Dangers of migration: Griffon Vulture ‘MA4’ died in Spain after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar

By MaghrebOrnitho | 2 September 2015

MA4, the young Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) wing-tagged at Jbel Moussa on 24 May 2015 (photo 1) was found dead at Tarifa island, southern Spain on 14 August 2015. It should be noted that after it’s wing-tagging, MA4 stayed 3 days locally at Jbel Moussa roosting with other vultures. Javier Rivas Salvador, a MSc student in ‘Biodiversity and Conservation Biology’, found the dead vulture at Tarifa island in an advanced decomposition state (photo 2), so probably it was dead weeks before it was found.

While we don’t know exactly the causes of the death, but most likely it was due to the poor body condition of the bird which did not unable it to reach Spain safely (Griffon Vultures still crossing the Strait to Europe as late as July and some even in August and September). Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar (and other straits) is a difficult task for such large birds as Griffon Vultures which were not evolved to use flapping-powered flights. And crossing the straits in unfavourable wind direction is a risky decision.

Similar cases were recorded of vultures reaching southern Iberia in very poor conditions or found dead at shores. For example, David Cuenca and Gonzalo Muñoz reported that 3 Griffon Vultures fell into the sea and died. Others Griffons and a Rüppell’s Vulture were forcibly landed by gulls at Tarifa island on 10 June 2016, see photos and the story at Rare Birds in Spain website).

Cases of vultures found dead along the Moroccan coast are rare only because of the scarcity of observers. However, there was a recent case probably involved a bird just arriving from Europe and found dead at the shores of Fnideq (photo 3).

Griffon Vultures MA4 and MA5 were wing-tagged at Jbel Moussa, northern Morocco, on 24 May 2015

Griffon Vultures MA4 and MA5 were wing-tagged by Rachid El Khamlichi at Jbel Moussa on 24 May 2015, with the help of José Antonio Sarrión Salado who was present at Jbel Moussa that day.

The carcass and wing-tag of Griffon Vulture MA4 at Tarifa island, Spain, 14 August 2015 (Javier Rivas Salvador)

The carcass and wing-tag of Griffon Vulture MA4 at Tarifa island, Spain, 14 August 2015 (Javier Rivas Salvador).

Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) found dead at the shores of Fnideq, northern Morocco, in autumn 2014 (Yasmina Fartakh).

Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) found dead at the shores of Fnideq, northern Morocco, in autumn 2014 (Yasmina Fartakh). It was probably exhausted during sea crossing, although Fnideq is not on the Strait itself but it’s not far away.

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