Bearded vulture captive breeding: Old ladies come to the rescue

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Captive-breeding is a (difficult) art, but in the bearded vulture captive breeding network, managed by the VCF, and which is at the base of our reintroduction-restocking projects, this art is now assuming elaborate forms – result of three decades of experience.

This year we are calling two old ladies to the rescue. These two very old bearded vultures would probably not be able to produce viable eggs or chicks due to old age, but nevertheless they were successfully paired at the Richard Faust bearded vulture specialized captive breeding center (Austria), co-managed by the EGS and VCF, to serve as foster parents. One of them was born in 1978 and is one of the first descendants from the old Alpenzoo Innsbruck breeding pair. She could be successfully paired with a 30 years old male. The second female is two years younger and descendant from the old La Garenne breeding pair, and was paired with a 32 years old male. Both pairs have laid a clutch, with low probability that the eggs are fertile. But all four birds have a long breeding history giving us two new potential foster pairs in case a surplus of chicks.

Bearded vulture chicks display aggressive behavior while they are in the nest, which results in the death of the younger sibling when there are double clutches. This obligatory behavior, named “cainism”, is present during the whole nestling period and so it is impossible to rear two chicks together in the same nest. In those cases, we use foster pairs for the surplus second chicks. Consequently, all birds included in the captive breeding network are used for reproduction, also injured birds with motor problems and very old birds although they have become infertile. Their breeding experiences are very value because they can secure successful chick rearing, even when they become infertile. But this is only possible if the birds can be stimulated to reproduce, in other words they must be paired. Consequently, as soon as one adult bird loses its partner, we try to find rapidly an adequate partner for not losing the rearing potential of the experienced bird.

 The big goal of the Bearded Vulture captive breeding programme (EEP) is to get adequate chicks for reintroduction projects, that show the same behavioral patterns as their wild conspecifics when they become adult, and are capable to survive in the wild without human help and able to reproduce when they arrive to their sexual maturity. Only natural reared chicks fulfill this aim. Quality before Quantity – and for that some old ladies can help!

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