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First White-backed Vulture for Morocco and North Africa

A mega Western Palearctic rarity! Yesterday, we reported the observation of 3 Rüppell’s Vultures at a carcass near Tétouan, northern Morocco. Today, we went back to the site and to our great pleasure we found a White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) with the other birds that roosted locally the previous night.

At our arrival at the site, we found only some vultures actually still feeding on the carcass, while the rest of the group have roosted some meters away (there were 3 Rüppell’s and 38 Griffons in total at the site today). As we watched them, more vultures started to leave the carcass to join the roosting group (Note: we didn’t scare them as this whole process took more than an hour). At some point, there were only three birds at the carcass: a Griffon Vulture, a Rüppell’s Vulture and a smaller vulture (see photos). This made the identification straightforward by comparing the three species together in a single view. Long story short, the White-backed Vulture was actually identified in the field as one of us (M. Amezian) was aware of previous WP records of this species.

We all enjoyed watched them for an extended period, and Karim made several small videos of the vultures and of the rest of us.

Three Gyps vulture species at Tétouan, northern Morocco. From left to right: White-backed (Gyps africanus), Rüppell’s (Gyps rueppelli) and Griffon (Gyps fulvus) vultures.

This is the first record for Morocco and North Africa for the White-backed Vulture, and it is only the 4th record for the Western Palearctic. The three previous records were seen near the Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain between 2008 and 2011: 2 at Tarifa and 1 at Algeciras. There was also an earlier record from southern Portugal (an adult at Cape São Vicente on 14 October 2006) but it was classed in Category D (= doubtful origin) at the time. In light of the subsequent records from Spain and especially this one from Morocco, this Portuguese record may probably be reviewed.

The White-backed Vulture breeds in sub-Saharan Africa and classified as an ‘Endangered species’ by the IUCN (Red List 2012).

Thanks to Javier Elloriaga, Richard Klim and Dominic Mitchell and other birders for their comments regarding the previous records in the Western Palearctic.

Observers: Mohamed Amezian, Rachid El Khamlichi (photos) and Mohammed Karim El Haoua

White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) and Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) on the right, Tétouan, Morocco, 25 May 2014

Update 1:

Next day at lunchtime, we went back to the site but we haven’t found any vulture neither at the carcass nor in the surrounding area. Most likely they have moved to the direction of Jbel Moussa after we left the area yesterday or earlier today. Good luck for the birders around the Strait of Gibraltar.

In summary, this May was a vultures’ mouth by excellence: 10 Rüppell’s Vultures and one White-backed Vulture in 4 days (10, 11, 24 and 25 May. See this link: https://magornitho.org/2014/05/)

Update 2: White-backed Vulture in Portugal

A bird seen at the Biological Station of Garducho, Mourão, southern Portugal on 24 August 2014 by Alfonso Godino and Catarina Machado.

There is a probability that it’s the same bird we saw at Tétouan in May. Of course, it could also be a different bird, analysis of plumage of both birds could help.

Vautour africain: une nouvelle espèce pour l’Afrique du Nord

Un Vautour africain (ou Vautour à dos blanc) a été observé avec un groupe de 3 Vautours de Rüppell et de 38 Vautours fauves près Tétouan au nord du Maroc aujourd’hui. C’est la première observation pour le Maroc et l’Afrique du Nord et la 4ème ou 5ème pour le Paléarctique occidental pour cette espèce.

Le Vautour africain se reproduit en Afrique sub-saharienne et classé comme une espèce ‘En danger d’extinction’ par l’UICN (Liste Rouge 2012).

White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) and Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppelli) on the right, Tétouan, Morocco, 25 May 2014.
The iconic photo of the three Gyps vulture species as published in Birdwatch Magazine.

4 thoughts on “First White-backed Vulture for Morocco and North Africa”

  1. Birds, Bats and Wind Farms

    There are observations of Gyps africanus already in Spain over the past years, and one even collided with a wind turbine in Cadiz province.

    1. Moroccan Birds

      Thanks for your comment.

      Indeed, as others commented, there are 3 accepted records from southern Spain. There is also an earlier record (October 206) from Portugal but it was classed in Category D (means they had doubts whether the bird arrived naturally or it was an escape). These are the only Western Palearctic records so far.

      Wind turbines are fatal for native birds as well as vagrants like the unlucky vulture you mentioned which flown all the way from sub-Sahara Africa just to be collide with them. Unfortunately for birds, there are many of these wind turbines on both shores of the Strait of Gibraltar.

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