Cameras allow peeping from afar at private lives of predatory birds
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Cameras allow peeping from afar at private lives of predatory birds

For fifth year, Raptor Nestcam unobtrusively records lives of several raptor species, starting with long-legged buzzards and griffon vultures

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Long-legged buzzard seen via livecam set up by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Society for the Protection of Nature.  (Screenshot)
Long-legged buzzard seen via livecam set up by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Society for the Protection of Nature. (Screenshot)

You don’t have to standout in the cold at dawn to feel the thrill of watching a pair of long-legged buzzards or griffon vultures going about their business on their nests of eggs.

That’s thanks to the Raptor Nestcam project of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which came back online this week, for its fifth year.

Raptor Nestcam aims to provide a real-time window into the lives of four of Israel’s biggest breeding birds of prey: long-legged buzzard (Buteo rufinus), short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Eurasian eagle owl (Bubu bubo) and griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus).

Two cameras are currently broadcasting — one is following a buzzards’ nest, the other a pair of griffon vultures.

A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to extend this year’s project to short-toed snake eagles as well.

As in previous years, the organization put cameras up in several breeding territories late last year in the hope that the birds would return from their sojourns overseas.

The buzzards being filmed came back in November and December; in January, they began to renovate their nest.

Their first egg was laid last Thursday — three weeks earlier than any egg observed in recent years. Another two have been laid since.

Buzzards, found mainly in northern Israel, are highly sensitive to disturbance while preparing their nests and the slightest interference, even from hundreds of meters away, can prompt them to desert. The cameras provide an unobtrusive way of following their behavior.

Griffon vultures are found in northern Israel, the Golan Heights and the Negev desert in the south of the country

Until the late 1950s, hundreds of pairs of griffon vultures bred all over the country, from the extreme north to the Eilat Mountains in the far south. In the early 2000s, only around 120 pairs bred and today less than 60 pairs remain. The majestic bird is critically endangered in Israel and in other places around the eastern Mediterranean.

Vultures, whose wing span can reach 2.5 meters (more than eight feet), perform a critical role in the ecosystem. They are nature’s cleaners, consuming carrion and thus helping to stop the spread of disease from rotting carcasses.

In May last year, eight vultures were found dead and two injured in the Golan Heights after being poisoned. They  had apparently eaten from the carcass of a cow that had been poisoned. Local cattle farmers sometimes use poison illegally to destroy predators that threaten their herds.

A vulture that fell ill after being poisoned is returned to the wild in Gamla, on the Golan Heights, May 16, 2019. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Officials said the eight griffon vultures killed made up about half of the Golan’s scant population. The tragedy set back attempts to breed the birds and reintroduce them into the wild.

The SPNI’s cameras will film anyone trying to approach and disturb the birds being filmed so that legal action can be taken. In the past, they caught an attempt to steal an eagle chick.

The Raptor Nestcam project is a joint project of the SPNI, Israel Nature and Parks Authority, Hoopoe Foundation, the IDF, the Legacy Trust and Porsim Kanaf.

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