White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus): a new species for Morocco and North Africa

By | 25 May 2014

We found a mega Western Palearctic rarity! Yesterday, we reported the observation of a group of 3 Rüppell’s with 38 Griffon vultures at a carcass near Tétouan, northern Morocco. We went back to the site today (25 May), and to our great pleasure we found a White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) with the other birds that roosted locally the previous night.

As most of the Griffon Vultures retreated some meters away from the carcass, leaving behind only the White-backed Vulture and one individual from both the Griffon and Rüppell’s vultures (see photos). This made the identification straightforward by comparing the three species together in a single view. We watched them for an extended period, and Karim made several small videos of the vultures and of the rest of us.

This is the first record for Morocco and North Africa for the White-backed Vulture, and it is only the 4th record for the Western Palearctic. The three previous records were seen near the Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain (2 at Tarifa and 1 at Algeciras) between 2008 and 2011. There was also an earlier record from southern Portugal (an adult at Cape São Vicente on 14 October 2006) but it was classed in Category D (= doubtful origin) at the time. In light of the subsequent records from Spain and especially this one from Morocco, this Portuguese record may probably be reviewed.

The White-backed Vulture breeds in sub-Saharan Africa and classified as an ‘Endangered species’ by the IUCN (Red List 2012).

Thanks to Javier Elloriaga, Richard Klim and Dominic Mitchell and other birders for their comments regarding the previous records in the Western Palearctic.

Vautour africain: une nouvelle espèce pour l’Afrique du Nord

Un individu a été observé avec un groupe de 3 Vautours de Rüppell et de 38 Vautours fauves près Tétouan au nord du Maroc aujourd’hui. C’est la 1ère observation pour le Maroc et l’Afrique du Nord et la 4ème ou 5ème pour le Paléarctique occidental pour cette espèce. Le Vautour africain (ou Vautour à dos blanc) se reproduit en Afrique sub-saharienne et classé comme une espèce ‘En danger d’extinction’ par l’UICN (Liste Rouge 2012).

Rachid El Khamlichi (photos), Mohammed Karim El Haoua & Mohamed Amezian

Update (26 May):

We went back to the site at lunchtime but we haven’t found any vulture neither at the carcass nor in the surrounding area. Most likely they have moved to the direction of Jbel Moussa after we left the area yesterday or earlier today. Good luck for the birders around the Strait of Gibraltar.

In summary, this May was a vultures’ mouth by excellence: 10 Rüppell’s Vultures and one White-backed Vulture in 4 days (10, 11, 24 and 25 May. See this link: http://www.magornitho.org/2014/05/)

Update (August):

White-backed Vulture in Portugal

A White-backed Vulture seen in the Biological Station of Garducho, Mourão, southern Portugal on 24 August 2014 by Alfonso Godino and Catarina Machado.

There is a probability that it’s the same bird we saw at Tétouan in May. Of course, it could also be a different bird, analysis of plumage of both birds could help.

White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) and Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) on the right, Tétouan, northern Morocco, 25 May 2014

White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) and Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) on the right, Tétouan, Morocco, 25 May 2014

White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) and Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) on the right, Tétouan, northern Morocco

White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) and Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) on the right, Tétouan, Morocco, 25 May 2014

Three Gyps vulture species at Tétouan, northern Morocco. From left to right: White-backed (Gyps africanus), Rüppell’s (Gyps rueppellii) and Griffon (Gyps fulvus) vultures.

Three Gyps vulture species at Tétouan, northern Morocco. From left to right: White-backed (Gyps africanus), Rüppell’s (Gyps rueppellii) and Griffon (Gyps fulvus) vultures.

The iconic photo of the three Gyps vulture species as published in Birdwatch Magazine

The iconic photo of the three Gyps vulture species as published in Birdwatch Magazine.

 

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