A Bearded Vulture chick fledged in the wild in Vercors for the first time in at least 150 years. This milestone marks an important event for Vercors, but also Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and France. It is the first time a Bearded Vulture pair has successfully bred in the wild since we started reintroduction efforts in the Vercors twelve years ago.
Promising Bearded Vulture breeding behaviour in Vercors
Not one but two Bearded Vulture pairs exhibited breeding behaviour since the beginning of winter in Parc naturel régional du Vercors (PNRV). The two pairs settled at the southern part of the Vercors, one in the commune of Châtillon-en-Diois and the other in Laval d’Aix. The latter first attempted to breed last year, but their efforts proved unsuccessful. This time around, they demonstrated promising behaviour from the start.
The Bearded Vulture pair consisting of Gerlinde and Onze in Vercors © Olivier Teilhard
The pair formed by Bearded Vulture Gerlinde (released in 2013 in the Vercors) and an unidentified male (recently named Onze) carried branches suggesting nesting, mated numerous times and exhibited territorial behaviour. Since February, the pair exhibited characteristic behaviour that suggested egg-laying. At least one of the adults remained at the nest permanently, taking turns incubating their clutch while guarding it against unwanted visitors like crows or eagles.
Bearded Vulture chicks takes flight in Vercors
Although the breeding progress appeared promising, the period between egg-laying and fledging lasts around six months and is full of risks, especially for a young and inexperienced pair. During this time, the local field team carefully monitored the nest, hoping for a favourable outcome. It was not until Monday, 23 May 2022, that the PNRV warden finally observed the chick for the first time and named it Ambane alongside the volunteers. If everything worked out according to plan, they expected the young vulture to fledge around 25 July. But it took a little longer. Ambane finally took its first flight, successfully leaving the nest, on Tuesday, 2 August, at 10:39 am.
Bearded Vulture Ambane takes flight – the first in Vercors in 150 years © Olivier Teilhard
Of course, the entire project team rejoiced at this exciting news – a Bearded Vulture successfully fledged in Vercors’ wild for the first time in at least 150 years!
Reintroducing the Bearded Vulture in Vercors
The reintroduction project has so far released 17 Bearded Vultures between 2010 and 2021. Since 2016, these actions took place within the LIFE GypConnect project.
The birds released in the wild come from a captive breeding background. They hatch in different facilities within the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, coordinated by us at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) on behalf of EAZA’s EEP, which breeds the species for conservation purposes.
Once they reach 90-100 days old, the captive-bred birds are ready for their release. Before that, Parc naturel régional du Vercors equips them with identification rings, bleaches a unique set of feathers and fits them with GPS transmitters to be able to recognise them in the wild and track their movements and behaviour. Monitoring is essential to identify and tackle threats, as well as become alert if a bird needs rescuing, helping boost chances of survival.
The LIFE GypConnect team then hikes to the artificial nest and releases at least two Bearded Vultures at a time. In this nest, the young vultures acclimatize to their new environment until they fledge. This method is known as hacking, which is more or less the ‘natural’ way of fledging. The role of the parents at that time is to supply them with food and provide social contact. During this period, a team monitors the birds to ensure their safety and feeds them without human contact until they fledge the nest, therefore, avoiding human imprinting.
Here’s to more years of conservation optimism
The first fledgling in Vercors is a new step forward, but the road is still long. The next objectives to pursue include the sustainable establishment of several pairs in Vercors and the reduction of threats the species face. As a reminder, the species had completely disappeared from the whole of the Alpine arc due to anthropogenic reasons in 1913, with the last trace in the Vercors dating back to 1870.
It takes time and perseverance to reintroduce and restock Bearded Vulture populations to the wild since they only reproduce when they reach around 8-10 years old, with one chick surviving per year. But with diligence, dedication and collaboration, it is possible for this magnificent bird to make a recovery. Since 1978, together with our partners, we bred 611 chicks in captivity and released 368 young across several European regions. We will continue to do so until Bearded Vulture populations become self-sustaining and healthy!
The LIFE GypConnect project
Led by the League pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), the LIFE GypConnect project aims to establish a breeding population of Bearded Vultures in the Massif Central and Department of the Drôme. Releasing captive-bred Bearded Vultures into the wild at sites such as the Parc Naturel Régional des Grands Causses, Parc Naturel Régional des Baronnies Provençales and Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors will create a core population that will connect the two populations of the species in the Alps and Pyrenees. To facilitate movements between the new population and the Alpine and Pyrenean populations the LIFE GYPCONNECT team is creating a network of supplementary feeding stations, and tackling threats such as poisoning, and collision and electrocution with the electricity infrastructure.