Studying Movement of Avian Scavengers to Understand Carrion Ecology

  • Olivier DuriezEmail author
  • Roi Harel
  • Ohad Hatzofe
Part of the Wildlife Research Monographs book series (WIREMO, volume 2)


Scavenging is a key process in the ecosystems. Studying foraging movements of obligate scavengers such as vultures can contribute to a better understanding of the scavenging-related patterns and processes. Here we review methods that can be used to track foraging vultures in the field. Yet, in order to track, vultures need to be trapped and tagged in manner that would ensure their health and normal survival and behavior. GPS telemetry is currently the best tool to track vultures for foraging studies. In a review of recent studies, we highlight the predominance of studies of species from Europe, North America and Southern Africa, and we deplore the lack of knowledge of species from the Tropics. Home ranges vary tremendously between sites, season and species (from a few km2 to >300,000 km2) but also depending on the analysis method used. Daily distances travelled are more repeatable between species, with values ranging between 30 and 40 km. Yet the way that carrion distribution can affect scavenger distribution and foraging behavior is still poorly understood.


Accipitridae Cathartidae Home range Space use Tagging Telemetry Trapping 



The authors want to thank all their colleagues who helped capturing and tagging vultures in the field, A. Camiña, I. Shaked and J. Brandt for providing photos of trapping and tagging techniques, and the editors of the book for giving the opportunity to write this chapter.


  1. Alarcon PAE, Morales JM, Donazar JA, Sanchez-Zapata JA, Hiraldo F, Lambertucci SA (2017) Sexual-size dimorphism modulates the trade-off between exploiting food and wind resources in a large avian scavenger. Sci Rep 7:11461. Scholar
  2. Arrondo E, Moleon M, Cortes-Avizanda A, Jimenez J, Beja P, Sanchez-Zapata JA, Donazar JA (2018) Invisible barriers: differential sanitary regulations constrain vulture movements across country borders. Biol Conserv 219:46–52. Scholar
  3. Avery ML, Humphrey JS, Daughtery TS, Fischer JW, Milleson MP, Tillman EA, Bruce WE, Walter WD (2011) Vulture flight behavior and implications for aircraft safety. J Wildl Manag 75(7):1581–1587. Scholar
  4. Bamford AJ, Diekmann M, Monadjem A, Mendelsohn J (2007) Ranging behaviour of cape vultures Gyps coprotheres from an endangered population in Namibia. Bird Conserv Int 17(04):331–339. Scholar
  5. Bamford AJ, Monadjem A, Diekmann M, Hardy ICW (2009) Development of non-explosive-based methods for mass capture of vultures. S Afr J Wildl Res 39(2):202–208. Scholar
  6. Barber DR, Bildstein KL (2011) A lightweight portable, walk-in trap for catching vultures. Vulture News 60:22–25Google Scholar
  7. Batbayar N, Reading R, Kenny D, Natsagdorj T, Kee PW (2008) Migration and movement patterns of cinereous vultures in Mongolia. Falco 32:5–7Google Scholar
  8. Benhamou S, Cornélis D (2010) Incorporating movement behavior and barriers to improve Kernel home range space use estimates. J Wildl Manag 74(6):1353–1360. Scholar
  9. Bird DM, Bildstein KL (2007) Raptor research and management techniques. Hancock House Publishers, SurreyGoogle Scholar
  10. Bloom P, Clark W, Kidd J (2007) Capture techniques. In: Bird DM, Bildstein KL (eds) Raptor research and management techniques. Hancock House Publishers, Surrey, pp 242–248Google Scholar
  11. Bögel R, Prinzinger R, Karl E, Walzer C (2000) A multisensor telemetry system for studying flight biology and energetics of free-flying griffon vultures - Gyps fulvus. A case study. In: Chancellor RD, Meyburg B-U (eds) Raptors at risk. WWGBP/Hancock House, Johannesburg, pp 879–883Google Scholar
  12. Bonter DN, Bridge ES (2011) Applications of radio frequency identification (RFID) in ornithological research: a review. J Field Ornithol 82(1):1–10. Scholar
  13. Bosè M, Duriez O, Sarrazin F (2012) Intra-specific competition in foraging griffon vultures: 1. The dynamics of feeding in groups. Bird Study 59:182–192. Scholar
  14. Buckley NJ (1996) Food finding and the influence of information, local enhancement, and communal roosting on foraging success of North American vultures. Auk 113(2):473–488CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Carrete M, Bortolotti GR, Sánchez-Zapata JA et al (2013) Stressful conditions experienced by endangered Egyptian vultures on African wintering areas. Anim Conserv 16(3):353–358. Scholar
  16. Castaño JP, Sanchez JF, Diaz-Portero MA, Robles M (2015) Dispersal and survival of juvenile black vultures Aegypius monachus in central Spain. Ardeola 62(2):351–361CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cortes-Avizanda A, Jovani R, Donazar JA, Grimm V (2014) Bird sky networks: how do avian scavengers use social information to find carrion? Ecology 95(7):1799–1808. Scholar
  18. DeVault TL, Beasley JC, Olson ZH et al (2016) Ecosystem services provided by avian scavengers. In: Sekercioglu CH (ed) Why birds matter. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p 36Google Scholar
  19. Deygout C, Gault A, Sarrazin F, Bessa-Gomes C (2009) Modeling the impact of feeding stations on vulture scavenging service efficiency. Ecol Model 220(15):1826–1835CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Deygout C, Gault A, Duriez O, Sarrazin F, Bessa-Gomes C (2010) Impact of food predictability on social facilitation by foraging scavengers. Behav Ecol 21(6):1131–1139. Scholar
  21. Dodge S, Bohrer G, Bildstein K, Davidson SC et al (2014) Environmental drivers of variability in the movement ecology of turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) in North and South America. Philos Trans R Soc London Ser B 369:1643. Scholar
  22. Dupont H, Mihoub JB, Becu N, Sarrazin F (2011) Modelling interactions between scavenger behaviour and farming practices: impacts on scavenger population and ecosystem service efficiency. Ecol Model 222(4):982–992CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Duriez O, Kato A, Tromp C et al (2014) How cheap is soaring flight in raptors? A preliminary investigation in freely-flying vultures. PLoS One 9(1):e84887CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fluhr J, Benhamou S, Riotte-Lambert L, Duriez O (2017) Assessing the risk for an obligate scavenger to be dependent on predictable feeding sources. Biol Conserv 215:92–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Garcia-Ripolles C, Lopez-Lopez P, Urios V (2011) Ranging behaviour of non-breeding Eurasian Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus: a GPS-telemetry study. Acta Ornithol 46:127–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gavashelishvili A, McGrady M, Ghasabian M, Bildstein KL (2012) Movements and habitat use by immature cinereous vultures (Aegypius monachus) from the caucasus. Bird Study 59:449–462. Scholar
  27. Gil JA, Baguena G, Sanchez-Castilla E et al (2014) Home ranges and movements of non-breeding bearded vultures tracked by satellite telemetry in the Pyrenees. Ardeola 61:379–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gilbert M, Watson RT, Ahmed S et al (2007) Vulture restaurants and their role in reducing diclofenac exposure in Asian vultures. Bird Conserv Int 17(1):63–77. Scholar
  29. Harel R, Duriez O, Spiegel O et al (2016a) Decision-making by a soaring bird: time, energy and risk considerations at different spatio-temporal scales. Philos Trans R Soc London Ser B 371(1704):20150397. Scholar
  30. Harel R, Horvitz N, Nathan R (2016b) Adult vultures outperform juveniles in challenging thermal soaring conditions. Sci Rep 6:27865CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Harel R, Spiegel O, Getz WM, Nathan R (2017) Social foraging and individual consistency in following behaviour: testing the information centre hypothesis in free-ranging vultures. Proc R Soc Lond B 284:1852. Scholar
  32. Holland AE, Byrne ME, Bryan AL, DeVault TL, Rhodes OE, Beasley JC (2017) Fine-scale assessment of home ranges and activity patterns for resident black vultures (Coragyps atratus) and turkey vultures (Cathartes aura). PLoS One 12(7):e0179819CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Houston DC (1974) Food searching in griffon vultures. East Afr Wild J 12:63–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Houston DC (1975) Ecological isolation of African scavenging birds. Ardea 63:55–64Google Scholar
  35. Houston DC (1994) Family cathartidae (new world vultures). In: del Hoyo J, Elliott A, Sargatal J (eds) Handbook of the birds of the world, New world vultures to guineafowls, vol 2. Lynx Edición, Barcelona, pp 24–41Google Scholar
  36. Iezekiel S, Woodley B, Hatzofe O (2003) Cage traps for Gyps fulvus. Vulture News 49:14–16Google Scholar
  37. Jackson AL, Ruxton GD, Houston DC (2008) The effect of social facilitation on foraging success in vultures: a modelling study. Biol Lett 4(3):311–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kane A, Jackson AL, Ogada DL, Monadjem A, McNally L (2014) Vultures acquire information on carcass location from scavenging eagles. Proc R Soc Lond B 281:1793. Scholar
  39. Kane A, Wolter K, Neser W, Kotze A, Naidoo V, Monadjem A (2016) Home range and habitat selection of cape vultures Gyps coprotheres in relation to supplementary feeding. Bird Study 63:387–394. Scholar
  40. Kendall CJ, Virani MZ, Hopcraft JGC, Bildstein KL, Rubenstein DI (2014) African vultures don’t follow migratory herds: scavenger habitat use is not mediated by prey abundance. PLoS One 9(1):e83470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Krüger S, Amar A (2017) Insights into post-fledging dispersal of bearded vultures Gypaetus barbatus in Southern Africa from GPS satellite telemetry. Bird Study 64(2):125–131. Scholar
  42. Krüger S, Reid T, Amar A (2014) Differential range use between age classes of Southern African bearded vultures Gypaetus barbatus. PLoS One 9(12):e114920CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lambertucci SA, Alarcon PAE, Hiraldo F, Sanchez-Zapata JA, Blanco G, Donazar JA (2014) Apex scavenger movements call for transboundary conservation policies. Biol Conserv 170:145–150. Scholar
  44. Lopez-Lopez P, Garcia-Ripolles C, Urios V (2014) Food predictability determines space use of endangered vultures: implications for management of supplementary feeding. Ecol Appl 24(5):938–949. Scholar
  45. Margalida A, Perez-Garcia JM, Moreno-Opo R (2017) European policies on livestock carcasses management did not modify the foraging behavior of a threatened vulture. Ecol Indic 80:66–73. Scholar
  46. Mateo-Tomas P, Olea PP, Moleon M, Selva N, Sanchez-Zapata JA (2017) Both rare and common species support ecosystem services in scavenger communities. Global Ecol Biogeo 26(12):1459–1470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Mihoub J-B, Prince K, Duriez O, Lécuyer P, Eliotout B, Sarrazin F (2013) Comparing release method effects on post-release survival of the European black vulture Aegypius monachus reintroduced population in France. Oryx 48:106–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Monsarrat S, Benhamou S, Sarrazin F, Bessa-Gomes C, Bouten W, Duriez O (2013) How predictability of feeding patches affects home range and foraging habitat selection in avian social scavengers? PLoS One 8(1):e53077CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Moreno-Opo R, Arredondo A, Guil F (2011) Foraging range and diet of Cinereous vulture Aegypius monachus using livestock resources in Central Spain. Ardeola 57:111–119Google Scholar
  50. Moreno-Opo R, Trujillano A, Arredondo A, Gonzalez LM, Margalida A (2015) Manipulating size, amount and appearance of food inputs to optimize supplementary feeding programs for European vultures. Biol Conserv 181:27–35. Scholar
  51. Moreno-Opo RN, Trujillano A, Margalida A (2016) Behavioral coexistence and feeding efficiency drive niche partitioning in European avian scavengers. Behav Ecol 27:1041–1052. Scholar
  52. Nathan R, Spiegel O, Fortmann-Roe S, Harel R, Wikelski M, Getz WM (2012) Using tri-axial acceleration data to identify behavioral modes of free-ranging animals: general concepts and tools illustrated for Griffon vultures. J Exp Biol 215:986–996CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ogada DL, Torchin ME, Kinnaird MF, Ezenwa VO (2012) Effects of vulture declines on facultative scavengers and potential implications for mammalian disease transmission. Conserv Biol 26(3):453–460. Scholar
  54. Oppel S, Dobrev V, Arkumarev V, Saravia V, Bounas A, Kret E, Velevski M, Stoychev S, Nikolov SC (2015) High juvenile mortality during migration in a declining population of a long-distance migratory raptor. Ibis 157:545–557. Scholar
  55. Pennycuick CJ (1972) Soaring behaviour and performance of some East African birds observed from a motor glider. Ibis 114:178–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Phipps WL, Willis SG, Wolter K, Naidoo V (2013a) Foraging ranges of immature African white-backed vultures (Gyps africanus) and their use of protected areas in Southern Africa. PLoS One 8(1):e52813CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Phipps WL, Wolter K, Michael MD, MacTavish LM, Yarnell RW (2013b) Do power lines and protected areas present a catch-22 situation for cape vultures (Gyps coprotheres)? PLoS One 8(10):e76794CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rappole JH, Tipton AR (1991) New harness design for attachment of radio transmitters to small passerines. J Field Ornithol 62:335–337Google Scholar
  59. Reading PP, Maude G, Hancock P, Kenny D, Garbett R (2014) Comparing different types of patagial tags for use on vultures. Vulture News 67:33–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Reid T, Krüger S, Whitfield DP, Amar A (2015) Using spatial analyses of bearded vulture movements in Southern Africa to inform wind turbine placement. J Appl Ecol 52:881–892. Scholar
  61. Rivers JW, Johnson JM, Haig SM, Schwarz CJ, Burnett LJ, Brandt J, George D, Grantham J (2014) An analysis of monthly home range size in the critically endangered California Condor Gymnogyps californianus. Bird Conserv Int 24:492–504. Scholar
  62. Ruxton GD, Houston DC (2004) Obligate vertebrate scavengers must be large soaring fliers. J Theor Biol 228(3):431–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sebastián-González E, Moleón M, Gibert JP, Botella F, Mateo-Tomás P, Olea PP, Guimarães PR, Sánchez-Zapata JA (2016) Nested species-rich networks of scavenging vertebrates support high levels of interspecific competition. Ecology 97(1):95–105. Scholar
  64. Sherub S, Bohrer G, Wikelski M, Weinzierl R (2016) Behavioural adaptations to flight into thin air. Biol Lett 12:10. Scholar
  65. Sherub S, Fiedler W, Duriez O, Wikelski M (2017) Bio-logging - new technologies to study conservation physiology on the move: a case study on annual survival of Himalayan vultures. J Comp Physiol A 203(6):531–542. Scholar
  66. Spiegel O, Getz WM, Nathan R (2013a) Factors influencing search efficiency: why do scarce Lappet-faced vultures outperform ubiquitous white-backed vultures. Am Nat 181:5. Scholar
  67. Spiegel O, Harel R, Getz W, Nathan R (2013b) Mixed strategies of griffon vultures’ (Gyps fulvus) response to food deprivation lead to a hump-shaped movement pattern. Mov Ecol 1(1):5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Treep J, Bohrer G, Shamoun-Baranes J, Duriez O, Prata de Moraes Frasson R, Bouten W (2016) Using high resolution GPS tracking data of bird flight for meteorological observations. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 97(6):951–961. Scholar
  69. Trefry S, Diamond A, Jesson L (2013) Wing marker woes: a case study and meta-analysis of the impacts of wing and patagial tags. J Ornithol 154(1):1–11. Scholar
  70. Tremblay Y, Thiébault A, Mullers R, Pistorius P (2014) Bird-borne video-cameras show that seabird movement patterns relate to previously unrevealed proximate environment, not prey. PLoS One 9(2):e88424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Urios V, Lopez-Lopez P, Limiñana R, Godino A (2010) Ranging behaviour of a juvenile bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus meridionalis) in South Africa revealed by GPS satellite telemetry. Ornis Fenn 87:114–118Google Scholar
  72. Vasilakis DP, Whitfield DP, Schindler S, Poirazidis KS, Kati V (2016) Reconciling endangered species conservation with wind farm development: cinereous vultures (Aegypius monachus) in South-Eastern Europe. Biol Conserv 196:10–17. Scholar
  73. Wallace MP, Parker GP, Temple SA (1980) An evaluation of patagial markers for cathartid vultures. J Field Ornithol 51:309–314Google Scholar
  74. Williams HJ, Holton MH, Shepard EL, Largey N, Norman JA, Ryan P, Duriez O, Scantlebury M, Quintana F, Magowan E, Wilson RP (2017) Identification of animal movement patterns using tri-axial magnetometry. Mov Ecol 5:6. Scholar
  75. Wilson B (2015) An introduction to camera trapping of wing-tagged vultures in Southern Africa. Vulture News 69:3–22Google Scholar
  76. Worton BJ (1989) Kernel methods for estimating the utilization distribution in home-range studies. Ecology 70(1):164–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Xirouchakis SM, Andreou G (2009) Foraging behaviour and flight characteristics of Eurasian griffons Gyps fulvus in the island of Crete, Greece. Wildl Biol 15(1):37–52. Scholar
  78. Yamaç E, Bilgin CC (2012) Post-fledging movements of cinereous vultures Aegypius monachus in Turkey revealed by GPS telemetry. Ardea 100(2):149–156. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CEFE UMR 5175, CNRS, Université de Montpellier, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier, EPHEMontpellierFrance
  2. 2.Movement Ecology Lab, Department of Ecology, Evolution and BehaviorAlexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, The Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael
  3. 3.Science Division, Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityJerusalemIsrael

Personalised recommendations