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Concept: Griffon Vulture


Feeding stations are commonly used to sustain conservation programs of scavengers but their impact on behaviour is still debated. They increase the temporal and spatial predictability of food resources while scavengers have supposedly evolved to search for unpredictable resources. In the Grands Causses (France), a reintroduced population of Griffon vultures Gyps fulvus can find carcasses at three types of sites: 1. “light feeding stations”, where farmers can drop carcasses at their farm (spatially predictable), 2. “heavy feeding stations”, where carcasses from nearby farms are concentrated (spatially and temporally predictable) and 3. open grasslands, where resources are randomly distributed (unpredictable). The impact of feeding stations on vulture’s foraging behaviour was investigated using 28 GPS-tracked vultures. The average home range size was maximal in spring (1272±752 km(2)) and minimal in winter (473±237 km(2)) and was highly variable among individuals. Analyses of home range characteristics and feeding habitat selection via compositional analysis showed that feeding stations were always preferred compared to the rest of the habitat where vultures can find unpredictable resources. Feeding stations were particularly used when resources were scarce (summer) or when flight conditions were poor (winter), limiting long-ranging movements. However, when flight conditions were optimal, home ranges also encompassed large areas of grassland where vultures could find unpredictable resources, suggesting that vultures did not lose their natural ability to forage on unpredictable resources, even when feeding stations were available. However during seasons when food abundance and flight conditions were not limited, vultures seemed to favour light over heavy feeding stations, probably because of the reduced intraspecific competition and a pattern closer to the natural dispersion of resources in the landscape. Light feeding stations are interesting tools for managing food resources, but don’t prevent vultures to feed at other places with possibly high risk of intoxication (poison).

Concepts: Intraspecific competition, Scarcity, Winter, Foraging, Gyps, Home range, Vulture, Griffon Vulture


Measuring the costs of soaring, gliding and flapping flight in raptors is challenging, but essential for understanding their ecology. Among raptors, vultures are scavengers that have evolved highly efficient soaring-gliding flight techniques to minimize energy costs to find unpredictable food resources. Using electrocardiogram, GPS and accelerometer bio-loggers, we report the heart rate (HR) of captive griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus and G. himalayensis) trained for freely-flying. HR increased three-fold at take-off (characterized by prolonged flapping flight) and landing (>300 beats-per-minute, (bpm)) compared to baseline levels (80-100 bpm). However, within 10 minutes after the initial flapping phase, HR in soaring/gliding flight dropped to values similar to baseline levels, i.e. slightly lower than theoretically expected. However, the extremely rapid decrease in HR was unexpected, when compared with other marine gliders, such as albatrosses. Weather conditions influenced flight performance and HR was noticeably higher during cloudy compared to sunny conditions when prolonged soaring flight is made easier by thermal ascending air currents. Soaring as a cheap locomotory mode is a crucial adaptation for vultures who spend so long on the wing for wide-ranging movements to find food.

Concepts: Landing, Gliding, Flight, Flying and gliding animals, Takeoff, Gyps, Vulture, Griffon Vulture


Exposure to residues of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) diclofenac present in livestock carcasses has caused extensive declines in 3 Gyps vulture species across Asia. The carcass of a wild Eurasian Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) was found in 2012 on an Andalucian (Spain) game hunting reserve and examined forensically. The bird had severe visceral gout, a finding consistent with Gyps vultures from Asia that have been poisoned by diclofenac. Liver and kidney samples from this Eurasian Griffon Vulture contained elevated flunixin (an NSAID) levels (median = 2.70 and 6.50 mg/kg, respectively). This is the first reported case of a wild vulture being exposed to and apparently killed by an NSAID outside Asia. It is also the first reported instance of mortality in the wild resulting from environmental exposure to an NSAID other than diclofenac. Caso de Sospecha de Envenenamiento por Flunixin de un Buitre Leonado en España.

Concepts: Cyclooxygenase, Analgesic, Diclofenac, Gyps, Paracetamol, Griffon Vulture, Vulture, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug


Cape vulture Gyps coprotheres populations have declined across their range due to multiple anthropogenic threats. Their susceptibility to fatal collisions with the expanding power line network and the prevalence of carcasses contaminated with illegal poisons and other threats outside protected areas are thought to be the primary drivers of declines in southern Africa. We used GPS-GSM units to track the movements and delineate the home ranges of five adult (mean ±SD minimum convex polygon area  =  121,655±90,845 km(2)) and four immature (mean ±SD minimum convex polygon area  =  492,300±259,427 km(2)) Cape vultures to investigate the influence of power lines and their use of protected areas. The vultures travelled more than 1,000 km from the capture site and collectively entered five different countries in southern Africa. Their movement patterns and core foraging ranges were closely associated with the spatial distribution of transmission power lines and we present evidence that the construction of power lines has allowed the species to extend its range to areas previously devoid of suitable perches. The distribution of locations of known Cape vulture mortalities caused by interactions with power lines corresponded to the core ranges of the tracked vultures. Although some of the vultures regularly roosted at breeding colonies located inside protected areas the majority of foraging activity took place on unprotected farmland. Their ability to travel vast distances very quickly and the high proportion of time they spend in the vicinity of power lines and outside protected areas make Cape vultures especially vulnerable to negative interactions with the expanding power line network and the full range of threats across the region. Co-ordinated cross-border conservation strategies beyond the protected area network will therefore be necessary to ensure the future survival of threatened vultures in Africa.

Concepts: Protected area, English-language films, Griffon Vulture, Protected areas, Time, Power line communication, Africa, Electric power transmission


In colonial breeding species, preventive measures to reduce the risks of extra-pair copulations (EPCs) should reflect the actual risk perceived by males (e.g., proximity of neighbors, intrusions into the nest) mainly during the fertile period. In colonial vultures, specific studies examining the preventive measures that minimize the risks of EPCs occurring within the competitive context of colonial breeding have not been conducted. Here we tested at Eurasian Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) nesting sites the intensity of paternity assurance behavior, shown as frequency and duration of within-pair copulations (WPCs), potential mate vigilance or nest attendance, and levels of aggressivity. This was measured according to the frequency of territorial intrusions and comparison of the fertile vs. the non-fertile period. Our findings suggest that the frequency of WPCs and their duration increased significantly during the presumed fertile period, regarded as the period when Griffon pairs spent significantly more time together at their nests. In addition, low levels of territorial intrusions were observed, an aggressive response of pairs towards intruders, and a relatively high presence of pairs at the nests during the fertile period. Thus, although nesting sites are subject to low exposure to EPC attempts, the increased frequency and duration of copulations during the fertile period suggests that, under pressure from the colonial breeding system, a higher rate of copulations is the most effective preventive mechanism against relative uncertainty of paternity.

Concepts: Bird, Gyps, Vulture, Griffon Vulture


Griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus), by virtue of their position at the top of the food chain and as obligate scavengers, are at risk of accumulating and concentrating heavy metals in their tissues and may be more predisposed to their toxic effects. The aim of this study is to investigate heavy metal concentrations in Griffon vultures in Portugal and Catalonia, Spain and to determine if heavy metal concentrations in the blood of weak and/or injured Griffon vultures admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centres (WRC) reflect contamination profiles in the local, free-living and outwardly healthy population. Whole-blood samples taken from 121 Griffon vultures caught in the wild or admitted to WRC in Portugal and Catalonia, Spain were examined for cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb) by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). Cd and Hg were not detected in most samples (98.3% and 95%, respectively), while Pb was detected in all birds in concentrations ranging between 4.97 and 300.23µg/dl. Birds admitted to WRC had significantly lower Pb concentrations (24.15±15.07 and 25.98±18.04µg/dl in Portugal and Catalonia, Spain, respectively) than animals caught in the wild (29.67±13.19 and 42.22±50.08µg/dl in Portugal and Catalonia, Spain, respectively) (p<0.05). This may be explained by the fact that malnutrition was the main cause of admission of Griffon vultures to WRC, as ingestion has been described as the most significant pathway for Pb exposure in raptors. Therefore Griffon vultures admitted to WRC do not seem to be representative of the local, free-flying populations, so it remains necessary to continue catching when one intends to monitor Pb exposure in this species. The population of vultures captured in Catalonia, Spain showed the highest mean blood Pb concentration, perhaps due to the municipal rubbish dump located near the feeding station, with rubbish providing a significant fraction of their trophic needs. The ingestion of game meat with bullet fragments in carcasses or with Pb shots embedded in their flesh could also be the cause of the high blood Pb concentrations found in some vultures. The potential risk of Pb exposure in Griffon vulture populations must be given consideration, since most individuals evaluated had Pb concentrations between 20 and 100µg/dl, which is considered to be subclinical exposure to Pb, and which is above the threshold level at which Pb can affect antioxidant system in this species (15µg/dl).

Concepts: Toxicology, Iberian Peninsula, Spain, Gyps, Lead, Griffon Vulture, Heavy metal music, Vulture


Wind farms have shown a spectacular growth during the last 15 years. Avian mortality through collision with moving rotor blades is well-known as one of the main adverse impacts of wind farms. In Spain, the griffon vulture incurs the highest mortality rates in wind farms.

Concepts: Wind farm, Mortality rate, Griffon Vulture, Bird, Vulture


Effective mitigation of the risks posed by environmental contaminants for ecosystem integrity and human health requires knowing their sources and spatio-temporal distribution. We analysed the exposure to lead (Pb) in griffon vulture Gyps fulvus-an apex species valuable as biomonitoring sentinel. We determined vultures' lead exposure and its main sources by combining isotope signatures and modelling analyses of 691 bird blood samples collected over 5 years. We made yearlong spatially explicit predictions of the species risk of lead exposure. Our results highlight elevated lead exposure of griffon vultures (i.e. 44.9% of the studied population, approximately 15% of the European, showed lead blood levels more than 200 ng ml(-1)) partly owing to environmental lead (e.g. geological sources). These exposures to environmental lead of geological sources increased in those vultures exposed to point sources (e.g. lead-based ammunition). These spatial models and pollutant risk maps are powerful tools that identify areas of wildlife exposure to potentially harmful sources of lead that could affect ecosystem and human health.

Concepts: Bird, Biodiversity, Health, Natural environment, Gyps, Human, Vulture, Griffon Vulture


Due to the potentially detrimental consequences of low performance in basic functional tasks, individuals are expected to improve performance with age and show the most marked changes during early stages of life. Soaring-gliding birds use rising-air columns (thermals) to reduce energy expenditure allocated to flight. We offer a framework to evaluate thermal soaring performance, and use GPS-tracking to study movements of Eurasian griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus). Because the location and intensity of thermals are variable, we hypothesized that soaring performance would improve with experience and predicted that the performance of inexperienced individuals (<2 months) would be inferior to that of experienced ones (>5 years). No differences were found in body characteristics, climb rates under low wind shear, and thermal selection, presumably due to vultures' tendency to forage in mixed-age groups. Adults, however, outperformed juveniles in their ability to adjust fine-scale movements under challenging conditions, as juveniles had lower climb rates under intermediate wind shear, particularly on the lee-side of thermal columns. Juveniles were also less efficient along the route both in terms of time and energy. The consequences of these handicaps are probably exacerbated if juveniles lag behind adults in finding and approaching food.

Concepts: Empiricism, Experience, Vulture, Gyps, Griffon Vulture


The expansion of road networks and the increase in traffic have emerged in recent years as key threats to the conservation of biodiversity. This is particularly concerning in many protected areas because the increase of recreational activities requiring the use of vehicles. Effects of roads and traffic within guild scenarios and ecological processes remain however poorly known. Here we examined how road proximity and traffic intensity influence patterns of resource use in an Old-World avian scavenger guild living in a protected natural park in northern Spain. We experimentally placed 130 carcasses at different distances from a scenic road in the centre of the park. Vehicles were recorded by means of traffic counters which revealed that maximum numbers were reached during weekends and holidays and during the middle hours of the day. Avian scavenger attendance at carcasses was recorded by means of camera-traps. Obligated scavengers, Eurasian griffon (Gyps fulvus) and Egyptian vultures (Neophron percnopterus) were frequently observed (59.4% and 37.7% of the consumed carcasses) together with five other facultative scavenger species. We found that the richness (number of species) and the probability of consumption of the resource were reduced the smaller the distance to the road and in days with higher traffic intensity. The same factors affected the probability of presence of all the scavenger species. Moreover, some of them, notably griffon vultures, showed hourly patterns of carcass attendance suggesting avoidance of maximum traffic levels. Our results highlight that roads and traffic would trigger consequences on the structure and functioning of scavenger food webs, which may be particularly concerning in protected areas with remarkable levels of biodiversity. Future regulations at protected areas should couple both traffic and tourist affluence with wildlife conservation. In this way important ecological processes would be preserved while maintaining a good dissemination of natural values.

Concepts: Scavenger, Biodiversity, Gyps, Conservation biology, Old World vulture, Ecology, Griffon Vulture, Vulture