Due to the potentially detrimental consequences of low performance in basic functional tasks, individuals are expected to improve performance with age and show the most marked changes during early stages of life. Soaring-gliding birds use rising-air columns (thermals) to reduce energy expenditure allocated to flight. We offer a framework to evaluate thermal soaring performance, and use GPS-tracking to study movements of Eurasian griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus). Because the location and intensity of thermals are variable, we hypothesized that soaring performance would improve with experience and predicted that the performance of inexperienced individuals (<2 months) would be inferior to that of experienced ones (>5 years). No differences were found in body characteristics, climb rates under low wind shear, and thermal selection, presumably due to vultures' tendency to forage in mixed-age groups. Adults, however, outperformed juveniles in their ability to adjust fine-scale movements under challenging conditions, as juveniles had lower climb rates under intermediate wind shear, particularly on the lee-side of thermal columns. Juveniles were also less efficient along the route both in terms of time and energy. The consequences of these handicaps are probably exacerbated if juveniles lag behind adults in finding and approaching food.
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