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Blog posts after 1 Feb 2018 about Steppe eagles tracked from Oman can be found at the Steppe eagle blog

Monday, February 2, 2015

Egyptian vultures for beginners... and others

The Egyptian Vulture is a medium-sized avian scavenger with a wide Old World distribution that includes Arabia,  Egyptian vultures breeding in the northern parts of the range are migratory, moving into India, Arabia and Africa during the non-breeding season.  Birds from the southern part of the range seem to be resident nomads. The weight of evidence suggests that most immature Egyptian vultures spend the 4+ years prior to becoming breeders in Africa and Arabia. 
Adult Egyptian vulture flying over the Muscat municipal rubbish dump.
Egyptian vulture is regionally threatened in Arabia, and its global status is in decline, its historical distribution has been much reduced.  It has been classed as globally “Endangered” by Birdlife International (2015) since 2008. The mainland populations on the Arabian peninsula are thought to have declined by 90% in the last 50 years (Jennings 2010).   These declines are part of large (sometimes >95%) reductions in the population sizes of most Old World vulture species. 
Oman was thought to have a population of only about 100 pairs (Jennings 2010).  However, fieldwork (Angelov et al 2013), funded by the Environment Society of Oman, indicates that Masirah Island alone holds 65-80 breeding pairs of Egyptian vultures, a big increase on previously published information that about 12 pairs existed (Green 1949; Griffiths and Rogers 1975).  Recent surveys of scavenger use of rubbish dumps in northern Oman (Al Balushi et al 2013. Al Fazari and McGrady unpublished data, ESO unpublished data) support the idea that the Oman breeding population of vultures is likely bigger than earlier estimated, but also highlight the importance of Oman to pre-breeding (< 4 yrs of age) and migrating birds from elsewhere. Areas where numbers are not declining (perhaps like Oman) might be important “source areas” in any recovery that might occur, and safe areas for migrants are critical to species survival. 
In highlighting the importance of Oman, the numbers of vultures seen at rubbish dumps also highlights how little we know about them.  Where do they come from?  Where do they go to breed?  How long do they stay in Oman?  Do they move around Oman or the region?  How long do they live? What threats do they face in Arabia/Oman? All these questions are not only interesting, but important to conserving this species.

Globally, big conservation efforts are being applied to vultures (including Egyptian vultures), particularly in Eurasia and Africa.  This is due to huge declines in some of the most common species across their ranges.  Declines in many species are being driven by inadvertent poisoning by non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).  Direct persecution, use of body parts for traditional medicine, electrocution, collisions and loss of habitat are all putting negative pressure on vulture populations worldwide.  The plight of Egyptian vultures has been the reason some support to our efforts and efforts like them has been given by the our partners (see logos to the right), the EU, the European Science Foundation, the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, and a number of US zoos, just to name a few. 

Learn more about Egyptian vultures by downloading a brochure on them by using the links below, or the links to the right of this blog post:

Brochure on Egyptian vultures in English 

Quick update... 143580 is still south of Muscat, but wandering north from Hefaz.  143581 has been spending time south of Barka, roosting on the power lines there.  This bird has not visited the main Barka rubbish dump.  A couple of years ago we visited the Barka rubbish dump a number of times, but found no vultures there.  Indeed, the use of rubbish dumps around Oman by vultures is variable and the reasons for this are not immediately obvious (to us, at least).  Perhaps this research will help us better understand the reasons for this variation in use.