Articles in ‘birds’

Vultures followed humans to the Canaries

December 16th, 2010

Fascinating article in BMC Evolutionary Biology on the role of humans in helping the expansion of the Egyptian Vulture (Alimoche in Spanish, guirre in the Canaries) and its remarkably fast evolution into a sub-species (Neophron percnopterus majorensis).

Archaeological remains show that first colonizers were Berber people from northern Africa who imported goats. This new and abundant food source could have allowed vultures to colonize, expand and adapt to the island environment. Our results suggest that anthropogenic environmental change can induce diversification and that this process may take place on an ecological time scale (less than 200 generations), even in the case of a long-lived species. Full article here

Found on Crónica Verde: Los buitres llegaron a Canarias siguiendo a los hombres y sus cabras

Wikipedia on the Canarian vulture (above photo not the Canarian sub-species)

  • N. p. majorensis, the Canarian Egyptian Vulture, the largest subspecies with by far the smallest and most restricted population, is found only in the eastern Canary Islands where they are known by the name of guirre. Described as a new subspecies only in 2002, studies suggest that it is more genetically distant from N. p. percnopterus than N. p. ginginianus is. Unlike neighbouring populations in Africa and southern Europe, they are not migratory and are consistently larger in size. The name majorensis is derived from “Majorata”, the ancient name for the island of Fuerteventura. The island was named by Spanish conquerors in the 15th century after the “Majos”, the main native Guanche tribe there. A study suggests that the species colonized the island around 2500 years ago and the establishment of the population may have been aided by human colonization.
  • The population in the Canary Islands have been isolated from populations in Europe and Africa for a significant period of time and have declined greatly and are of particular concern due to their genetic distinctiveness. The Canarian Egyptian Vulture was historically common, occurring on the islands of La Gomera, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. It is now restricted to Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, the two easternmost islands. The total population in 2000 was estimated at about 130 individuals, including 25–30 breeding pairs. The island birds appear to be more susceptible to infections. Island birds appear to accumulate significant amounts of lead from scavenging on hunted animal carcasses and the long-term effect of this poison at a sublethal level is not known although it alters the mineralization of their bones. In order to provide safe and uncontaminated food for nesting birds, attempts have been made to create “vulture restaurants” where carcasses are made available. These interventions however may also encourage opportunist predators and scavengers to concentrate at the site and pose a threat to nesting birds in the vicinity

Vultures and climate change

October 18th, 2010

A new Spanish study has highlighted the role played by vultures in reducing energy consumption in Spain, saving the annual energy use of an estimated 9,000 homes and preventing 193,000 tons of CO2 from being released in the atmosphere. Spanish livestock farmers produces 380,000 tons of carrion, whose incineration involves a high energy cost. An adult vulture consumes some three kilos of meat a week, with all vultures in Spain consuming some 10,000 tonnes a year. Unfortunately the strict EU rules, as a result of mad cow’s disease, force many farmers to incinerate dead animals in official centres at a high cost to both them and in terms of CO2 production. I’d be interested in knowing how much CO2 the vultures would save if and when the EU rules are eventually relaxed.

More from 20 Minutos

Osprey recolonising Andalucia

September 7th, 2010

Two pairs of ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) have reproduced in Andalucía (Cádiz and Huelva) for the second year running, thus confirming the recolonization of the species, some fifty years after disappearing from the Peninsula as a nesting bird (and eighty from Spain). It is claimed that the osprey is the first vertebrate top achieve this in centuries but it should be said that they have been helped by a reintroduction scheme involving the release of more than 100 chicks in the last seven years, until finally a released bird joined up with wild bird. The second pair is formed by two wild ospreys of unknown origin. Between the two pairs, four chicks have been raised this year (five were fledged last year) so a round of applause to them and the people involved in the project. Crónica Verde

Cory’s Shearwaters barbacued in Lanzarote

September 7th, 2010

Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) an endangered seabird, is under threat in Lanzarote, a World Biosphere Reserve, from unscrupulous restaurant-owning rogues selling them as “special chicken”. Thousands of shearwater chicks are being taken in Lanzarote and to a lesser extent Fuerteventura. The chicks are then being sold for as much 100 euros a go to punters wanting to try their “exotic” flesh”. Lanzarote is home to the second largest colony of Cory’s shearwaters in the world, and despite being a natural park, there is a woeful lack of suverlance, allowing the bird thieves to take their fill. Crónica Verde

Mediterranean Storm-petrel in Catalonia

June 16th, 2010 Interesting page on the recovery programme of the Mediterranean Storm-Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus melitensis in Catalonia.
There are few known coastal breeding sites for the  in Spain and France, apart from their core breeding areas in the Balearics and central Mediterranean. After carrying out some years of a ringing program in the Costa Brava area, Catalonia, some potential breeding areas for the Mediterranean Storm-Petrel (very irregular and endangered breeding species in the area, regularly recorded in Spring and Summer offshore) were identified. From Birds in Spain Blog (lots of photos

Bald ibis reintroduction

June 12th, 2010

Bizarre photo of the month goes to the people involved in the bald ibis reintroduction programme, who released six birds this week in the Sierra de Retín (Cádiz), making a total of 24 so far this year, and 215 since the proyecto Eremita began. El País. Note: the hats, in addition to an essential fashion item this summer in Cadiz, are part of the plot to confuse the birds that they have been raised by ibises not humans.

The aim is to reintroduce the bird to areas where it has become extinct and to strengthen existing wild populations in North Africa. The last definite reference to the bald ibis breeding in Spain is from a 15th century falcony book.

See also Bald Ibis breed in Spain for first time in 500 years

Black vultures in the Pyrenees

June 9th, 2010

The Black Vulture Aegypius monachus is currently being reintroduced in the Catalan Pyrenees. Some 27 individuals were released between 2007 and 2009 in the Alinyà area. Each bird is being tracked: 15 regularly use the area, 3 are dispersing, 7 have been found dead and 3 are missing. A chick born on 25th April at one of the release sites was was the first to be born in the region since the late 19th century. Black Vultures in the Pyrenees

Note: SEO made the black vulture its Ave del Año for 2010.

Lizard impaled by shrike

March 23rd, 2010

File:Shrike prey lizard.jpg

Spectacular image of a lizard impaled on a branch by a Great Southern Shrike (Lanius meridionalis Alcaudón Real in Spanish), in the La Geria region of Lanzarote. Lizards and small mammals are occassionally impaled by shrikes, though invertebrates are much more frequent victims. Photo by Yummifruitbat on Wikipedia.

Distribution in Spain “Reproductora en la mayor parte de la Península, pero
con distribución más laxa en las regiones de influencia atlántica y
cantábrica.” More here

Black vulture: SEO’s bird of the year

March 23rd, 2010 SEO has named the black vulture (Aegypius monachus), as its bird of the year for 2010. Unlike previous spceies the black or monk vulture is not endangered, although it is certainly threatened. Rather it has been selected to highlight the fragile balance of this flagship species in sites such as Monfrague (Cáceres) and Peñalara (Madrid). There are some 2,000 breeding pairs of the species in Spain, up from just 200 in the 1960s. This said, the blight of poison is still responsible for many deaths.  Crónica Verde
The genus name Aegypius is a Greek word for ‘vulture’, or a bird not unlike one; Aelian describes the aegypius as “halfway between a vulture (gyps) and an eagle”. Some authorities think this a good description of a lammergeier; others do not. Aegypius is the eponym of the species, whatever it was.[5] The English name ‘Black Vulture’ refers to the plumage colour, while ‘Monk Vulture’, a direct translation of its German name Mönchsgeier, refers to the bald head and ruff of neck feathers like a monk’s cowl. More from Wikipedia

Sparrows in Spain

February 7th, 2010

The house sparrow is still probably the commonest bird in Spain with some 10 million pairs, and although they are certainly not threatened as they are in, say, Britain which has lost 5 million pairs in the last 30 years, some areas have shown alarming trends. The birds are less and less common in Madrid and have seen a 90% fall in the orange orchards of Valencia. Crónica Verde

The poet Miguel Hernández described sparrows as the “los gorriones son los niños del aire” – the children of the air,