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Bearded Vulture breeding progress in Savoie is heading towards a record-high season!

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Bearded Vulture in flight © Hansruedi Weyrich

The Bearded Vulture breeding season is in full swing across Europe, and Savoie in the French Alps is no different. According to the Vanoise National Park’s wardens, the breeding pairs in the region have already laid seven eggs! 

Bearded Vulture Breeding Season in the wild

Bearded Vultures are the earliest breeders of the four European vulture species, and their reproduction cycle is long and complex. Pais begin exhibiting mating displays in November, with Bearded Vultures in the Alps usually starting to lay eggs in late December and continuing until February. Parents then share the brooding responsibilities until the chick hatches after an average of 54 days. This special breeding period is related to the chicks’ diet, which cannot digest bone, so the species has evolved to hatch towards the end of winter when there is potentially a plentiful supply of food. This includes animals that died from avalanches and are then exposed to the thawing snow or animals that die towards the end of the season from not surviving harsh conditions, leaving enough animal carcasses for the parents to feed their chicks. 

Ongoing breeding in Savoie

The year 2019/20 had already exceeded all expectations regarding the reproduction of Bearded Vulture pairs in Savoie. Yet, based on the 20/2021 breeding behaviour of pairs, this season promises to be even more exceptional. As February is traditionally the month of egg-laying for this protected species reintroduced to the Alpine massifs more than 30 years ago, the Vanoise National Park is already able, thanks to its wardens’ observations, to count on a new hatching record in 2021.

At the beginning of 2021, the wardens have identified nine potential breeding pairs in the park’s territory, compared to seven last year. As of 19 February, seven of them have already laid eggs, and there is a high probability that an eighth pair currently going through a key phase in its reproductive cycle will also lay. 

Conservation actions to secure Bearded Vultures

Savoie is almost unique in the world as it achieved a 100% success rate last year from hatching to fledging! This great outcome is possibly due to the confinement of last spring and ibex conservation programme since their carcasses are one of the main food sources for these vultures that primarily feed on bones. Furthermore, Vanoise National Park also established major sensitivity zones to avoid human disturbance and allow the pairs to breed in peace.

Bearded Vulture reintroduction in the Alps

First ever release in 1986 at Hohe Tauern National Park (Austria)

The species was driven to extinction in the Alps during the 20th Century, and to bring them back, the Vulture Conservation Foundation and partners initiated the reintroduction project in the 1970s. The first birds were released in 1986 at Hohe Tauern National Park (Austria), and in 1997 the first breeding pair successfully raised a chick in the wild in France.

Today, there are between 250 and 300 Bearded Vultures, including 58 breeding pairs, across the Alps. This reintroduction project has sparked the imagination and gathered the support of many stakeholders across the Alpine chain and is considered one of the best wildlife comeback stories of all times! 

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