Delight as black vultures return to southern Portugal after 40-year absence

Conservationists are delighted to report that two pairs of nesting black vultures have been spotted in the Alentejo – 40 years after the last known reproduction of this species in southern Portugal.

Eurasian black vultures have been going through a particularly black period, with a point in the 1970s where the entire species had become extinct in Portugal altogether.

Now on the critically endangered list, conservation efforts have seen birds return bit by bit to the point where there are now at least 13 breeding pairs in central and northern Portugal – but this is the first sighting of the much-maligned carrion-eater nesting south of the Tejo.

As Flora and Fauna International writes, this is “a major milestone and shows that conditions have improved to a level that can support a breeding population”.

Conservationists have been encouraging the bird by constructing feeding and nesting platforms.

But it is still not plain sailing for what is one of the world’s largest birds of prey, with a wing-span that can reach almost three metres across.

The introduction of veterinary diclofenac – an anti-inflammatory painkiller used to treat livestock – is a major emerging concern, writes Flora and Fauna International’s communications officer Sarah Rakowski.

“Fatal to vultures that feed on contaminated carcasses, it is thought to be responsible for the catastrophic decline of vultures in Southeast Asia (over 90% in the last 20 years),” she adds.

While diclofenac is banned in some countries, it is still available for sale in Spain and Italy.

Rakowski agrees that no vulture deaths in Portugal have been traced to the drug, but that does not mean the threat does not exist.

In other words, “the team will be monitoring the situation closely”.

Meantime, the southern region’s latest new arrivals ensconced in the Herdade da Contenda, in the borough of Moura, near Beja, are apparently doing nicely.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]