Griffon Vulture  chain reaction

In 2006 I started working for Sovon, the Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology, spending quite some time out in the field on breeding bird surveys and other monitoring activities. Every now and then, a special day full of wonderful bird sightings came by. But also rather dull days can hold surprises, like Monday 5 June 2006 when I discovered a Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus during a boring farmland bird survey at Zoeterwoude.

The first Griffon Vulture I ever saw was ‘A1’, which stayed near Amsterdam in April-May 1993 and was discovered by Fokko Padmos. It was a colour-ringed seventh calendar-year male, which had been found exhausted in north-eastern Italy in early September 1987. The bird had then been held in captivity for four and a half years, together with other Griffon Vultures, as part of a project to re-establish a breeding population in the Alps. On 5 February 1992, the bird was released in the Italian Alps, after which it remained paired with another project bird – a female, ringed A2. Their marriage did not last long, as A2 was illegally shot in Austria on 14 August 1992 (Vlek & Ebels 1995). Two and a half years after I saw him, A1 was killed in Slovenia on 9 November 1995 (Ebels 1995).

The number of records of Griffon Vultures in the Netherlands has shown a strong increase since 1993. From 1997 onwards, it has been reported almost annually (predominantly in May-July). At least seven more colour-ringed individuals have been identified, originating from southern France (two) and Spain (five); one of the Spanish birds was even recorded in two consecutive years (Haas et al 2017, Slaterus et al 2017). Surpisingly, even groups of more than 40 Griffon Vulture have turned up a few times. By 2018, I had already seen over 150 individuals myself.

Typically, the presence of Griffon Vultures attracts a lot of attention from birdwatchers, as well as from a wider public and the media. Often this results in a swarm of follow-up reports. Although Griffon Vultures are huge birds, once they have circled high up, they are nothing more than a dot in the sky. That their identification is not as straightforward as it may seem, speaks from the fact that time and time again circling buzzards, storks, herons and even gulls are reported as vultures by the over-enthusiastic. With so many eyes at the sky, someone is bound to see something…  

Griffon Vulture intobirding.com

Up to 2018, groups of 10 or more Griffon Vultures have been recorded in the Netherlands on 12 occasions, all since 2001. On 18 June 2007 alone, 111 individuals were observed (in groups of 9, 41 and 61).

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Published 16 June 2018