Guernsey welcomes its latest resident: the griffon vulture

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The Independent Online

If you have retired to Guernsey to spend the rest of your days in comfort, beware. A vulture may be circling over your bungalow.

If you have retired to Guernsey to spend the rest of your days in comfort, beware. A vulture may be circling over your bungalow.

An 8ft-wingspan griffon vulture was spotted in the Channel Islands yesterday, the first of its kind to be seen on territory of the United Kingdom for 73 years.

The carrion-eating predator is thought to have been carried by warm winds northwards from its home in Spain or Portugal to Britain's most southerly outpost. It appeared over Guernsey on Thursday and roosted that night on the island's cliffs at La Clevouteille. It was seen again yesterday.

"It turned up on Sark and then moved to Guernsey at lunchtime on Thursday on easterly winds," said Tim Earl, a Guernsey birdwatcher. It was the 256th species he had recorded on the island. "It was seen patrolling the cliffs on our south coast and eating part of a dead rabbit."

Griffon vultures normally inhabit dry valleys or plateaux, over which they soar in search of carrion, nesting on cliff edges or in caves. Their range stretches from Iberia to Turkey and they are becoming rare, with an estimated 10,000 pairs remaining.

The Guernsey bird is expected to be a bank holiday magnet for British birdwatchers, who would normally have to travel much further to see it. Few of today's active twitchers were alive for the last British griffon vulture sighting, when two birds showed up at Ashbourne, Derbyshire, in June, 1927. The only previous British Isles report was at Cork, Ireland, in 1843.

The vultures do seem to be gathering over northern Europe. An even bigger black vulture - this species' wing span stretches to more than 9ft - appeared at De Maasvlakte, a coastal plain near Rotterdam, Holland, almost a fortnight ago. The bird was initially reported to be very weak but it regained strength after finding and eating a dead gull.

There has also been a smaller Egyptian vulture - with a wing span of only around 6ft - wandering around southern Sweden. It was recently spotted near Malmo.

Like the griffon, the black and Egyptian vultures nest in Spain. It is believed that they must have drifted far to the north of their normal territories as a result of warm southerly winds.

It could be a sign of global warming. Let us hope that it does not presage the end of civilisation.

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