Origins of huge vulture seen around Peterborough traced using feathers

The origins of the huge, bone-eating vulture that has been seen in the Peterborough area in recent days has been traced thanks to the genetic analysis of two of its feathers.

By Newsroom
Wednesday, 14th October 2020, 3:59 pm
A huge bone-eating vulture dubbed 'Vigo' with an 8ft wingspan stunned motorists - when it lands in the middle of a busy road near Peterborough. Pic: SWNS
A huge bone-eating vulture dubbed 'Vigo' with an 8ft wingspan stunned motorists - when it lands in the middle of a busy road near Peterborough. Pic: SWNS

Motorists in Peterborough were stunned when the huge vulture - with an eight feet wingspan - landed in the middle of the road.

The bearded vulture, or Lammergeier, is rarely seen in the UK but had been spotted by bird watchers in Moulton Chapel and Cowbit last week.

On Saturday (October 10), the bird, which has been named ‘Vigo’ by bird-watching enthusiasts, was pictured flying northeast over Eye Green and was later seen landing close to the A47 at Thorney.

The Bearded vulture, or lammergeier , rarely seen in the UK, was snapped holding traffic up near Peterborough (October 10). Pic: SWNS

The rare vulture has been touring the UK over the past few months and its origins have been revealed with the help of genetic analysis of two feathers.

Vigo was thought to have flown over the English Channel from Europe, where there are only between 600 and 1,000 pairs in an area stretching from Spain to Russia, and spent the summer in the Peak District.

It has now been identified as a female vulture which hatched last year in a wild nest in the French Alps, where a programme to bring the species back to the region has been under way since 1986.

In the absence of any ring, tag or markings, the only way to find out more about its background was by genetic analysis of a blood sample or feathers, said the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), which works to conserve European vultures.

With the help of two small feathers collected in the Peak District by local Yorkshire birder David Ball, experts from Swiss conservation group Stiftung Pro Bartgeier were able to determine that the vulture was female and had come from the French Alps.

VXF director Jose Tavares said: “The VCF and partners have been releasing captive-bred bearded vultures in the Alps since 1986, to bring back the species to the region after it was hunted and poisoned to extinction.

“Today there are 60-plus breeding pairs, in what is considered one of the greatest wildlife comeback stories of our times.”

Comprehensive monitoring by local organisations within the French reintroduction project area – including collecting feathers at the base of nests – enabled the identification of the bird and its origin.

After three months ranging out from the Peak District, the bird headed south in September to Oxfordshire, before turning north again to arrive in Norfolk and then on to the Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire fens.

Tim Birch, from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, said the summer had been a “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to see the bearded vulture in the Peak District.

“It brought a lot of joy to the tens of thousands of people who saw it and attracted a lot of attention from across the whole of the UK,” he said.

“Many people really developed a strong bond to this bird, which has been so uplifting in these difficult times with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It has given everyone a glimpse of what a wilder future could look like if we help nature’s recovery where more amazing wildlife can be seen by more people, particularly in our National Parks.”

One of the lucky people that managed to catch sight of and photograph ‘Vigo’ was Ashley James, he said: “Seeing the Bearded Vulture was an amazing experience, it is hard to put into words just how large of a bird it is, and how effortlessly it soars across the sky.

“When it landed to eat some roadkill, I laid flat on my stomach in a ditch to get a low angle and fired off some shots, again, you can really see the size and just how menacing this bird looks, but I was totally enthralled by what I was seeing and capturing.”

Bearded vulture youngsters often range far and wide before typically returning home after weeks or months, and wildlife experts are watching to see if Vigo crosses the Channel soon.

People are urged to help improve the bird’s chances of survival by sharing any observations of it with [email protected] to help monitor its condition and health.

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