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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.

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…)

New fundraising banner

Posted on: September 17th, 2018 by Alice

We are grateful to Go Displays, manufacturers of Banner Stands, who have provided us with a free Switch Banner. The banner includes details of our Poison Response Action Campaign and we hope it will help us raise funds for this vital project.

We’re Recruiting: Field Research Volunteers

Posted on: February 5th, 2018 by Alice

We are recruiting part-time unpaid Field Volunteers to continue an existing project with the Hawk Conservancy Trust. The project is a study of the biodiversity at different sites. We are looking for volunteers with experience in small mammal trapping and small mammal identification skills. Experience with other surveying techniques such as bird point counts, invertebrate pitfall trapping and vegetation transects would be excellent! The fieldwork is flexible however you would need to provide a minimum of one trapping session per week commitment on an ongoing basis, and have a full driving licence with access to your own transport as you would need to travel to field sites independently for surveys. If you think you might be who we are looking for, please fill out the online application below. Please provide as much detail as possible about your previous surveying experience; a full CV is not necessary.

The work of the Field Volunteers will continue a project started by Conservation and Research Intern, Abbie Maiden. Watch this video from Abbie to find out more about what this work involves:

If you are successful, you will be asked for a contribution (£10.00) towards a Disclosure and Barring Service (previously CRB) check. Once this check has been carried out, we will be thrilled to welcome you into our team as one of our valued volunteers.

Start date: Spring 2018

Terms: Ongoing, Unpaid Voluntary, one trapping session per week minimum

Location: Hawk Conservancy Trust, Andover and field sites within 10km

The ideal volunteer would have:

To register your interest in volunteering with us, please fill in the below form and we will be in touch in due course.

For how many trapping sessions per week could you volunteer?

On which day(s) would you be available to volunteer?
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The highs and lows of Ben and James’s fundraising challenges

Posted on: October 20th, 2017 by Alice

Last month, Ben and James took on the challenges they set themselves in order to raise funds for critically endangered vultures. Thank you to everyone who has supported them.

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What happens to birds after they are released from the National Bird of Prey Hospital™?

Posted on: September 4th, 2017 by Alice

Each year, the Trust admits dozens of sick and injured birds into its National Bird of Prey Hospital™. After receiving expert veterinary treatment and rehabilitation, many of these birds are then released back into the wild. As part of an assessment of the success of our treatment and rehabilitation programme, all released birds are fitted with a BTO metal ring. Several of these birds (usually Tawny or Barn Owls) have since been re-encountered during checks of local nest boxes. Although useful, the low recovery rate of ringed birds means that it can take a long time to generate enough data to make a thorough assessment of the success of rehabilitation. A more direct approach is to use radio-transmitters to monitor daily movements of released birds.

We are now continuing this work using rehabilitated Buzzards. Only those birds more than two years old and found less than 25km from the Trust are included in this study. This is because young Buzzards are prone to disperse more than 20km in their first 18 months, whereas adults tend to stay within the same territory. The transmitters we are using have a maximum range of approximately 10km, and so we have a better chance of maintaining contact with adult birds. The transmitter is attached to one of the central tail feathers, and will eventually be shed when these feathers are moulted.

The first bird released with a transmitter had been in rehabilitation at the Trust for almost a month, having been brought to us after being found alongside a road. It was released near to where it was originally found, near Collingbourne Kingston on 3 July (white marker on the above map). On release, the bird flew strongly to the north before heading due east. It was relocated later the same day at Brokenway Copse, an 8.4ha area of woodland 3km east of the release site. Daily checks by our intern, Abigail Maiden, have revealed the bird to be spending almost all of its time in the vicinity of the same stretch of woodland, occasionally being seen in nearby roadside trees or soaring over the area. On most days since settling in its current location, the bird has been recorded interacting with a juvenile Buzzard. Our bird looks healthy and, more than eight weeks after release, it appears that its rehabilitation has been successful.

The video below shows when we released this Buzzard back to the wild:

Some of our sightings of the Buzzard post-release:

New Long-eared Owls

Posted on: August 10th, 2017 by Alice

In April of 2017 our team was joined by two adorable balls of fluff.

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