Last month a bearded vulture was created for the very first time in Spain of parents bred in captivity and reintroduced to the wild. The bearded vulture is the only bird on earth that feeds almost exclusively on bones. Such as the Iberian lynx, it’s one of those emblematic creatures of the Iberian Peninsula and it’s endangered, therefore it’s subject to different conservation and reintroduction programs. In this article, we encourage you to find out more about the bearded vulture and the spanish conservation projects.
The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is a diurnal bird of prey broadly included in what’s known as vultures, scavenger and ghoul birds (they feed on dead animals). However, the bearded vulture is quite different from other vultures:
- It is so highly technical that 85 percent of their diet are bones (osteophague) of dead mammals like wild ungulates (chamois) and domestic cattle (goats, sheep). It can swallow bones up to 25 cm, and if they are too big catches them, climbs them into 20-40 m and clogs bones from the rocks into smaller pieces that can consume. It also utilizes the same method to break tortoise shells.
- It is quite large, with a wingspan up to 2.8 yards and a weitgh up to 7 kg.
- In general it is not dumb: it just whistles if it’s excited or throughout the breeding season.
- It hasn’t the normal plucked vulture head. Vultures have some or no feathers on their heads to keep an optimum hygiene after placing their thoughts in dead creatures. Due to its peculiar diet, the bearded vulture has more feathers on head and neck, with its characteristic “beard” beneath the peak.
- The plumage is identical for both sexes but changes with age. The normal reddish and yellow adults plumage is because of their habit of bathing in mud full of iron oxides, otherwise they’ll had a white breast.
BBearded vultures nests on ledges and natural stone caves in the mountainous and rocky areas where they reside. They’ve steady spouse for life from age 7 and the reproductive cycle has distinct phases:
- Pre-laying (September to November): nest building (covering it with branches, wool, feathers, bones …), defense of territory and sexual activity.
- Incubation (December-February): they lay one or two eggs with a time difference of 6 days. Both sexes participate in the incubation for 53 days.
- Nurturing (March-August): the largest chick kills his brother (fraticidal violence) to ensure survival. Parents provide food and when the chick leaves the nest (June-July), learn from them to find and prepare food until their emancipation.
- Emancipation (January): displacement (thousands of kilometers) and dating back to the land where it was born to breed (philopatric instinct).
Subspecies Gypaetus barbatus meridionalis is dispersed by the South and East Africa, whilst Gypaetus barbatus barbatus by North Africa and parts of Eurasia (see map). In the Iberian Peninsula is found naturally only in the Pyrenees (Catalonia, Aragon and Navarra). Spain is the European country with more breeding couples enrolled (about 130, 2014 information).
Bearded vulture populations are declining. It is ranked globally as“near threatened” in the IUCN Red List and “endangered” in the Spanish Catalogue of Endangered Species. Current threats they face are:
- Death by poisoning (illegal baits, poisoned animal consumption, consumption of remains of lead hunting ammunition –plumbism–).
- Death by electrocution or collisions with power lines and wind turbines of wind farms.
- Habitat loss and decreasing of reproductive efficiency because of the humanization of the medium (urbanisation, adventure sports …)
Reduction of food (cattle in stables, obligation to bury the corpses …)
Conservation in Spain
Because of the limited supply of inhabitants, their reduced number and difficulty to colonize new territories, in 2014 thirteen autonomous communities signed a protocol for the recovery of vultures in Spain. The most prominent action of this protocol would be to fortify the National Strategy for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture in Spain (started in 2000) and the Programme Captive Breeding (2001), together with actions such as the revaluation of rural regions, supplementary feeding and assistance for traditional farming practices. This strategy also involves the reintroduction in historical regions where the bearded vulture has been extinguished:
- Reintroduction at Picos de Europa: following 70 years old, in 2006 two people were reintroduced at the National Park, managed by the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture, which now continues to develop projects for the retrieval of vultures at Aragón.
- Reintroduction in the National Park of Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas: in this area of Jaen no breeding has been registered as the 80s of last century. The Gypaetus Foundation oversees the Captive Breeding Center of Cazorla and the Life Project 04NAT/ES/000056 for the reintroduction of Egyptian vultures from Andalucia by hacking Methods.