Rare bearded vulture in England

This video from Britain is called (Vigo) Bearded Vulture spotted in the UK to twitchers delight – ITV News – 12th October 2020.

By Peter Frost in England, 6 November 2020:

A circling vulture

Fearless PETER FROST watches as a giant bone-breaking beast flies overhead near his home. Is he frightened? No, not Frosty

IN July, like many others interested in birds, I smiled at and then ignored a number of tweets aimed at me and my local birders. The tweets suggested that a huge bird with a 2.5m (8ft 6in) wingspan had been seen near my home on the Warwickshire-Northamptonshire borders. Sadly hoaxes, or genuine misidentifications, such as these are all too commonplace.

As the day went on more sightings seemed to suggest that the giant bird did exist and was actually a rare bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) — one of the world’s biggest vulture species.

The bearded vulture is actually an unmistakable bird, not just because of its size. It has with black Elvis-style sideburns, red rings around the eyes and a long wedge-shaped tail. Facial markings and wings are black, the rest of the head, neck and body are a rich rusty orange.

When I heard that identification I reminded myself that nearby Warwick Castle actually had a captive bearded vulture named Barty, as part of its large birds-of-prey show.

The castle is closed at the moment due to lockdown but I knew that Head Falconer Chris O’Donnell lives on-site and works alongside two others to take care of the 70 birds of prey in his care.

These include some real big boys and girls. They include the largest flying bird in the world — the Andean condor. Even without an audience, all Chris’s birds need exercise — and that means letting them fly free every day.

Let’s meet some of the Warwick Castle stars. Rosie is the Andean condor – weighing 15 kilograms and with a wingspan of 3.2m.

Other giants are Marvin, a Steller’s sea eagle, and of course a bearded vulture named Barty. Bearded vultures like Barty are unique in the vulture world in not having a bald head: its head and breast feathers often appear an eye-catching rust colour, caused from dust-bathing or rubbing mud on its body.

The castle falconers soon confirmed that the bearded vulture flying loose over this corner of Shakespeare’s Warwickshire was not their Barty.

In his plays and poems, Shakespeare frequently referred to large birds of prey including falcons, hawks, eagles, owls, and kites. He loved falconry or hawking as it was then known. It was a form of hunting using birds of prey to fly free and hunt small animals and songbirds.

This is from Macbeth — a stunned Macduff reacts to news that Macbeth’s henchmen have murdered his wife and children:

“All my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All? What, all my pretty chickens and their dam at one fell swoop?”

The hell-kite is Macbeth and the phrase “at one fell swoop” has entered the English language — and what would we do without it?

But back to that incredibly rare sighting: pictures soon started to be published and soon confirmed this was a wild young bearded vulture. Those early photographs showed some very distinctive missing feathers and a damaged tail.

Once the pictures appeared online, birders abroad recognised the bird as one seen over Holland and Belgium a few weeks earlier. This bird was on a Europe-wide tour.

So had our vulture been attacking anything, or circling dying corpses? Actually its diet and eating habits are far more interesting than that. The bearded vulture was once better known as the Lammergeier, which translates as the vulture with the lamb.

They eat mainly the bones from already picked carcasses. The bird is capable of swallowing and digesting bones the size of a sheep’s vertebra. If the bones are too big, they fly up to 100 metres to drop the bones onto rocks, shattering them into bite-size pieces. This almost exclusive bone diet is remarkably rare among birds or animals.

In several regions, people did believe that bearded vultures stole sheep and even took small children — some people still do — so the species was hunted and poisoned to extinction. In the Alps the last bearded vulture was shot in 1913.

After a few days exploring Shakespeare’s country our giant bird made its way north. It was seen over Derbyshire and Yorkshire and regularly using a roost site in the north of the Peak District National Park. It even reached the Scottish border.

The Peak District is perfect bearded-vulture country with plenty of sheep carcasses, as well as typical roost sites on rugged cliffs and rocky outcrops. Bearded vultures do not like to be disturbed and need to feed quite often.

It is normal for young bearded vultures to range across vast areas, often outside their typical breeding habitat in mountain ranges. Nobody understands why. Perhaps they need to discover the motives of human gap-year travellers and compare notes. Our bird took the very unusual long-distance journey all around Wales and England, finally successfully crossing the English Channel homeward bound.

Bearded vultures usually don’t like crossing large water bodies and this might be why the species has only arrived in Britain once before, in 2016. It may be that the recent strong winds helped this year’s bird along.

Gypaetus barbatus is the rarest of vultures and there are several projects to reintroduce the bird in various high European mountain ranges as well as some in Asia. They use various methods to indentify birds, including rings, tags and feather-bleaching. However, our visitor bird did not have any rings or markings.

The bearded vulture is a protected species, with about 400 pairs remaining in Europe and is quite sensitive, gravely affected by habitat disturbance.

After four months of soaring over the lakes, along with visits to the skies over Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk including being spectacularly photographed over Peterborough Cathedral, our visitor, by now nicknamed Vigo, headed south.

Vigo was tracked south into Bedfordshire, somehow round or over the Capital and on to Kent. She reached the Channel coast on October 12, being seen at Beachy Head, East Sussex, on the afternoon of October 14.

Beachy Head is well known for observing migrating birds of prey, with rarities like the western osprey and European honey buzzard among the more regularly observed long-distance migrant raptors that either arrive in or depart Britain at this locality each spring and autumn.

After a morning of flying around the Kent and Sussex, Vigo climbed high into the sky and headed out to sea at around 12.40pm — but not for long, she was soon back.

After waiting about an hour, like some well-prepared human Channel swimmer, bright sun and a brisk north-easterly tailwind boded well for the crossing. Vigo bade farewell to our sweet isle forever.

Vigo left two small feathers to remember her by. David Ball, an eagle-eyed (or should that be vulture-eyed) birder from Yorkshire, offered them up for testing. They revealed that Vigo is a female that hatched last year in a wild nest in the Haute-Savoie region in southeast France.

Let’s hope that after her British adventure she is safely home — which would be not thanks to us humans. Preparing this column, I chanced to tap “bearded vulture” into Google. Up came pictures from a proud hunter of the massive bird he had just shot dead in the Cevenne mountains in south-central France. Yes, it was a bearded vulture — he must be proud he has reduced the world population by one.

We must never forget the dreadful risks Vigo and her relatives, and indeed most vultures and other birds of prey, continue to face from hunting folk and their gamekeepers.

How Andean condors fly, new research

This November 2018 video says about itself:

Meet the Majestic Andean Condor, one of the world’s largest flying bird, considered a sacred animal for the Incas.

Andean condors are massive birds, among the largest in the world that are able to fly. Because they are so heavy (up to 33 pounds), these birds prefer to live in windy áreas, where they can glide on air currents with little effort.

From Swansea University in Wales:

Experts’ high-flying study reveals secrets of soaring birds

New research has revealed when it comes to flying the largest of birds rely on air currents, not flapping to move around

July 14, 2020

New research has revealed when it comes to flying the largest of birds don’t rely on flapping to move around. Instead they make use of air currents to keep them airborne for hours at a time.

The Andean condor — the world’s heaviest soaring bird which can weigh in at up to 15kg — actually flaps its wings for one per cent of its flight time.

The study is part of a collaboration between Swansea University’s Professor Emily Shepard and Dr Sergio Lambertucci in Argentina, that uses high-tech flight-recorders on Andean condors. These log each and every wingbeat and twist and turn in flight as condors search for food.

The team wanted to find out more about how birds’ flight efforts vary depending on environmental conditions. Their findings will help to improve understanding about large birds’ capacity for soaring and the specific circumstances that make flight costly.

During the study, the researchers discovered that more than 75 per cent of the condors’ flapping was associated with take-off.

However, once in the sky condors can sustain soaring for long periods in a wide range of wind and thermal conditions — one bird managed to clock up five hours without flapping, covering around 172 km or more than 100 miles.

The findings are revealed in a new paper Physical limits of flight performance in the heaviest soaring bird, which has just been published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr Hannah Williams, now at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behaviour, said: “Watching birds from kites to eagles fly, you might wonder if they ever flap.

“This question is important, because by the time birds are as big as condors, theory tells us they are dependent on soaring to get around.

“Our results revealed the amount the birds flapped didn’t change substantially with the weather.

Teratorns, big prehistoric American vultures

This 10 May 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Teratorns – The Monster Birds

Millions of years ago giant birds of prey ruled the Americas – the Teratorns. But our understanding of these animals has changed greatly in the last few decades.

Cheetah, vultures and lion in South Africa

This 28 April 2020 video from South Africa says about itself:

Cheetah kill at Sabi Sabi… with a twist…

An absolutely incredible weekend here at Sabi Sabi with alarm calls coming from the open area in front of Bush Lodge. We scanned the area and noticed a cheetah in the open area so we dashed off to find that he had managed to take down an impala.

Looking a bit nervous, as cheetahs do before eating, he eventually got going and dug into his kill. Soon after, the vultures started gathering in enormous numbers. Trying to fight off the vultures, the cheetah eventually got spooked and bolted away. The vultures dived in with no hesitation and not even a minute later, a young male lion came rushing in, chasing off the vultures and claiming the rest of the kill for himself. He dragged it off into some thick area where he finished it off.

We managed to catch up with the cheetah who moved a little way away and decided to rest after all the commotion.

California condor flying, video

This 1 April 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

A California Condor in flight is an impressive sight. With a nine-foot plus wingspan, the birds can stay aloft for hours, floating up to 15,000 feet on warm air thermals.

To learn more, visit here.

Video by Don DesJardin.

Saving California condors in the USA

This 22 February 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

SAVED! Prehistoric Bird Escapes Extinction!

On this episode of Breaking Trail, Mario and the crew are in California to work with some bizarre yet magnificent Prehistoric birds.. critically endangered California Condors! Watch as they assist in pulling biometric data and perform health assessments on these incredible birds!

Get ready to meet the prehistoric bird that was saved from extinction!

Thank you to Molly Astell for hosting us and allowing us to showcase the California Condor recovery program! If you want to learn more about the California Condor or contribute to Condor conservation, head here and here.

California condor chick fledges, video

This video from the USA says about itself:

California Condor Chick #980 Fledges! – Oct. 14, 2019

Big news! At just over 6 months of age, the young condor nestling #980 has fledged after 187 days. Watch the young condor confidently take wing on October 14. After making a sustained flight out of view, the fledgling returns to perch on its favorite rock in the nesting cave. Way to fly #980!

Watch live at www.allaboutbirds.org/condors

This condor nest, known as the Pole Canyon nest, is located in a remote canyon near the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. The parents of the chick in the Pole Canyon nest are mom #563 and dad #262. Dad #262 was laid in 2001 and was the first viable egg laid in the wild since the reintroduction program began. He was actually one of two eggs laid to a trio (male #100 and females #111 and #108) but was brought into captivity to ensure proper incubation. He hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo and was released back to the wild a year later in 2002. Mom #563 hatched at the Oregon Zoo in 2010. This is their first nesting attempt together but both have nested previously with mates who are now deceased. A single egg was laid in this nesting cavity, and the chick hatched on April 10, 2019.

Hungry vultures in Gambia, video

This 2018 video says about itself:

In this report we see that the body of a herbivore is used by griffon vultures, hooded vultures, white-backed vultures, Rüppell’s vultures, lappet-faced vultures and white-headed vultures, to relieve their hunger in the Occipitalis Station (Gambia).

I saw a big group of vultures of various species eating a dead herbivorous mammal in the Gambia as well. In my case, it was a donkey. In the video, it is a goat.