Rescued cinereous vulture flies free on 3rd release attempt

The cinereous vulture successfully sustained flight after it had been released to fly for a third time on Jan 10 at a greater height. PHOTO: NPARKS
The vulture had been attacked by crows after taking flight but ultimately prevailed. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Third time's the charm.

The rare cinereous vulture, the first of its species to have flown here, finally fled the Singapore coop on Monday afternoon (Jan 10).

Experts continue to monitor the area.

This came after two tries to free the 7kg juvenile bird following its rescue and nursing back to health almost two weeks ago.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, the Mandai Wildlife Group and National Parks Board (NParks) said the vulture was allowed to fly at around noon on Monday as part of its rehabilitation, which led to the bird flying and landing at a nearby farm.

"Mandai Wildlife Group routinely conducts flight tests for rehabilitated birds to test their flight ability and flight muscles as part of the pre-release conditioning," they said.

Prior to its flight, the vulture was eating well and regaining its health, they noted.

Chinese-language paper Lianhe Zaobao reported that the vulture had been attacked by a murder of crows after taking flight but ultimately prevailed.

It was last seen flying over the canopy of a forest a distance away, said Mandai Wildlife Group and NParks.

The location chosen for the vulture's rehabilitation on Monday was at a higher altitude than the sites of previous "flight tests", they added.

NParks will continue to monitor the vulture to ensure it is able to continue its journey to its wintering grounds.

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The dark brown raptor - the largest in Africa, Asia and Europe - usually spends winters in northern India, the Middle East and occasionally South Korea. It is vagrant to South-east Asia, which means that it flew off-course or was blown off-course.

The migratory bird, native to Europe and northern Asia, was first sighted here at Singapore Botanic Gardens along with five Himalayan griffon vultures on Dec 29.

On Dec 30, the juvenile was too weak and landed at Cornwall Gardens near Farrer Road.

Dr Xie Shangzhe, deputy vice-president for conservation, research and veterinary at Mandai Wildlife Group, said previously that the scavenger was probably exhausted from flying long distances - a common challenge faced by migratory birds - and needed to replenish its energy reserves.

After rescue by NParks' staff, the bird was hospitalised and fed in Jurong Bird Park until it was well enough for release on Jan 4.

The cinereous vulture wandering around after it had been released to fly for a third time on Jan 10, 2022. PHOTO: NPARKS

But cool and cloudy weather fouled a first attempt to free the bird, with the vulture staying grounded for about 30 minutes despite encouragement.

Larger birds such as the cinereous vulture rely on thermal uplifts for flight.

Such uplifts are created when the sun warms the ground, and are lessened on cloudy days, said Dr Xie.

During an almost three-hour flight test the next day, the juvenile managed to sustain flight for more than 50m. But it landed in an adjacent field and did not attempt to fly again until Monday.

According to the Vulture Conservation Foundation, the raptor can have a wing span reaching nearly 3m.

Conservation group BirdLife International said on its website that the species qualifies as near threatened because it appears to be suffering an ongoing decline in its Asiatic strongholds, despite the fact that in parts of Europe, numbers are now increasing.

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