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Amazing success in bird protection from Spain

40 years ago the Spanish imperial eagle was threatened with extinction, only 30 pairs were left. It was endemic to the Iberian Peninsula and considered by many to be Spain’s national bird. It had become one of the seven most endangered birds of prey in the world.

Like other Iberian predators, its fate is tied to that of the European rabbit, whose disease-decimated populations have left birds with a lack of prey. Breeding rates were pathetic as the chicks starved, and for those who fledged, the power line collision was a major killer.

As if the situation weren’t desperate enough, hungry birds of prey, feeding on carrion, succumbed to illegally poisoned bait intended to deter foxes and other predators.

Thanks to intensive threat management, awareness raising and reintroduction, bird protection groups are now turning to the demise of eagles. Today the population numbers more than 300 couples and this famous regal silhouette dominates the air from the rocks of Extremadura in western Spain to the treetops of Coto Doñana in the south. The bird has become a big draw for visitors.

An Egyptian vulture in Spain. Photo by ESCOCIA / Shutterstock

The return of a conspicuous scavenger

The eagle is not the only Spanish success story in nature conservation. These practical, solution-based approaches to bird conservation have paid off for the Egyptian vulture.

With its strongly contrasting wing pattern and egg-yellow face, it must surely be one of the most conspicuous scavengers in the world. It is both delicate and intelligent, uses pebbles to break eggs and sticks to wind up wool, and remains loyal to partners and nesting sites for long periods of time.

Each fall, around 3,300 Egyptian vultures migrate across the Strait of Gibraltar, where Africa is just nine miles above the sea. This spectacular gathering represents almost the entire Western European population – the future of the species.

Before they can face the road, however, they must first control the whirring turbine blades of the wind energy industry in the region. In their early years, these wind farms, located at the greatest bottleneck in bird of prey migration in Western Europe, were some of the deadliest in the world.

Fortunately, trained ornithological spotters have been working in the wind farms since 2003. If there is a flying bird nearby, they stop the turbines with the help of an app that turns them off individually within seconds.

Northern Bald Ibis. Photo by Len Worthington / Wikimedia Commons

Nordkahler Ibis restored to Spain

This windy wilderness also offers hope for another once common species. The world population of the Northern Bald Ibis had dwindled to just 59 pairs in 1996. It was one of the most endangered birds in the world. Proyecto Eremita started around the Cape of Trafalgar in 2004. Since the first successful breeding attempt in 2008, the ibis colony has grown to around 80 birds.

The struggle to protect biodiversity is difficult and complicated, but nature wins many small battles in Spain. Well over a quarter of the country is part of a system of protected areas. This makes Spain the European country that contributes the most to the Natura 2000 network.

When Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced his plans to reopen the country to post-pandemic tourism, there was a strong emphasis not only on health security but also on sustainability. Spain aims high. As Sanchez puts it, he wants travelers to see the country as “the safest and most environmentally friendly travel destination in the world”.

Further information

Read more about Spanish bird conservation and wildlife tourism that provides the financial incentive for conservation efforts at Blue Sky Wildlife.

Thanks to Blue Sky Wildlife for providing this news.

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