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Bearded Vulture pair bonding: choosing the right partner for a selective species

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Aïnat & BG398 (c) VCF

Our Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Manager, Alex Llopis, and our new Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Assistant, Carmen Coleiro, recently attempted to create a new Bearded vulture pair at the Vallcallent Specialised Breeding Centre in Lleida where they are based. Carmen is giving us an inside look into what it takes to pair Bearded Vultures in captivity, which is a very particular species and is quite a tricky process.

First attempt

I always heard that pair-bonding in adult Bearded Vultures is quite complex, and you never know what is going to happen when you put an adult male and an adult female together for the first time. This week I had the chance to witness this. We moved the female BG398 to aviary number 10, where Aïnat has been living for the past few years. He didn’t like her. As the owner of the aviary (territorial behaviour), he showed to be very dominant, didn’t let her climb to the steps and even attacked her. She had to stay on the ground in the sun, without a chance to get shelter from the spanish summer heat. So at the end of the morning we separated them. 

Second attempt

The team tried a new pair-bonding, moving this female to another male’s aviary, Isaac, who had an injured leg. With this male, the female BG398 was dominant, and didn’t like him either! She attacked him.

Third attempt


Aïnat & BG398 (c) VCF

Following this, they put the female vulture back with Aïnat, but, in a different aviary. To our surprise, this time it was her who immediately took over the aviary. She went straight to the nest, and Aïnat let her go, and avoided her. This behaviour indicated that she was the dominant of the two this time. At this point, we were staring at the aviary with our binoculars like we were watching the highlights of a suspense film. Would she attack him now that she felt that she’s the ‘boss’? Would Aïnat attack her as he did before? Well, after a week and a half, not only there have not been any attacks, only a few displacements from the female to the male, but it seems that everyday they feel more confident with their new situation. She still rules, but lets Aïnat stay in the nest when she’s not there and sometimes they can be seen sitting very close looking quite comfortable with the presence of the other. We will we have to wait for the breeding season in autumn to see if love comes up!

Bearded Vulture Pair Bonding

Pair bonding is a key moment in Bearded Vulture breeding. Once they become adults, these birds don’t pair as easily as other birds, and they are very selective with their partners. Some birds have been with 5 or 6 different potential partners until they bred successfully. There are a lot of different factors involved, and each bird is different too, so it’s very difficult to predict what is going to happen every time a new pair bonding is attempted. There can be serious attacks, therefore, this process must be closely monitored.

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