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BirdWING (Birdwatching in Northern Greece) has been set up to raise awareness of birds in Greece and to raise money for the conservation and restoration of bird habitat in the region. Birdwing has supporters from all over the world.


Newsletter 32 - Spring 2022

We trust that you are managing to enjoy wildlife and nature around you despite the ongoing challenges of these times.

In this issue we bring you the devastating news of avian influenza on the populations of Dalmatian Pelicans in wetlands around Greece, most tragically the population in Prespa where a major proportion of the breeding colony of pelicans has died. Other more positive news includes information on this year’s use of the nest-boxes, rafts and platforms around Northern Greece, including first evidence of Barn Owls in residence in a box at the Evros Delta. Also news and a video of the WWF’s support of a vulture feeding station in the Kompsatos Valley.

Mass mortality caused by avian influenza

Compounded by unseasonably cold weather that hit Greece in March, there was mass mortality of Dalmatian Pelicans caused by bird flu, particularly in Prespa. The following is a recent update from the Society of the Protection of Prespa (SPP):    

The avian flu continues to kill Dalmatian pelicans (DP) in Prespa, charting a destructive course through the rest of Greece’s pelican colonies too. The situation is unprecedented in terms of its scale and duration and the impact to DPs is devastating. Another 200 DPs were recorded dead in a single week at Lesser Prespa Lake and a new operation is now set up to remove the additional carcasses. Already 1,143 have been removed from the Prespa colony, and around 450 remain to be collected. That is a total of about 1,600 losses for Prespa and over 2,000 for the country.

The new operation entails the removal of around 150 carcasses from parts of the Prespa colony, where collection has taken place before, and another 150-200 carcasses from the less approachable parts. For the latter, a challenging operation is prepared and will start early next week. This is a shallow area of open water separated from the lake by extensive marshes, deep peaty soils, and muddy areas. SPP’s multi-functional amphibian machine will play a key role for this task, cutting through reeds to make an entrance and assisting people on boats carrying the carcasses.

Looking at other pelican colonies in Greece, there have been both disturbing and good signs. In Lake Chimaditis which, like Prespa, lies at a high altitude with persisting cold temperatures, the colony looks completely wiped out with another 83 dead DPs recorded this week, following the removal of 98 carcasses in late March. On the other hand, the Kerkini and Karla colonies, both in lowland wetlands with warmer climate, show signs of getting past the crisis, though with significant fatalities. The two colonies of the western sub-population in Greece (Amvrakikos wetlands and Messolonghi lagoons) remain apparently unaffected.

Warmer and sunnier days are finally on their way to Prespa, and we can only hope that the end of the outbreak is only days ahead. The sense of helplessness and anxiety for the survival of the population is overwhelming, as despite the huge efforts to remove loads of carcasses from the Prespa colony, the mortality rate is still high. Some 300 living DPs are currently at Prespa and another few hundreds of great white pelicans (GWP). Most of the GWPs only arrived in the last days, and thus it’s early to know if they will be affected.

At last though, it seems that the avian flu outbreak is subsiding, as very few new deaths were recorded in the last week, both at Prespa and elsewhere in Greece. A total of 2,136 DP and 6 GWP deaths have been recorded up to now in 12 wetlands of northern and central Greece. Almost 80% of the dead birds have been removed from the wetlands.

The SPP and other units from around the region continue to monitor the phenomenon closely and will provide further updates. For further information, you may contact Giorgos Catsadorakis and Olga Alexandrou


Changes to the Management Structure of the protected areas of Greece

Since our last newsletter there have been significant changes to the structure of the Management Bodies of the National Parks across Greece. A new agency – N.E.C.C.A. - the Natural Environment & Climate Change Agency is the sole successor of the National Center for Environment and Sustainable Development (NCESD) and the 36 Management Bodies.

N.E.C.C.A. is supervised by the Ministry of Environment and Energy and has administrative and financial autonomy.  It aims to implement the policy formulated for the management of protected areas, biodiversity conservation, promotion and implementation of sustainable development actions and climate change mitigation.

The regions of the protected areas across Greece are split into Management Units, which are outlined here.

Further information can be found at:


Birdwing nestbox programme update

Although spring seems to be coming late to Greece, after particularly cold weather in March, the Kestrels are showing much interest in the Birdwing nest-boxes. In early April, 75% of the boxes at the Evros Delta had Kestrels showing interest in or around the poles. In the Ismarida region the figure was closer to 84%. Given the late start of breeding we will return to check what proportion of these are successful. We are still awaiting the return of all the Rollers and will survey their boxes later in the season.

We were delighted to finally have confirmation of Barn Owls using the boxes specially made for them. We have found large pellets beneath some boxes, but finally caught a view of one in residence at the Evros Delta.  

We continue to put up a range of nestboxes in many locations where holes are in short supply, including those for flycatchers and other small birds, such as this Great Tit using one of our boxes in the woods of Pangeio, spotted and photographed by A Alex Demertzi.

If you see other Birdwing boxes in use, like this little owl using a Roller box for roosting, please let us know and send your photos to or post them on our Facebook page.


Egyptian Vulture Strategy

A major multi-agency strategy as part of the LIFE project “Egyptian Vulture New LIFE” (LIFE16 NAT/BG/000874) to halt and reverse the decline of Egyptian Vultures in Greece and the wider Balkans is about to get underway. Following a steep decline in recent decades, it is estimated that only around 50 pairs survive today in Albania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Greece despite a range of conservation measures, such as ‘vulture restaurants’ where safe food is provided on isolated hillsides.

The remaining birds face a range of threats, including poisoning in their breeding ranges, electrocution from poorly insulated pylons on migration and poaching in their wintering areas. In addition, there appears to be a high mortality of juveniles during their first migration, due to drowning while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. It may be that, as the number of adults dwindles, the young birds have fewer opportunities to follow an experienced bird along a safe route which avoids a long sea crossing. The species is clearly heading for extinction in Greece and beyond unless urgent and extensive action is undertaken.

This new initiative will seek to stabilise and ultimately increase the population by releasing an average of nine captive-bred birds over the next twenty years.

For further information see the ‘Reinforcement Strategy for the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) in Bulgaria and Greece 2022’


Antipoison Dog Unit annual report

For the eighth consecutive year, the project Antipoison Dog Units in Greece continued to operate, funded in part with money donated by Birdwing supporters.

In the frame of the “Egyptian vulture New LIFE Project”, Kiko and Kuki, along with their handlers, patrolled the countryside of Central Greece, Epirus and Thrace in order to spot and remove poison baits and animals. All these years, with the help of the Dog Units of HOS and WWF Greece many animals, wild and domestic, have been saved from certain death. The Antipoison Dog Units have significantly contributed to the conservation of rare vultures (Cinereous, Griffon and Egyptian vultures). There are only 5 pairs of the Egyptian vulture left in Greece.

The report for the year 2021 shows that the illegal use of poison baits is still a serious threat to birds of prey in Greece, especially vultures. It reports that 43 patrols were conducted, 28 in Central Greece, Epirus and Western Greece and 15 in Thrace, during which only the dog handlers covered a total of 125 km (the dogs might cover 2-3 times longer distances).

In total, 11 different poisoning incidents were investigated, while findings were discovered in 12 out of 43 patrols. Of these, 3 concerned Cinereous Vultures, 2 shepherd dogs, 2 foxes, 1 Greater Spotted Eagle, 1 Marsh Harrier, 1 Accipiter sp. and 1 wildcat. Moreover, a total of 12 poisoned baits were detected, varying from a whole animal carcass to a whole chicken while in one case small pieces of meat were used.

According to the experience gained by the Antipoison Dog Units staff as well as to informers’ testimonies, the main possible drivers for the use of poison baits were two: the extermination of bear, fox, wolf and personal disputes that leads to the extermination of shepherd or hunting dogs. The last reason for the poison bait use causes economic losses to land users, due to the fact that many shepherd dogs are poisoned. Unfortunately, the poisoned shepherd dogs belonged to the network of proper livestock guarding dogs that were created in the frame of this LIFE Project by HOS and WWF Greece.


 Other news

Wolf study

WWF Greece and Callisto wildlife society, in collaboration with the Management Body of the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park and with the contribution of the hunting clubs of the Evros area has conducted a study into the conflict between wolves and hunting dogs in the region. Wolf attacks on hunting dogs recorded in the Evros region in recent years resemble a serious conservation issue for the protection of wildlife. The killing of hunting dogs by wolves triggers negative reactions such as the increased use of the illegal use of poisoned baits, which affect many other protected species, including endangered vultures. More on the study can be found at the following links. (in full)  (summary)

Wild Greece TV series

Wild Greece TV series - The episodes of an excellent Greek TV series, Wild Greece, are available to view online, although only in Greek. In its second season, a recently broadcast episode focused on the Evros Delta, and featured Eleni Makrigianni the new Head of the Management Unit. Other featured episodes include Kastoria, Elatia and Meteora with a focus on endangered Egyptian Vultures.

Birdwing Wildlife Greetings cards for sale

Wildlife greetings cards for sale! Birdwing has produced packs of greetings cards to sell to raise money for on-going projects, such as our nest-box programme. Each pack has 16 cards and envelopes, with 16 different wildlife images and are blank on the inside for your own message.  These are available for £30, including postage, from the following link.

The Kompsatos Valley

A new 20 minute video about the Kompsatos Valley has recently been produced. The beautiful remote valley in the Rodopi prefecture, above Iasmos town, is an important SPA for vultures and eagles.

In the framework of the LIFE Re-vulture programme, WWF Greece created in the Kompsatos Valley five feeding sites for the vultures where the livestock breeders can leave their dead animals. According to European Law, livestock breeders have to bury the animals, something very difficult for them because of the rocky ground. Another option would be for the animal by-products service to pick up the carcasses which is again very challenging as the area is remote and far away from the flatlands. With this initiative, the livestock breeders are operating within the boundaries of the law by leaving their dead animals in spots designated by the local services. The vultures are also benefited as they can find a safe and accessible source of food.

This video is subtitled in English and provides a fascinating account of the region, exploring projects such as reforestation and the introduction of the vulture feeding stations. More can be found at the Rewilding Rhodopes website: and the video in full can be viewed here:

Other videos of interest

Each year, during early spring, the staff of the Management Unit at Lake Kerkini put reeds onto the wooden pelican platform, funded by Birdwing, for the pelicans to use for their nests. This video shows the challenge of such a task. It also clearly shows the lack of water around the platform and islands during this time, kept low by the water company responsible for the reservoir. This lack of water causes some issues for the birds that nest on the rock islands if sufficient rain doesn’t fall before they begin, making them vulnerable to ground predators. It therefore highlights the importance of the wooden platform, which provides the necessary protection.

The following link takes you to a short video of birds at the Evros Delta The footage, taken in early April, shows the feeding frenzies of thousands of Yelkouan Shearwaters off the coast at that time.

Bird news

Migration was a little late this year for some species arriving in and travelling on through northern Greece. Several birds that we would normally expect to see earlier in the spring were slow in arriving in good numbers. This was particularly true for marsh terns and shrikes, with only Woodchats being much in evidence by the end of April.

This wasn’t the case for all species, though. The embankments of Lake Karla were full of Northern Wheatears, Tree Pipits and Yellow Wagtails at the beginning of April, when Garganey were in every ditch and pool and dozens of Glossy Ibis, Ruff and Wood Sandpipers feasted in the seasonal pools. A flock of fifteen Eleonora’s Falcons drifted around the eastern shore on the 24th. Colonies of Lesser Kestrels in nearby villages were in full swing as the month progressed and all the Garganey had moved on by the 25th.

At the Evros Delta, Anthia marshes still held too much water early in April to appeal to many birds other than Garganey and Ferruginous Duck. Elsewhere on the delta there were hundreds of Glossy Ibis, Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and a promising count of 71 Spur-winged Plover.

Bee-eaters began to arrive in the middle of the month and were busy pairing up and prospecting for nest sites in earnest by the start of May particularly on the embankments and tracks around Lake Kerkini. Nightingales were everywhere and Turtle Doves, Golden Orioles and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers joined the chorus towards the end of the month.

At Porto Lagos regular gatherings of thousands of Yelkouan Shearwaters just off the beach, together with a few Cory’s, were a feature of April.


Lake Karla

This spring we have been busy researching and writing material for the third edition of the Birdwing site guide ‘Birdwatching in Northern Greece’ by Steve Mills. Although we began the updating some time ago, COVID travel restrictions caused delays and it is only this spring that we have been able to move the process on. As part of the updated guide, additional new sites are being included such as Lake Karla, a birdwatching gem that is improving year on year after the partial restoration of the lake in 2009. 

Lake Karla lies south of Thessaloniki, east of Larissa and north of Volos, in Thessaly. The region where the lake is found has diverse habitats including scrubby hills, mountains, spring pools, channels and streams, reservoirs, fields full of wildflowers, agricultural fields and the lake itself with embankments all around. During early spring there are birds in every habitat, including many migrants. The villages around hold hundreds of Lesser Kestrel nests, boosted by several projects in recent years to help them.

If you want a taster of what Karla has to offer you might find these two videos interesting…

And don’t forget to watch this space for the new edition of Birdwatching in Northern Greece!


Thanks for reading our news and don't hesitate to get in touch if you need more information.

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