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Finally flying – the harrowing story of the young bearded vulture Mison

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Mison can finally fly free in the mountains – but this 6 months old female bearded vulture has already a troubled time behind her. 

Mison was born in the wild in the Swiss Alps – one of the 28 young that fledged this summer, a new record for this growing population, but Mison was the unlucky one – its nest in the Swiss Val de Bagnes was relatively small for the big bird and so she fell down in the end of May, just a few weeks before fledging. The fall was long and hence she broke her leg. Luckily this bearded vulture nest was monitored closely by some volunteers and the bird was detected sitting on a forestry road. François Biollaz from the Swiss Foundation Pro Bartgeier went to collect the young bearded vulture. It was a long, difficult travel as the territory is far away from main roads. 

The bird – promptly named Mison, was taken to the Landscape and Animal Park Goldau, where the veterinary Martin Wehrle did an x-ray – it was immediately clear that the broken bone had to be fixed with surgery. Mison was then taken to the Tierspital Zürich where surgery with external fixation was performed. Mison was then brought back to the Animal and Landscape Park Goldau for recovery and physiotherapy. 

The healing process took longer than anticipated and it was not possible to release her during summer in the Swiss mountains. She was ready for release only by the end of September, when conditions in the Alps can already become tricky, both for the bird and for the observation team. At this time of the year the first snow can fall anytime and make access difficult. Further, carcasses may get easily covered by snow and make it difficult to find food for the still inexperienced bird.

The first weeks and months after fledging are a very important learning period for bearded vultures and hence it was important to release her still before winter. We therefore needed to find a place where the weather conditions are more favorable and where food sources are more predictable. In the Baronnies (the westernmost pre-Alps), these conditions are met – besides, the local team from Vautours en Baronnies was more than happy to receive the young female and provide the necessary resources to follow her the first days. 

The team from the Swiss foundation Pro-Bartgeier collected Mison in the Landscape and Animal Park Goldau, where the staff had prepared all the necessary papers (Cites, Traces, health check etc.) to transport her to France. Upon arrival in France, Mison was presented to a small group of persons from the LIFE GypConnect project as well as local volunteers who will help with the surveillance of Mison. Before the release, she was equipped with a small GPS device which will allow us to follow her movements. 

Mison was put in the cave where earlier this summer Léoux and Pro Natura were released. Mison did not immediately take off, but drank some water, did some flight exercises and had a good look at the surroundings. Then a black vulture landed in the cave, got interested in the food provided for Mison and approached her – so she took off! This was the first flight for the young bearded vulture. She flew for a little bit more than 1 minute and landed a little hard, but without injuries in the wooded cliff. 

She rested for the rest of the day and made her next flight only the following day. The flight conditions were not ideal on this and the following days – almost no wind. As a result, Mison lost height and flew lower and lower in the valley. In the end she was at the lowest point and close to the road. The team from Vautours en Baronnies reacted quickly and recaptured her. Mison spend another 2 days in the aviary and was rereleased when the weather conditions improved. She then took her chance, and this time flew without any problems. She continues to improve her flight abilities more and more every day. The movements of Mison can be followed online here>>

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