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Northern Bald Ibis shot and killed in Spain

After an extraordinary sea crossing from Italy, the reintroduced Northern Bald Ibis was illegally shot and killed in Spain.

Knubbel is a juvenile female Northern Bald Ibis that hatched on 3 June 2023 in Überlingen at Lake Constance and grew up there. During the autumn migration, the bird lost contact with its conspecifics in northern Italy. From then on, it showed the south-west orientation typical of unaccompanied juveniles.

Since Knubbel wore a GPS transmitter, her flight can be reconstructed very precisely:

On 15 December at 11:41 a.m. Knubbel leaves the mainland between Genoa and La-Specia and flies a constant south-west course out towards the Mediterranean. At around 5:00 p.m. she changes course and flies approximately 150 km east towards Corsica. After sunset, the bird reaches the coast north of Calvi and spends the night there. On that day, Knubbel covered a distance of 470 km non-stop over the open sea.

On the morning of 16 December at 9:00 a.m. she leaves the Corsican coast and again following a course towards the south-west. It is already 6:30 p.m., an hour after sunset, when Knubbel flies north past Menorca. Since she changes course to the west at that time, she does not reach Mallorca, but flies towards the Spanish mainland between Barcelona and Valencia. Only 20 kilometres from the coast, she comes across an oil platform in the dark and spends the night there. The flight distance that day was an incredible 760 kilometres, which, according to the data, the bird covered non-stop without consuming water or food. It is the longest daily flight distance ever documented for a Northern Bald Ibis.

At 7:35 a.m. the next morning, Knubbel continues her flight and reaches the Spanish coast at 8:20 a.m. just a few kilometres south of the famous Ebro estuary. After just a 30-minute break, she continues the flight, flies over the mountains near the coast and reaches an altitude of 1,500 meters. The bird’s flight ends around 90 kilometres inland, near the town of Calanda, province of Teruel, Aragon, Spain.

In total, the juvenile covered a distance of 1,320 kilometres in three flight stages, at an average flight speed of 57 km/h. This flight is a fascinating example of the capabilities of migratory birds, especially considering it was an inexperienced juvenile bird flying alone.

The incredible flight over the open sea of the Northern Bald Ibis “Knubbel”.
The incredible flight over the open sea of the Northern Bald Ibis “Knubbel” (Waldrappteam).

Unfortunately, Knubbel’s record flight comes to a sad end. The bird stays in the Calanda area for around a week, then the data from its transmitter indicate an injury and ultimately its death. Regional conservation officials recovered the bird based on the GPS data. A forensic examination determined death by shooting.

Recovery of the dead Northern Bald Ibis “Knubbel” (Agentes para la Protección de la Naturaleza, Gobierno de Aragón)
Recovery of the dead Northern Bald Ibis “Knubbel” (Agentes para la Protección de la Naturaleza, Gobierno de Aragón).

Knubbel is the first Northern Bald Ibis from our population to be illegally shot in Spain. Its incredible performance made this bird a personality, and we were full of hope that it would continue its flight and meet its conspecifics in Andalusia. All of this was senselessly and contemptibly ended by the perpetrator.

Sadly, Knubbel’s case tragically highlights that illegal bird hunting poses a significant threat to biodiversity not only in Italy but also along the migratory route to Andalusia. We will report every case in Spain and hope for efficient investigations by the Spanish justice system, as it is the case in Italy. And we hope that the Spanish hunting associations will consistently stand on the side of the law and vigorously combat poaching.

By Waldrappteam.

1 thought on “Northern Bald Ibis shot and killed in Spain”

  1. This is very bittersweet news. The flight of the Ibis is remarkable but it’s ultimate end very sad. Please keep up your efforts to protect these valuable birds and find the senseless hunters.
    Also, do you have a more current census of the NBI? I use this information while speaking with our guests at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

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