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Vultures of the Ukrainian fauna

Tsvelykh A.N., Appak B.A., Beskaravainy M.M., Kostin S.Yu., Osipova M.A. Vultures of the Ukrainian fauna. Kiev, 2018: 1–188.

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Fauna of Ukraine includes four vultures’ species, namely: Black Vulture Aegypius monachus, Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus, Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus and Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus.
First information on the Black Vulture presence in the territory of Ukraine belongs to the Late Pleistocene. Remains of this species were found during excavations of the Late Paleolithic site of the ancient man in the Cherkassy region. Other its finds date from the antique time.
In Ukraine, the Black Vulture nests only in the mountainous part of the Crimean peninsula. This species has appeared on the nesting in the Crimea relatively recently – most likely at the end of the XIX century. At the present two nesting areas of the Black Vulture are known here – both are located in the central part of the Crimean mountains, at a distance of 20-30 km one from the other. Wandering birds can be often met in the foothills and much less common in the Crimean plains. During such travels rarely they can fly out beyond the peninsula.
During the XIX century and in the first third of the XX century, when the nesting area of the Black Vulture in Europe extended much northern in comparison with that it is observed today, this species had been rather often recorded in the different regions of Ukraine. Most such meetings were happened in May and in summer, but not very rare also in winter, as well as in autumn – mainly in October. After the mid-30-ies of the twentieth century, meetings of the Black Vultures practically stopped.
The earliest evidences of the Griffon Vulture presence in the territory of Ukraine go to the Middle Ages. The bones remains of this species, that were found during the excavations of the Voin medieval town in the Poltava region (XI-XII century AD), are belonging to this period, like the graffiti imaging the Griffons, that were revealed in the ancient Chersonese (XI century) in the Crimea.
In the territory of Ukraine two spatially disconnected nesting areas of the Griffon Vulture are known – in the Crimean Mountains and in the Dniester River valley. In the latter area its nesting has stopped as long ago as XIX century, but in the Crimea this bird is residing as before. At present in the Peninsula ten nesting places of the Griffon are discovered.
In the XIX-XX centuries the Griffon vultures were regularly observed in the different regions of Ukraine. Most of these meetings have occurred in the late-spring and summer periods, less often they were registered in the cold time of year. Since the beginning of the XXI century, the visits by Griffons of the territory of Ukraine have been recorded almost annually. Information on tagged birds which were observed in the Crimea and in adjacent areas, as well as in the north of Ukraine show that most of them are immature birds, having the Balkan origin.
In the Ukraine, there were two spatially separated nesting areas of the Egyptian vulture – in the Dniester River valley and in the Crimean Mountains. In the Dniester region this vulture nested until the mid-60s, and in the Crimea – until the end of the 50-ies of the XX century. Since the 70s of the XX century, the species is meeting in the Ukraine only as a visitor. Adults (both single individuals, and pairs) and young birds sporadically are appeared in the different regions of the country, including former areas of nesting. Most often such birds are recorded in spring, mainly in May, but sometimes they were observed in autumn and summer.
Monitoring of the movements of a vulture provided with a satellite transmitter, which had a Balkan origin and crossed Ukraine in August 2014, testifies to the possibility of flying these birds from the Balkan region.
The Bearded Vulture in Ukraine is known only as a very rare visitor.
Its visits in the Precarpathian and Transcarpathian regions were recorded in the first quarter of the XX century, when the northern boundary of the species’ nesting area in the Carpathians was maximally close to the modern borders of Ukraine. The monitoring of movements of an young bird, which was equipped with a satellite transmitter and visited the Transcarpathian and Rivne regions in June 2016, testifies to the possibility of flying this species to the territory of Ukraine at the present time, too.
Black Vulture nests in the Crimea by single pairs, but often at a relatively short distance from each other. These birds usually build nests on the flat tops of pines growing on the wooded mountain slopes. Pairs of these birds are permanent. The vultures, which hold by pairs, can be often observed far from the nesting sites at any time of the year.
Black vultures appear in the nesting sites in the last decade of February. At this time they begin to repair nests, or to build the new ones.
Mating occurs in February-March, the eggs are laid from the beginning of March up to the beginning of April. The egg is warmed by female. Chicks hatch from the late April up to end of May. In the day-time the little chicks are warmed only by a female, at night, they are warmed by both parents in turns, but the leading role here nevertheless belongs to the female. As long as the female warms the chick, the feed is supplied mainly by the male. He belches it into the nest, and the female feeds a chick by small portions. Initially, the parents feed a nestling up to five times per day, but in time the frequency of feeding decreases. When a nestling is becoming elder, adult birds bring him the food in turns, approximately in equal amount. Young birds leave the nests from the second
half of August to the middle of September. They usually stay with their parents until the next spring.
Black vultures feed on the carcasses of any, both domestic and wild animals, dying in the accessible for these birds places. Also it was noted, that among the food objects of these birds there are dead small mammals and birds, as well as small fish. Vultures quickly react to the appearance of any mass forage available for them.
Black vultures regularly wander within the mountainous area, the southern coast and the northern foothills of the Crimean peninsula. The frequency of the meetings in the non-nesting parts of the mountainous Crimea has an evident dynamics inside year. It increases in the postnesting time – in the autumn and in the winter, and its maximum falls on January. With the beginning of the breeding period in February, the frequency of vultures’ visits and the number of wandering birds sharply decreases and reaches a minimum in mid-summer. During travels, the vultures can visit the flat part of the Crimea, and also appear in the areas adjacent to the peninsula. Most cases of the vultures’ appearance in the plain Crimea as well occur in the late autumn and in winter.
Griffon vultures usually nest in small groups of two to eleven pairs, although separate nesting of individual pairs also observe. Nests are located in the niches, shallow grottoes, on the ledges under sheds of cliffs at altitudes from 250 m to 1200 m above sea level. Breeding period starts in January and the earliest mating was observed in the first decade of this month. At the same time, repairing the old nests or building new ones begins. Eggs are laid in January-February. They are warmed by both partners, which changing once in a few days. The chicks’ hatching begins in the second half of March and continues in April. The nestlings in the first down are warmed by parents almost constantly. After acquisition of the second down, the chicks are warmed by adult birds not so diligently.
When the nestlings are small, one of the parents is constantly in the nest, flying away only after the arrival of the partner. The bird which has arrived in with a food immediately starts to feed the chick, regurgitating a food by portions. Often an adult bird regurgitates not all the food at once, and feeds the chick some more times before the arrival of the partner with a new portion of food. Young vultures leave the nests from the end of June to the beginning of August. Griffon vultures can be met in the nesting sites whole year round.
Griffon vultures feed on the carcasses of domestic and wild animals, as well as the various meat wastes. Also it was noted, that among their food objects the dead birds, as well as small fish were noted. Griffons, like Black Vultures, quickly react to the appearance of any mass forage. In the Crimea, the Griffon and Black Vultures almost always feed together and therefore, these species apparently have not significant differences in the composition of the eaten food.
Griffons regularly make the wanderings in the mountain, foothill and the south coast areas of the Crimean Peninsula. The intensity of their movements increases in the post-nesting period and reach a maximum in the autumn months, and a minimum – in the late-spring and in summer. During such migrations the Griffon vultures can visit the plain parts of the Peninsula and the most of such occurences happen in the summer and autumn periods. Egyptian Vulture in the Dniester River valley was nesting in the niches and caves of rocky cliffs. Exact information on the dates of this species’ nesting in Ukraine are absent, but according to calculated data a beginning of egg-laying was happening in the second half of April. A clutch with two already incubated eggs was found in the mentioned region on 11.06.1965, a nestling with fully developed plumage was observed in the nest at the end of June 1948. An almost adult Egyptian vulture was registered on 19.08.1958, and the flying young birds were seen on 14.09.1965 in the nesting cave together with parents.
In Ukraine, it was the most often noted the feeding of Egyptian vulture with dead animals or edible waste, there are also data on its hunting for small animals, such as hedgehogs, ground squirrels and lizards.
Egyptian Vultures are the seasonal migrants. According to the data of four-year observations of a pair of vultures in the Dniester region, the birds were appearing in nesting places in late March and early April, and left them in the second half of November. In the Crimea, vultures were met in the winter as well.
The most pronounced antagonistic relationships, based on the territorial competition, exist between the Griffon Vulture and the Peregrine.
Protecting its nesting territory this falcon is constantly attacking the Griffons, which nest nearby. However, in most cases such attacks do not hinder from the process of feeding chicks, since the Peregrines pursue only the flying Griffons. The Ravens that also live in the same biotopes, as Griffons, also regularly attack the flying vultures. These birds often visit the nests of Griffons and even can attack the birds warming the clutch or their nestlings in the absence of parents. Usually such attacks are committed by a group of Ravens. However, the Griffons in the nests are actively defended itself, so such attacks are almost always ineffectual, although during the attacks, the Ravens can steal a portion of the feed brought to the vultures’ chick. For the Black Vulture, interspecific aggressive contacts on its nesting sites are extremely rare. They were observed practically only with the Ravens.
Outside the nesting territories, the most intense interspecific relations are formed at the foraging sites. There are known at least ten species of birds and mammals that more or less regularly have been present on the feeding grounds or were observed on animal carcasses and therefore can be considered as real or potential competitors to the adapted avian scavengers. The most strongly pronounced competitive relations are arose in the situation when the food has a diffuse distribution and (or) is fragmented, i.e. is accessible practically for all consumers, including the non-adapted ones. This is typical for anthropogenic sources of feed (dumps, poultry farms and rabbit farms, slaughterhouses, etc.),
where the relatively small fragments of animals present as a rule. This situation can be well tracked by means of specially organized feeding grounds, on which a significant part of observations of the behavior and relationships between consumers of carrion were carried out. In the Crimea the vultures have the most sharp relationships with the Raven which is the most numerous non-adapted consumer of carrion. This species, under the conditions described, plays the role of an equal competitor to the specialized feathery scavengers. However, in the cases of eating up the intact carcasses of dead animals Vultures get a full possibility to selfrealization in the capacity of the adapted necrophages and here ravens are unable to compete with them.
The main revealed reasons of losses in the Crimean population of Black Vulture are the following: ones happened due to human fault – 52.5%, connected with feeding – 22.5% and happened because of accidents or natural disasters – 25.0%. In the nesting period, the causes that influence the success of reproduction of the species are as follows: disturbance during incubation, disturbance during the time when the young birds leave the nest, as well as a removal of the chick from the nest for the keeping in captivity. The reasons for the death of the Griffon Vulture are as follows: 64% of those caused by human being, 20% related to food, 16% due to accidents. There are known not rare cases when both species of vultures fell a prey to poaching – were being shot or perished
in traps and in the poaching loops.
Black and Griffon Vultures get on the definitive plumage only for the fifth-seventh year of life. Such peculiarity allows assessing the age of birds observed in nature. There were three age groups picked out: young birds in youthful plumage – juveniles, adult birds in the definitive plumage – adultus and birds in different variations of the intermediate plumage, the so-called semi-adults, – subadultus. Belonging of birds to either of age group was determined on the grounds of several most obvious signs. For the Griffon this was a color of the collar and how it looks like, tone of the body’s feathers coloring, as well as a color of the beak and eyes. For the Black Vulture the tone of a color of the body’s plumage, a peculiarities of its head feathering, as well as the coloring of bare parts of the neck and head was assessing.
In the Crimean population of the Griffon Vulture, the subadultus birds participating in reproduction were recorded in all settlements. In old colonies there were relatively few such birds, but in the newly created ones they are in the majority. In the Griffons’ colonies a certain number of birds not participating in the breeding presents almost always.
Among them there are both adult individuals in the definitive plumage, and semi-adult birds in different versions of the intermediate plumage. For the Crimean Black Vultures in the meanwhile a participation in the reproduction of subadultus was not noted – as to our observations only adult birds were involved in the breeding process.
According to the data received in 2004-2007, calculations of the breeding success of the Black Vulture were carried out using different methodological approaches. The first of them included an analysis of the ratio of the number of active nests kept under observation and the nestlings surviving to being the flying. According to this approach, the breeding success of this species in the mentioned period averaged 67%, fluctuating from 50% to 100%. In the second approach, the number of revealed active nests was compared with the maximum number of fledglings simultaneously counted at the end of breeding season on the feeding sites. This method gave significantly lower indices – in accordance with them the breeding success of the Black Vulture in 2004-2007 was
on the average 37%, fluctuating from 21% to 55%. Probably, in the days of the counts far not all of the young birds appeared on the feeding grounds.
The breeding success of the Griffon Vulture, calculated using the first of above mentioned method averaged 83%, fluctuating from 67% to 100%. The breeding success of this species received in result of the second methodological approach also gave significantly lower indices. On average, it was 47%, fluctuating from 27% to 100%.
Thus, in the period 2004-2007, the breeding success of the Black and Griffon Vultures was on the average 67% and 83%, correspondingly. Analysis of the ratio of birds of different age categories in the gatherings of vultures was carried out by determining the age of individual birds according to the series of photographs taken at the feeding grounds. Young birds were the smallest part in populations of both the Griffon Vulture, and the Black Vulture. Their share in them did not exceed 10%.
In the Griffon population, the subadultus were majority. In the feeding gatherings their number more than threefold (by 3.3 times) exceeded the number of adult birds. Unlike the Griffon, in the population of the Black Vulture, the old birds were more than three times more numerous than the subadultus ones (by 3.4 times). Thus, the age structure of the Crimean populations of these species is significantly different – the majority of the Black Vulture population is consisted of old birds, and of the Griffon Vulture – of semi-adult ones.
In the territory of Ukraine the Black Vultures, both young and adult ones, were being met outside their breeding areas. Among them there were also the birds in the definitive plumage, observed in the nesting period. This fact can speak that such birds most likely were immature or non-breeding. Among the Griffons, which were registered beyond their nesting area, the birds of all age categories were met, but the adult individuals in the definitive plumage were being observed in the exceptional cases. Egyptian vultures, met in the territory of Ukraine, in the most cases were in adult or in almost adult black and white plumage. As to obviously young birds which had a brown coloring of plumage, then such meetings were very few.
According to the analysis of the change in the ratio of species and their number in the largest gatherings of vultures for the past century and a half, the number of the Black Vulture in the Crimea was being increased until the middle of the 20th century. Subsequently the number of this species decreased, and only now a tendency to its increasing has appeared again. The number of the Griffon Vulture was maximal in the 19th century, then in the 20th century it declined significantly, and in the beginning of the 21st century it has increased again.
Analysis of the dynamics of the Black Vultures number in the largest gatherings, the analysis of the changes in the number of the annually occupied active nests, as well as the analysis of the dynamics of these birds’ appearances outside the nesting areas show that their number in the Crimea during the second half of the 20th century declined steadily and reached a critical level by the end of century. Since the late 1990s, decline in a number of a species has ceased and later on it began gradually to increase. This growth has continued in the first decade of the 2000s as well.
Analysis of changes in the average number of the Griffon vulture in the largest gatherings of these birds and the analysis of the dynamics of their observations outside the breeding areas in the period from the end of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century, shows that quantity of this species in the Crimea began to gradually increase in the end of 1990s. This growth continued during the first decade of the 2000s, as well.
Results of special works carried out during 2003-2007 allowed estimating the true size of breeding populations of the vultures in the Crimean peninsula at the beginning of the XXI century. The key indices in determining the total number of these species were the results of the spring counting of birds at the feeding grounds and the results of counting the active nests number. When counting, the circumstance was being taken into account that in the spring one member of the pair is constantly at the nest and that is why it cannot be present at the feeding place at a moment when the counting is carried out. Therefore, to the maximum number of birds, counted in the spring, the number of active nests, found during the season, was adding. In addition, as by the autumn the species
populations are replenished with the grown-up chicks. In this connection the maximum number of juveniles simultaneously counted at the end of the breeding season also can be added to the above mentioned figures.
As a result of such calculations the following figures were obtained: the Black Vulture population in the Crimea numbered by 2007 as minimum 70 individuals, and the Griffon Vulture population not less than 120 ones.


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