The role of experience in the migration of captive and wild-born Egyptian vultures

They basically exist two types of experiences which affect the life and behavior of all animals: the connected one to the birthing environment and in the very early stages of development and that instead earned by each individual as the years go by. Based on this assumption, a group of researchers from Israel’s Ben Gurion University of the Negev asked the question: how these experiences affect flight performance and difficult migration the endangered Egyptian vulture?

To find out, scientists spent years tracking and studying flight abilities and migration using GPS devices from two different groups of these rare and small vultures: one born and raised in the wild and the other bred in captivity, as part of conservation and reintroduction programs for this bird of prey, which is now one step away from extinction. The results of this interesting comparison, which highlights the importance of the natal environment in the lives of these birds, were recently published in the journal Contemporary Biology.

Scientists who study animal behavior define how early life experience all those experiences related to the very early stages of life, such as those affected from the social environment of birth, or parental care from parents or living with peers in their natural environment. They are called instead accumulated or gained experience which, on the other hand, require practice, practice and improvement over timesuch as flying.


However, it is not yet entirely clear how these two types of experiences, either separately or in combination with each other, affect the lives and abilities of individuals. To reveal the role and importance they have for the endangered Egyptian vultures, the scientists analyzed and compared the vultures’ flight performance and migration. 65 different individuals equipped with GPS transmitters, for total 127 autumn migrations, performed both by birds born and raised in captivity and in the wild. And what resulted from this comparison?

In general, birds of both groups improved their flight performance and migration as they gained experience over time. Above all, however, the most noticeable and significant improvements were noted in captive vultures and then released into the wild. Indeed, during their first migration, these birds had greater difficulties compared to those born in nature instead, and their flight was therefore less efficient. But in spite of things have improved significantly overtime.

Even birds born in captivity were able to cope and achieve same performance those who were born in nature already on their second migration. This means that the experience gained over time through practice has contributed to it quickly compensate for all shortcomings and difficulties associated with the very early stages of life, but there is more. Just as it happens to us humans when, for example, it is harder for us to learn a new language when we are older, older vultures they have a little more time to fill these gaps.


Egyptian vultures born in captivity but released only after a few years in fact, they had more difficulty acquiring the skills needed to deal with migration better and more effectively. But despite that, in the end, Mryear reached the same level it just took longer for younger individuals. Thus, this study allows us to better understand the weight and value of early life experiences and the experiences Egyptian vultures acquire over time to face the most difficult and sensitive phase of their lives, migration.

Just as it happens to us humans, so also to the life and abilities of these small and endangered vultures they are strongly influenced by the experiences of individuals, who may, over time, be able to compensate for the initial difficulties associated with childbirth in different environments. This is certainly important data that will also contribute to further improvements conservation measures for this endangered species by further supporting projects captive breeding.

As well as the all-Italian one, which also appeared among the protagonists Will befirst female Egyptian vulture born in captivity to breed in the wild, but then brutally killed poacher while attempting to cross the Strait of Sicily, right during his migration to Africa. In our country there are about ten of them the remaining pairs of Egyptian vultures. The Italian population actually collapsed over 80% only in the last 50 years and the last Egyptian vultures still breeding are all restricted between Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily.

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