A remarkable story of a lone breeding vulture

Posted on: April 29th, 2019 by Hannah Shaw

Thomas Johnson, a researcher associated with the Hawk Conservancy Trust and Leeds University, studied the breeding behaviour of White-backed Vultures at two sites near Kimberley in South Africa using camera traps on 10 nesting trees.

Thomas observed an extremely interesting, but very unexpected, solo egg incubation attempt by a White-backed Vulture including the longest uninterrupted nest attendance ever recorded for this species: 3 days 18 hours and 40 minutes. The time-lapse video below shows this unusually long ‘sit’ on the nest by the dedicated solo breeder. This exceptional attendance period is much longer than has been previously reported in other studies, and the vulture spent significantly more time at the nest than would have been required if it was sharing duties with a partner.

African White-backed Vultures are monogamous which means they have one breeding partner, which in most cases they will stay with for their whole life. Both the male and female birds share incubation and feeding responsibilities equally. This type of breeding behaviour is common in birds as it enables one parent to forage whilst the other incubates, so the egg or chick is always attended and less vulnerable to predators.

It is an especially effective strategy for White-backed Vultures as they have such a long breeding period. On average, they will incubate the egg for 56 days, followed by 120-125 days of rearing the chick and an additional 5-6 months where the fledgling chick is still partially dependent on the adults. This amounts to almost a year in total and is challenging for a pair of birds; it would be virtually impossible for a single bird.

After laying the egg, the lone breeder was present for the majority of the time (79%) until it sadly abandoned the egg after 30 days. A second bird did make an appearance at the nest after the first 4 days, seemingly to relieve incubation duties; however, it left again, never to reappear, after just 5 minutes.

It is unknown why the lone bird abandoned the egg at 30 days; it is possible that it was too dehydrated or malnourished to continue without detriment to its own health.

Read the full paper.

Fantastic news from Pakistan!

Posted on: April 15th, 2019 by Hannah Shaw

Four pairs of Asian White-backed Vultures are incubating eggs at our breeding centre in Changa Manga in Pakistan. If all eggs hatch, this will be the most successful year to date for the centre. There are now 21 vultures at the facility, including 15 adults and 6 younger birds. We have successfully fledged two chicks each year between 2016 and 2018 and for 2019, in our most promising year so far, there are four breeding pairs of vultures who are currently incubating eggs! We have cameras installed to keep track of their progress, and we are very hopeful that there will be four new additions to our flock in a few weeks time!

We have been working to conserve vultures in Pakistan for the past 12 years, partnered with WWF-Pakistan, since populations of vultures in this region plummeted by more than 99.9% as a result of a veterinary drug called Diclofenac. Our captive breeding centre in Changa Manga Forest Reserve is the only conservation initiative in Pakistan that is dedicated to holding a safe population of Critically Endangered Asian White-backed Vultures with the aim of releasing birds into the wild. The centre has a large main aviary, and four smaller aviaries, and livestock enclosures. The project aims to maintain a healthy captive population of these vultures so they can breed naturally with the ultimate aim of releasing birds into the wild.

All the birds are monitored on a daily basis, and a vet makes regular visits to the centre to ensure the birds are healthy, as shown in the photo below. During the breeding season, the birds are fed seven days a week to ensure the fast-growing chicks are provided with enough food. Every year, all the nests in the aviary are repaired and cleaned and old nesting material is replaced with fresh branches and sticks for the vultures to build their nests. The perches are repaired, and new ones are installed where needed. A variety of perches and nesting materials are provided so vultures can carry out the same natural behaviours they would in the wild. The centre is also very important for education and in 2018 more than 1500 students visited to learn about the importance and conservation of vultures in Pakistan. Find out more about this project.



Is spending time in nature beneficial to our health?

Posted on: February 20th, 2019 by Hannah Shaw

As part of an ongoing research project into the effect of nature on our health and well-being, the Hawk Conservancy Trust is hosting students from the University of Surrey. One of the students, Jess Green, tells us about her undergraduate dissertation project that she conducted here at the Trust. (more…)

A Year of Vulture Conservation and Research

Posted on: December 18th, 2018 by Alice

2018 has been a productive year of vulture research and conservation activities for the Trust, so we’ve been looking back at some of the highlights of the year:


Hooded Vulture Research

Posted on: November 5th, 2018 by Alice

We love vultures and a big part of our work is finding out more about them! Watch this video to see our Head of Conservation and Research, Dr Campbell Murn, conducting field work as part of a project on Hooded Vultures in Southern Africa. In this region, the Hooded Vulture is an elusive species. It mainly occurs in protected areas and places where the human population density is low and there has been little research conducted on Hooded Vultures in southern Africa, which has limited our understanding of its ecology.


Marion Paviour Awardee Announced

Posted on: September 28th, 2018 by Hannah Shaw

We are extremely pleased to announce that Katie Harrington is the recipient of the first Marion Paviour Award. The purpose of this award is to further research into the conservation of birds of prey and support early-career researchers working towards this goal. We received a large number of high quality applications for the award, however Katie’s application impressed all the judges; her unique and interesting project, and obvious dedication made her stand out from the crowd.

Katie is a graduate student from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California, USA and the Marion Paviour Award will help her to fund her Master’s thesis researching the Near-Threatened Striated Caracara (Phalcoboenus australis) in the Falkland Islands. For her research, Katie is using tail-mounted data loggers to collect high-resolution data of the caracara’s body movements which will allow her to calculate their daily activity budgets (how much time they are spending doing different activities during the day, for example how much time they spend moving or feeding), and use this to work out their daily energy use.

Katie is very grateful to the Hawk Conservancy Trust for the Marion Paviour Award which will help to fund her trip to the Falklands in February for an additional season of data collection, that will allow her to complete her graduate research and contribute information critical to the conservation management of this remarkable species.

Images: Katie Harrington

Conducting research with Harris’ Hawks

Posted on: September 20th, 2018 by Alice

The Trust is currently hosting student Anika Preuss who is researching the effect of fitting data loggers to birds for the purpose of research.


Rescue of an entangled White-backed Vulture in Kruger National Park

Posted on: September 13th, 2018 by Hannah Shaw

Our Project Officer, Andre Botha, who is based in South Africa, found a White-backed Vulture dangerously entangled in a dead tree. Here is his account of what happened:


Why do we put rings on birds?

Posted on: August 30th, 2018 by Alice

This is one of the questions we’re most frequently asked in relation to the Trust’s British Raptor Programme. It is often asked in the context of the potential for using radio-tracking or satellite-tagging as alternatives.


International Vulture Awareness Day Literary Competition

Posted on: August 13th, 2018 by Hannah Shaw

Calling all budding writers and poets!

Does the vulture crisis concern you? Does it stir up emotions when you think about vultures and the problems they face? Then, we want to hear from you.


©2019 Hawk Conservancy Trust