Birdwatchers in the Isles of Scilly couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the first Egyptian vulture on British soil in more than 150 years on Monday.
The endangered gigantic vulture, which is native to southern Europe, northern Africa, and parts of Asia, is said to have flown across from France to the isles off the Cornish coast after becoming confused while migrating.
Will Wagstaff, a local wildlife expert, was conducting a birding tour on the island of Tresco when the bird came and sat in a tree, allowing the enthusiasts to take photographs.
“Having observed a large bird flying above St Mary’s in the fog earlier, I was not expecting an Egyptian vulture to come out of the mist above my head on Tresco in late morning,” he added.
“Fortunately, it sat for a while – what a bird!”
Scott Reid, a Scilly birdwatcher who saw the bird as it flew away, commented, “An incredibly amazing bird in flight, a very strange experience seeing it in Scillonian airspace.”
The bird, which is distinguished by its unique yellow face and plumage, has only been observed in the wild twice previously in Britain, with the most recent sighting occurring in 1868.
Populations have declined during the last century across the bird’s native habitats, with an estimated 18,000 to 57,000 birds remaining in the wild.
Following word of the sighting, scores of birdwatchers descended on Scilly on Tuesday, hoping to view the rare vulture for themselves.
According to Professor Stuart Bearhop, an ecologist at the University of Exeter, “If confirmed to be of wild origin, it would be the first sighting in 150 years, maybe a bit longer.” It’s a really unusual sighting.
“I believe people will go to view it since it is regarded as a once-in-a-lifetime bird.”
The bird appears on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and was regarded sacred in ancient Egypt, earning it the moniker “the pharaoh’s chicken.”
The species has also piqued the curiosity of current researchers since it is one of the few animals that has demonstrated the capacity to utilise sophisticated tools. In addition to scraping up materials for its nests using twigs, the vulture has been spotted cracking open ostrich eggs with pebbles.
It is anticipated that the bird would fare better than the last Egyptian vulture to visit Britain, which was killed by a farmer near Peldon, Essex, in 1868. That specimen was saved and later transported to Brighton’s Booth Museum, where it formed part of a rare bird collection.