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Dispatches from the field: 3 pairs of bearded vultures incubating in Vanoise while breeding has been confirmed (at long last!) in the Écrins (Alps)

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Bearded vultures became extinct in the Alps in the beginning of the 20th century, but a reintroduction project (coordinated by the VCF and implemented by several partners across 4 alpine countries) started in 1986 and is still ongoing. The first breeding in the wild occurred in France in 1997. The species has been increasing since then, and last year there were at least 49 territorial pairs, which fledged 31 fledglings.

We are looking forward to the results of this breeding season, and across the Alps teams of national park staff, NGO colleagues, volunteer and enthusiast are busy monitoring the breeding pairs, fighting the heavy snowfall this winter, and compiling the data in the International Bearded Vulture Monitoring network (IBM).

Colleagues from the Vanoise National Park sent in some information about the 5 pairs breeding there, and which are being monitored as part of the LIFE GYPHELP project– tree of them are still breeding: In Maurienne the pair of bearded vultures in Termignon named Stelvio and Gelas, present in that territory since 2002, was incubating. Same with the pair from Peisey-Nancroix in the Tarentaise region, and of the pair present near Bourg-Saint-Maurice, in the valley of Chapieux.

Unfortunately, the couple of Bessans failed during incubation, and the pair from Val d’Isère has been seen often in flight and does not seem to be incubating. Last year, teams from the Vanoise National Park descended into the Val d´Isere pair´s nest after the breeding season to recover feathers for genetic analysis, and could remove an old egg. The analysis  – also done as part of the LIFE GYPHELP project and with further funding from the MAVA Foundation, revealed that the birds in this pair are Jausier (a female born in captivity in 2003 and released in the Mercantour National Park the same year as part of the reintroduction project), and Republic 3, a male also born in captivity in 1992 and released that year in Bargy (Haute-Savoie). Republic 3 has been breeding in Val d´Isère since 2001-2002, while Jausier has been present since 2011-2012

As for Écrins, and although bearded vultures often passed through the national park, there has never been confirmed breeding, so the observations this winter of a trio of birds first building a nest, and then laying eggs, left the local staff and volunteers ecstatic!

The trio – an adult female and two males – one adult and the other one a 5th year – have settled in Haute-Romanche, an area that has been frequented by bearded vultures for the last three winters. These birds have repeatedly shown the beginnings of reproductive behavior but they have never gone beyond the stage of intentions … until this year! Egg laying is thought to have occurred around the 13th February, which means that hatching would occur in early April. The birds will continue to be monitored by staff from the park and also by Envergures Alpines, an association that coordinates the sightings of large raptors on the Dauphiné and contributes to the knowledge of the species in the alpine arc. All observations are valuable in this sensitive period – you can send your information to: rapaces@ecrins-parcnational.fr  and envergures.alpines@gmail.com

The VCF and its partners will still be releasing birds in the Alps this year, with a dual objective of diversifying the genetic pool of the wild populations (still smaller than what would be expected from a population of the same size) and to promote the connection between the Alpine and the Pyrenean populations.

Photo: Hansruedi Weyrich/VCF

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