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Conclusions of the Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting 2019

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This November we had our Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting, where we exchanged our Bearded Vulture conservation updates with our colleagues in Europe and beyond. Have a look below at the conclusions. 

General overview

  • The Bearded Vulture conservation programme in Europe is one of the most successful wildlife comeback stories of our times!
  • A great project that has gathered momentum, motivated partners and captured the imagination of people. It is not only a conservation project – it is a human and social adventure that is producing social, political, economic and conservation outputs
  • It is growing in complexity and scope and has evolved from discrete, single-focus projects to a truly international, pan-European programme. Research & monitoring has always underpinned the projects – expanding the scope of the research to all populations – so engagement with the IBM, collaborative approaches need to be strengthened for a European-wide analysis (mortality, movements, etc.)

Bearded Vulture conservation

  • Continuing to work on threats is essential. Poisoning remains a severe threat as well as electrocution, collision and lead poisoning 
  • Great work is being done on the French Pyrenees – 65% of scavenger bird mortality is anthropogenic, 28% due to poisoning; 10% of Bearded Vultures in the Pyrenees with sub-lethal lead exposure.
  • Lead poisoning – Bearded Vultures are particularly sensitive; new project in perspective in the Alps, within the context for a strong push for regulatory approach from the EU. Interesting pilot experiments with the use of non-lead ammunition in France, general good satisfaction, issues with price and ricocheting
  • Mortality of Bearded Vultures: many cases multi-factorial; still many unknown causes, even of tagged Bearded Vultures – need to improve data management to detect and identify mortality causes! 

EVC research themes – where are we with Bearded Vulture research? 

  • Defining and assessing success? Several ongoing projects, e.g. reintroduction in the Alps, GypConnect etc. 
  • Replication of successes – e.g. expansion of BV releases
  • Vulture movements, space use and breeding distribution? Several ongoing projects, e.g. use of feeding sites; wild vs released juveniles
  • Tracking data to inform proactive and reactive conservation? Detecting and responding to mortality/injury – many / all projects using tracking data
  • What kills vultures – All projects continuously monitoring and improving methods
  • Supplementary feeding – Studies on movements, breeding parameters complete/ongoing; feeding protocols developed and implemented
  • Environmental contaminants – completed/ongoing projects on both captive and wild BV populations: veterinary drugs, lead, poison
  • Standardization of methods – IBM is often cited as a fantastic example
  • Energy infrastructure – some great examples of effective monitoring and mitigation of overhead cables across the BV range in Europe
  • Demographic studies – studies for the Alps, Pyrenees completed and being updated
  • Genetics – used continuously to inform captive breeding and release strategy; a great tool for monitoring development of the free-flying population
  • Human aspects – work completed, ongoing, planned with hunters, farmers, aviation sector, outdoor sports such as climbers etc. 
  • Collaborations – the Bearded Vulture community in Europe and the IBM are often referred to as a shining example of international collaboration in conservation

But – how do we translate all of this information into effective conservation action? We already have positive results – Bearded Vulture populations are increasing and expanding across much of their former range.


  • New strategy already applied to face challenges like West Nile Virus, aspergillosis, in a context of climate change and increasing difficulties with the transport of chicks.
  • EEP captive population: Demographic healthy pyramid shape age figure and genetic variability are long-term secured. 
  • Close contact with EEP coordinator + visits to zoos very effective (e.g. Parco Natura Viva)
  • 11 birds transported (6 new potential breeding pairs +1 foster pair)
  • 2018-2019: Good breeding season (New record 29 fledglings; +1 died by fledging). Potential for greater outputs in the future
  • Great coordination between partners/institutions (e.g.Tallinn chicks; Lot/Nordica airlines, EAZA, Tallinn zoo, RFZ)
  • Wonderful work by specialised captive-breeding centres that dedicate a lot of their resources to this – thank you! Also a long-term work – it can take several years before success (e.g. Parco Natura Viva)

Reintroduction projects

One of the Bearded Vultures released in Andalucia
  • 2019 releases – 22 birds released in 6 sites (5 Grands Causses, 2 Baronnies, 2 Vercors, 2 Maestrazgo, 9 Andalusia, 2 Corsica). Three young released in Grands Causses dead
  • Maestrazgo – new project started last year; enhances and supports metapopulation approach, bridge between populations. Translocation of non-breeding adults from the Pyrenees on an experimental phase – so far 3. Two of them back in the Pyrenees.
  • GypConnect – significant mortality of vultures in the Causses (11 since 2012, diverse causes). 14% of dead vultures x-rayed with lead pellets; Poisoning cases too; 
  • GypConnect – 2 pairs established in Aude, 1 pair in Grands Causses (both males), 2 adults established in Vercors, 1 in Baronnies. Importance of close monitoring and veterinary analysis for mortality id. Efforts to investigate and prosecute actions.
  • Release strategy for 2020 presented. Continued investment in Gypconnect and Andalusia, central Alps will only get birds of high genetic value.
  • New release site in the Alpine reintroduction project – Bavaria, which will work together with the NP Hohe Tauern. Releases will be done alternately. 1st releases in 2021?
  • Planning pipeline: in normal conditions next reintroduction project in Bulgaria, if EEP allows and without damaging ongoing reintroduction projects. Successful Griffon Vulture reintroduction, ongoing Cinereous Vulture reintroduction, regional anti-poisoning programme.
  • Picos reintroduction project LIFE. Done through egg extraction of Pyrenean clutches with low breeding success (3%) and raised through puppets
  • Picos: 38 eggs removed, 21 chicks released (28 if including period before LIFE). 20 still alive. 
  • Picos: 2 established pairs, first breeding attempt 2017

Andorra & Pyrenees

  • Andorra: 1 breeding pair, supplementary feeding sites, monitoring through cameras, education programme
  • 20th anniversary PACT – protocol between Govern d´Andorra & ADN focussed on the conservation of the species. 
  • Youtube channel with videos from nest cameras with almost 1,5m visualizations – wide impact!
  • French Pyrenees: increase of population (16 to 44 pairs, 25% Pyrenean population), regular spreading towards the eastern Pyrenees, increased density; Productivity low, but has remained relatively stable (unlike Spanish Pyrenees); distribution increased with regular winter supplementary feeding. Productivity impacted by protected areas (abundance of food), an abundance of griffon vultures (negative) & history of breeding; great monitoring network (Réseau Casseur d´Os, 350 people)
  • Breeding failures: weather, experience & disturbance impacts important – direct and differed, have increased in recent years. Up to 30% of breeding output in a given year can be cancelled by helicopter overflight in the French Pyrenees. ZSM (500-800m core, 1000m buffer) allow to negotiate the temporary regulation of activities around bearded vulture nests – an interesting model for other countries. Protocol for overflights ZSM negotiated with French government, but training needs recurrent; same for police and air ambulance; More difficult with private companies. Air navigation plus Geomatika databases include ZSM
  • Recommendation to include the Pyrenees progressively in the IOD, IBM protocols


  • Alps (2019): the number of breeding pairs continues to increase, 63 territories (57 in 2018), 53 breeding pairs (52 in 2018), 38 fledged (29 in 2018). New record!
  • Alps (2019): 1st breeding attempt for 6 territories, successful breeding in the most northern pair. Good developments in the southern Alps – more breeding + engagement from Italian partners. New nest camera in Aosta. Breeding in the Écrins continues.
  • The proportion of wild-hatched young is increasing – the marking of these is crucial! 3 wild-hatched juvenile tagged in 2019 (bringing the total to 9)
  • Juvenile wild hatched tend to disperse less than released young
  • Juvenile wild-hatched visit neighbouring successful territories. Juv. in the territory may not be the own territory´s young!
  • First Pyrenean bird detected breeding in the alps (genetic monitoring!)
  • IBM: crucial to continue to monitor and take conservation management actions
  • IOD: great citizen science project, valued by participants (evaluation), great hook for engagement with vulture communications. But some management of volunteers needed for effectiveness (Stelvio model)
  • Photography as a potent monitoring and communications tool, but disturbance an issue. Photographers do have a role to play.


  • Confirmed presence in the area where 3 pairs supposed to be present
  • Survival and persistence in the high atlas
  • Few juveniles were seen. Is there poor breeding?
  • Lots of food for large part of the year, seemingly no threats
  • Difficult logistics. Finding nests is a priority


  • 11-12 pairs, slight increase
  • Good breeding success

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