The first-ever satellite-tracking study of Egyptian Vultures tagged in the Middle East and East Africa indicates that the species spends a majority of its time in a relatively small area characterized by human development such as highways, power lines, and dumps.
The 16 vultures tagged in the study covered an impressive 186,912 square miles—or an area roughly the size of Spain—during the summer and winter months of the study; however, the birds spent most of their time in “core use areas” that were far smaller—only 1,544 square miles—highlighting key areas where conservation actions could be focused.
According to Evan Buechley, HWI’s postdoctoral researcher who leads the project, identifying this small area—comprising only 1% of the total range of these birds—will play a key role in targeting conservation actions. “Because vultures are such wide-ranging birds, they can be difficult to conserve,” Buechley said. “This data will help us focus our efforts to help conserve this endangered species.”
Buechley and his team also found that core use areas featured significant human development.
“What we found when we modeled the habitat associations of the species was that the vultures were primarily using areas close to highways, power distribution lines, and towns,” Buechley said. These human structures provide some benefit to vultures, but they can also pose major risks.
“Garbage dumps around town serve as reliable sources of food for vultures, and vultures love to roost on power pylons, but these features also increase the chances that these birds will consume toxins or be electrocuted,” Buechley added. "Indeed, these two sources of mortality are thought to be the leading causes for the species' population declines."
Going forward, it will be important to target mitigation measures—like making power lines bird friendly and regulating lethal toxins—within the core use areas of Egyptian Vultures, in order to help halt the species decline.
Vultures are considered the most endangered group of birds in the world, and they provide vital services for ecosystem and human health. Working with the University of Utah, HawkWatch International is conducting a multi-year project to study and conserve seven species of vulture in Ethiopia—home to the most diverse and abundant vulture community in the world.
To learn more about the project, visit www.hawkwatch.org/vultures.
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