Rare vulture spotted at Asola Bhatti sanctuary | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times
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Rare vulture spotted at Asola Bhatti sanctuary

Dec 12, 2023 05:30 AM IST

Surya Prakash, a zoologist and birder, who made the sighting on Saturday, said it was extremely rare for the vulture to land in the Capital.

The cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus) — a rare bird classified as “near threatened” and one of the largest raptors in the world — has been sighted at the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, making it the first such sighting of the bird in over five decades in Delhi, people aware of the matter said on Monday.

A winter migrant, the cinereous vulture travels thousands of kilometres from Europe towards western India but seldom Delhi. (Photo/Surya Prakash)
A winter migrant, the cinereous vulture travels thousands of kilometres from Europe towards western India but seldom Delhi. (Photo/Surya Prakash)

A winter migrant, the cinereous vulture travels thousands of kilometres from Europe towards western India — including Rajasthan, Gujarat — in winter, but seldom Delhi.

Surya Prakash, a zoologist and birder, who made the sighting on Saturday, said it was extremely rare for the vulture to land in the Capital. The last confirmed sighting of the bird in Delhi was made on the Yamuna floodplains in June 1969, birders said. It was classified as “near threatened” by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“The bird used to regularly be sighted in Delhi till the late 60s. However, it stopped visiting over the last few decades. It is suspected that it is using Delhi as a stopover before flying towards Rajasthan,” said Prakash, who has been birding for the last 35 years.

The raptor is a sober dark brown shade flanked by broad wings and a slightly wedged tail. It is an altitudinal migrant — which means it migrates from a higher to a lower altitude.

Prakash said he spotted the bird flying over the Neeli Jheel on Saturday, where other vultures have also been sighted in the past. In January 2022, a large congregation of Egyptian vultures were spotted over the lake. Prakash said a similar congregation of 53 Egyptian vultures was seen at the same spot in 2018.

“I noticed two raptors flying above the lake, but their size difference was massive. It was flying alongside an Egyptian vulture, but the cinereous vulture is nearly 3.5 times bigger and stood out,” he said, adding that the bird migrates from Spain and other parts of Europe towards western India every year.

“It moves from places where the winter is harsh as it cannot tolerate the cold,” he added.

Birder Sudhir Vyas, author of the book The Birds of the Delhi Area: An Annotated Checklist, said the bird was photographed sitting on the Yamuna sandbank by birder Usha Ganguli during its last visit to Delhi in 1969. “This sighting at Asola is indeed significant,” Vyas said.

Vyas noted about the cinereous vulture in his book: “They were recorded as uncommon winter visitors to refuse dumps about Delhi with observations from the 1940s till 1969, but none have been reported since.”

Birder Kanwar B Singh said the vulture is a regular visitor during winter in Rajasthan, frequently sighted in Bharatpur and Alwar. He said Delhi is at the extreme end of its winter migratory range, with the bird likely to have flown this side in search of carcasses.

“I have spotted them in Panchkula in Haryana, Bharatpur and other parts of Rajasthan, but never Delhi. It normally reaches the northwest and western parts of the country, but the bird is also known to forage over long distances and during the day, under the right conditions, can fly a lot too. Maybe that is how it reached Delhi,” said Singh.

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