News

First nesting of Black Vultures in Bulgaria for the last 30 years

1
03/21/2021

After nearly 30 years of hard work, conservationists from the Green Balkans, the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna and the Birds of Prey Protection Society achieved an incredible success! For the first time, 28 years after the last known nesting of the Black Vulture in Bulgaria, we mark the formation of three pairs in the Balkan Mountains. The same three pairs are also the first birds of the species ever found and photographed in the Balkan Mountains!

The pairs nest on special platforms set up by conservationists and are part of the species long-term reintroduction program. It began literally decades ago, with the first ideas and activities for the restoration of large vultures, as part of an international program and the Balkan reintroduction plan.

The first results of the program were achieved with the restoration of Griffon Vultures as a nesting species in the Kresna Gorge and Stara Planina. In recent years, conservationists have released more than 350 Griffon Vultures donated by the Kingdom of Spain, France and more than 19 zoos in seven countries.

The second goal of the three civic organizations is the return of the Black Vulture, an extinct species. In recent years, as part of the activities of the "Bright Future for the Black Vulture", LIFE14 NAT/BG/649 project a total of 59 Black Vultures were donated by Spain, at the cost of great efforts of a large international team. The nesting of the species in the Balkan Mountains for the first time in the "new history" of nature protection in the country is a huge success. Wild birds and couples face a number of dangers and challenges, so we will follow their fate with interest, hoping to nest successfully this year and create a new generation. Follow their fate on the project website: https://greenbalkans.org/VulturesBack/en/ 

Additional information
Once very common and ubiquitous throughout the country until the early twentieth century, the Black Vulture is thought to have disappeared from Bulgaria. This fact is officially described for the first time in the Red Book of the Republic of Bulgaria from 1985, when the species was placed in the category "extinct". The actual extinction probably occurred in the period 1950-1960, when nesting data were no longer available and observations of the species became extremely rare.

In the 1980s, sightings of single birds and small groups of the species became more frequent in the Eastern Rhodopes, where individuals from the last known colony of the Balkan species in the Dadya forest in Greece entered the border area. Probably such individuals formed a pair and nested in the area of ​​Studen Kladenets Dam, where in 1993 the first nest of the species in Bulgaria in decades and the last since then was discovered. After one successful nesting, the pair disappears and the return of the species was fleeting, which gives reason for the Black Vulture to remain in the "extinct" category in the next edition of the Red Book of Bulgaria in 2011.

In 2015, the “Bright Future for the Black Vulture” LIFE14 NAT/BG/649 partnership project was launched, between Green Balkans (www.greenbalkans.org), the Fund for the Wild Flora and Fauna (www.fwff.org), the Birds of Prey Protection Society (www.bpps.org), the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF - www.4vultures.org), the Euronatur Foundation (www.euronatur.org) and the Extremadura Regional Government (www.juntaex.es). The project is funded by the EU LIFE program and aims to restore the species in Bulgaria through reintroduction (release of birds raised in captivity or by supplying birds from other areas). Thus, in 2018 the import of individuals from Extremadura (Spain) and various European zoos and their release in the Eastern Balkan Mountains (near Kotel and in the "Sinite kamani" Nature Park) and the "Vratsa Balkan" Nature Park began.

The restoration of an extinct species in a native area is not a one-off activity. In preliminary studies on the possibility of success, the following parameters were set:
1. Groups of 5-10 Black Vultures settled in the areas of release.
2. All-year-round presence of the species in the areas of ​​release.
3. Formation of constant pairs;
4. Demonstration of breeding behavior by the formed pairs (occupation of territory, nest construction, mating flights and copulations).
5. Egg laying.
6. Raising a chick.
7. A minimum of 5-6 chicks raised annually in the territory of release compensating for the loss of individuals for various reasons.

By the end of 2019, after the release of a total of 18 birds, the first goal was achieved for the Eastern Stara Planina region, and by the end of 2020 the second and third goals were met. In 2020, the release of 10 Black Vultures in the Vratsa Balkans led to the achievement of item 1 for the Vratsa Balkan Nature Park.

In early 2021, with the progression of the breeding season, a total of three pairs of Black Vultures began nesting activity. Two couples in the Eastern Stara Planina have taken nests (artificial platforms, deliberately made by the project team) and are actively “upgrading” them. Copulation was also observed in one of the pairs. At the same time, there is a couple formed and building a nest in the Vratsa Balkans. These are the first active nests of the species observed for 28 years in Bulgaria and the first ever established and photographed in the Balkan Mountains.

This is a turning point for the recovery of the species, because even if these couples fail to raise a chick this year (due to youth and inexperience), at least we know that they have already accepted the region of Eastern Stara Planina as their home and it is very likely that the next stages of the restoration of the species in the country will take place.

Another important thing is that the birds approve and occupy nests on deciduous tree species, such as Sessile Oak. In Spain, there are also nests on oaks, but they prefer evergreen species such as the Kermes oak and Cork Oak. In Dadya (Greece) they nest exclusively on pines, and in Turkey and Georgia on pines and junipers. This feature led the project team to expect that birds raised and imprinted on Mediterranean forest nesting substrate were unlikely to accept nesting on deciduous species from the continental shelf, and that they would probably seek to build their nests on pines. Although artificial platforms were also built on pines, so far the two pairs have occupied nests on deciduous oaks. This gives a good prospect that Bulgaria and other countries with a predominant continental climate and vegetation will be able to provide conditions for the Black Vulture and it can return in parts of its historic range, where it disappeared due to human intervention.

Today, although there are no giant oaks and elms in the plains and semi-mountains, there are still places that with purposeful management can be re-occupied by the Black Vulture and the species can return to the Bulgarian avifauna, which after the latest news is closer than ever.

Contacts:
Ivelin Ivanov - "Bright Future for the Black Vulture" LIFE14 NAT/BG/649 Project Manager
phone: +359887 589995, email: iivanov@greenbalkans.org
Emilian Stoynov - Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna Coordinator
phone: +359878 573841, email: pirin@fwff.org