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Bearded Vulture pairs in captivity are already busy with the new breeding season

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Bearded Vulture pairs in captivity are already busy with the new breeding season
The Bearded Vulture pair Joseph and M. Antoinette engage in mutual preening © Vulture Conservation Foundation

The previous Bearded Vulture captive breeding season was longer than usual and officially finished at the end of summer with the last releases of captive-bred younglings. A couple of months have passed, and the Bearded Vulture pairs and the staff that look after them are becoming busy again with the new one.

As coordinators of the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network (Bearded Vulture EEP), and managers of the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Centre of Guadalentín and the Specialised Bearded Vulture Breeding Unit at the Recovery Centre Vallcalent, we at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) got our hands full with the new captive breeding season. We have already witnessed plenty of breeding signs and behaviour, and together with our partners, we take essential actions to ensure the best breeding results.

The Bearded Vulture captive breeding season begins

Perhaps one of the most diligent and caring parents of the animal kingdom, Bearded Vultures perform several parental duties for many months in order to welcome and rear their offspring. During this time of year, the around 40 breeding pairs out of the 174 captive birds that are housed in the Bearded Vulture EEP exhibit behaviours that indicate the breeding season has begun. Staff will see breeding pairs play with nesting materials such as sticks and wool, construct their nest, engage in mutual preening, exhibit aggression towards neighbouring pairs and even start copulating. Egg-laying typically occurs three months after nest building and anywhere between 50 and 90 days after copulations. Once they lay the egg, the pair shares responsibilities and incubates the clutch for around 54 days, and the hatchling will usually be able to fledge at approximately four months of age. 

Breeding Bearded Vultures for conservation purposes

Feeding a Bearded Vulture chick that hatched in captivity
Feeding a Bearded Vulture chick that hatched in captivity © Hansruedi Weyrich/ VCF

Back in 1978, the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and partners united to bring the Bearded Vulture back to the Alps. To achieve this goal, pioneers established a captive-breeding programme to produce chicks and release them into the wild, with the first release taking place in 1986 at the Austrian Hohe Tauern National Park. It took time and perseverance since Bearded Vultures only reproduce when they reach around 7-10 years old, with one chick surviving per year. Still, thanks to these efforts, the species returned to the Alps, making it one of the best wildlife comeback stories of all time! Ever since this success, more projects were launched across France and Spain. Today, the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, coordinated by the VCF on behalf of EAZA‘s EEP, closely works with over 40 partners, including zoos, to ensure the best breeding results from the potential breeding pairs in captivity. Every year, the VCF and partners release young captive-bred Bearded Vultures into the wild across Europe to reintroduce the species to areas where it went extinct or boost local, vulnerable populations. Up until the end of 2021, a total of 344 captive-bred Bearded Vultures were freed into the wild.

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