The Bearded Vulture nicknamed “Vigo” that toured the UK in 2020 probably needs no introduction. This vulture’s visit captured the attention of thousands of bird and nature lovers, becoming quite a celebrity in the UK and beyond. We here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) have been documenting the travels of this Bearded Vulture since the beginning, and have even revealed its sex, age and origin following genetic analysis with feathers. Today, on the first day of 2021, we are excited to announce that the full article in the British Birds Journal is published and we can reveal this magnificent bird’s parentage!
The fascinating travels of the Bearded Vulture in the UK
A bone-eating Bearded Vulture, one of Europe’s rarest and largest raptors, left its mountain range and visited unusual corners of Europe in the summer of 2020, causing quite a frenzy. At first, it visited the Netherlands and Belgium. It then made its way to the UK, when Lucy Burrell first photographed it in Kenilworth, England, on 25 June 2020, marking the second observation of the species in the UK in recent years! After spending over four months in the UK, birdwatchers saw the vulture leaving Sussex in mid-October. There was no news for some time until the International Bearded Vulture Monitoring (IBM) received an observation of a Bearded Vulture, first in Central and then Eastern France. According to experts, based on the plumage of the bird photographed, there is a good chance that it was “Vigo”.
Parentage of Bearded Vulture in the UK revealed
As the Bearded Vulture did not have a tag, ring or feather markings, the only way to learn more about the bird’s background was through genetic analysis of a blood sample or feathers. Thanks to two small feathers collected in the Peak District by local Yorkshire birder David Ball, Pro Bartgeier and VCF initially determined that “Vigo” comes from the French Alps, and is a female bird that hatched in 2019 in a wild nest.
Now that the peer-reviewed article in the British Birds journal is published, we are thrilled to share further details about this exceptional individual. It turns out that “Vigo” is actually “Flysch” that fledged on 6 July 2019 from the Bargy BIS territory located in the Bargy Massif in the Haute-Savoie region, north-west Alps. Her father (GT0099) is a wild-hatched bird that fledged from the territory “Bargy”. Her mother on the other hand (BG493, “Zufall”) was reared in La Garenne Zoo in Switzerland, which is part of the VCF coordinated Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, and released as a fledgling in 2006, in Martell, South Tyrol, Italy.
Using genetic monitoring to keep track of Bearded Vultures in Europe
Revealing the identity of “Flysch” was only possible thanks to the extensive genetic monitoring that began in 1998 for both captive-bred Bearded Vultures as well as the wild Alpine population.
Human keepers collect blood samples for captive-bred birds while local partners within the IBM, coordinated by the VCF, carry targeted searches below nest sites to find feathers to monitor the wild population and acquire the wild-fledged birds’ genotypes. The IBM currently stores 640 genotypes in the database: 200 captive-bred birds that remained in captivity, 249 captive-bred birds released to the wild, 137 birds hatched in the wild in the Alps, 40 individuals from Corsica and 14 individuals from the Pyrenees. For instance, in the case of “Flysch”, Asters, Conservatoire d’Espaces Naturels de Haute-Savoie collected the feathers in 2019, and the genetic information was then incorporated in the database. So, when the feathers found were analyzed and cross-referenced with the IBM database, we were able to identify the individual and trace the parentage.
The recent sighting of a Bearded Vulture in the UK was only possible due to the Bearded Vulture’s return in the Alps, which is one of the greatest wildlife comeback stories of all times! The VCF and partners will continue to restore the species’ population to its former range in Europe and continue to advocate about the importance of this magnificent bird.
To support Bearded Vulture conservation efforts in Europe, please participate in this survey if you observed or attempted to observe the Bearded Vulture in the UK.