vulture extinction studies based in Ethiopia.

Evan Buechley, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah, will manage the two projects in conjunction with HawkWatch International scientists and University of Utah Biology Professor Cagan Sekercioglu.

“Vultures are the world’s most threatened group of birds and yet they provide critical ecological functions and benefit humans by consuming carrion and reducing disease,” said Buechley. “There is growing evidence around the world that when vultures decline, populations of disease vectors like feral dogs, rats, and flies increase, leading to more human disease burden, particularly in developing countries. Ethiopia has the most diverse and abundant vulture community in the world—with seven species, all of which are threatened with extinction—and is a critically important location to target conservation actions and study how vulture declines impact ecosystems and human health.”

Buechley is surveying vultures throughout Ethiopia to estimate populations and distributions, track movements and key foraging and breeding sites, and to evaluate the human repercussions of vulture declines. More information can be found at www.hawkwatch.org/vultures.

One of the critical sites to target conservation for vultures and other soaring birds is the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, which is located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. An estimated 1.5 million diurnal raptors of at least 31 species, including eight species at risk of extinction, migrate each year between Eurasia and Africa. The geographic bottleneck is considered one of the largest, if not the largest, concentration of migrating birds in the world. However, very limited and no full-season data exist for this site to fully illustrate the ecological importance of the area.

In order to better understand the diversity and magnitude of bird migrations over the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait in Africa, the group will conduct the first full-season bird migration count this fall (2017).

HawkWatch International coordinates the largest raptor migration network in North America and helped launch the Veracruz, Mexico River of Raptors Project in 1991, which is now regarded as a world-renowned raptor monitoring, education, and conservation initiative. More information can be found at www.hawkwatch.org/migration.

“HawkWatch International has over 30 years of experience conducting raptor migration research and we are excited to be the first group to fully study the fall raptor flight at Bab-el-Mandeb and see how it compares to other major flyways around the globe,” said Dave Oleyar, Ph.D., HawkWatch International Senior Scientist.

Publications on these projects are anticipated for 2018-2019.