Since 1990 the black vulture, Aegypius monachus, has been included in the “Of Special Interest” category in the National Catalogue of Endangered Species. In Castilla-La Mancha the species has been included in the Regional Catalogue of Endangered Species in the “Vulnerable” Category.
Poster: Black vulture (Aegypius monachus) Recovery Plan in Castilla-La Mancha.
Black vulture Aegypius
monachus (Linnaeus, 1766)
Order: Accipitriformes, family: Accipitridae. Monotypic genus and species (the only species described for the genus Aegypius which, moreover, does not present subspecies), although there are slight morphological variations between birds from different geographical areas. The Iberian Peninsula black vultures are the smallest of the species.
Cinereus vulture, black vulture (English), vautour moine (French), voltor negre (Catalan), voitre negro abutre cincento (Galician), sai beltza (Basque).
This is a large size scavenger, the largest inhabiting the Paleartic. It reaches 10.3 kg in weight, with a wingspan of nearly 3 m. Its dark silhouette, the presence of a large black feather on the head, and the characteristic neck feathers give this bird its scientific name of monk vulture (Latin: monachus). Young birds usually display a darker, more matt colour than adults, with the head completely covered with a large blackish feather. The adult birds have a uniform brown plumage, with a broad ruff and head a light cream colour with darker markings of different sizes. In flight they appear as a rectangular figure, with the head not far extended. The tail is broad and slightly wedge-shaped. The wings are a little wider at the base; at the ends, are 6 or 7 primary feathers, rather finger-like in form.
A sedentary species, less sociable than other vultures, it forms loose-knit breeding colonies. It constructs very voluminous nests in trees, where it lays one sole egg between the end of December and the beginning of March. Chicks may be found in the nest until the beginning of September. Reproductive success (no. of chicks flown /no. of nests where at least one egg hatched) in Castilla-La Mancha in 2006 was 0.72 and productivity (no. of chicks in flight/no. of pairs initiating reproduction) 0.63 chicks/`pair. The black vulture is an eminently carrion-eating bird; it feeds mainly on carrion of mammals, selecting not very large pieces. The rabbit is very important in its diet, appearing at the rate of 45-60% in some areas. This bird also takes advantage of wild ungulate corpses and livestock, mainly sheep and goats. A large part of its daily activity is taken up by the search for food, exploring the area surrounding the nest-building site in a radius of 16-28 km on average, although individual birds may be detected at distances over 80 km from their rearing area. Non-reproductive birds make major dispersive movements; during the first 3-5 years of life they move between different breeding areas and those with a plentiful supply of food, occasionally reaching the north of the peninsula and even areas of sub-Saharan Africa.
The species belongs to forest areas of pines or quercíneas. In Castilla-La Mancha it locates its nests in Mediterranean woodland areas with abundant oaks and cork oaks, preferring the latter for nest-building. In the National Park of Cabañeros, the favoured nest-building habitat this bird selects is located at between 850 and 900 m of altitude, facing south and south-west, with slopes of a gradient between 15 and 25%, in the proximity of stone quarries. In contrast, areas near tracks and roads are avoided.
When foraging, the black vulture selects a large variety of habitats, generally less tree-covered than nesting areas. However, it can also use scrubland areas successfully, oak groves converted into pasture areas, and uncultivated areas with scrubland, in general less tree-covered than areas used by the Griffon vulture, Gyps fulvus.
A species native to the south Paleartic. On the Iberian Peninsula it is found distributed over the south-west quadrant.
Castilla-La Mancha is the autonomous community that hosts the second largest population of black vulture in Spain. Practically all the breeding pairs are located in the province of Ciudad Real, with only two pairs in Toledo. They are found mainly in the Montes de Toledo - principally in the National Park of Cabañeros and its surrounding area: Sierra de los Canalizos, the shady part of the valley of Alcudia, and the slopes of the River Guadiana. In the dispersal phase they appear in many other areas of the western half of Castilla-La Mancha, such as the plains of Oropesa, La Jara, Sagra-Torrijos or lands to south of the Tagus in the province of Toledo. They also appear sporadically or accidentally in other areas of Castilla-La Mancha.
In 2006 the Spanish population of black vultures was calculated at 1,845 breeding pairs, 138% more than the 1988 census.
In 2006 a total of 367 breeding pairs were located in Castilla-La Mancha, as opposed to 274 pairs registered in 2001. The most important nucleus is in the National Park of Cabañeros and its area of influence, with 216 pairs, followed by 129 pairs in the Alcudia valley, 20 in Sierra de Los Canalizos and 2 definite pairs on the River Guadiana. The general trend of the species in Castilla-La Mancha is very positive, although it is difficult to ascertain the real increase as estimates before 1980 are not complete.
Growth in the number of breeding pairs of black vulture during the period 2002-2006 in Castilla-La Mancha (source: Organismo Autónomo Espacios Naturales, Castilla-La Mancha)
Distribution of colonies of breeding pairs of Black vulture in Castilla-La Mancha (source: de la Puente et al 2007)
The destruction of their nesting habitats, along with the use of poison and the electrocution of birds on power lines, caused a huge fall in species numbers during the 20th century. Also, the enforcement of new legislation on animal health in recent years has produced a decrease in the availability of carrion and cattle remains, a circumstance that also seems to be having a negative effect on the species.
The conservation measures adopted, such as prohibiting the use of poison, the conservation of nest-building areas, the correction of power lines, and the creation of rubbish tips have given rise to a spectacular recovery experienced by its populations in recent decades. The trend is very positive in all groups, with the exception of the Sierra de Los Canalizos where a considerable reduction in the number of breeding pairs has been recorded, observing the disappearance of 45% since 2003.
At the present time the most pressing problems for this species are the illegal use of poisoned bait used for illegal culling of predators, and the recent measures on health animal that prevent abandoning domestic and hunted animal corpses in the countryside. This could turn out to be a serious threat for this species in the medium term, due to the removal of their food stocks.
Since 1990 the black vulture, Aegypius monachus, has been included in the “Of Special Interest” category in the National Catalogue of Endangered Species (Royal Decree 439/1990 of 30th March), although the most recent Red Book of Birds of Spain considers it as “Vulnerable” on a national scale.
In Castilla-La Mancha, the species is included in the Regional Catalogue of Endangered Species in the “Vulnerable” category (Decree 33/1998, of 5th May). In September, 2003 the Plan for conservation of the black vulture was approved and areas critical for the survival of the species in Castilla-La Mancha were declared as sensitive (Decree 275/2003, 9th September).
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