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Four Bearded Vulture chicks hatched in Austria: the first chick in East-Tyrol in 100 years

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In Austria, there are good reasons to celebrate Bearded Vulture conservation. The breeding success was never so high, as four Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) chicks hatched in the wild this year. Also, for the first time in the last century, a pair hatched a chick in East Tyrol, making it a remarkable outcome of the reintroduction efforts ongoing in the Hohe Tauern National Park and across the Alps since 1986. 

A Bearded Vulture nestling © Nationalpark Hohe Tauern
A Bearded Vulture nestling © Nationalpark Hohe Tauern

Four Bearded Vultures hatched in the wild in Austria 

The Hohe Tauern National Park is the largest protected area in the Alps. With over 1850 sq. kilometres, 75% of the park is strictly protected and no use for economic purposes is allowed. The National Park stretches across three provinces, Carinthia, Salzburg and Tyrol, and for the first time in 100 years, there are Bearded Vulture pairs breeding in all three.  

This season, six Bearded Vulture pairs started breeding in the National Park, from which four chicks hatched in early March. In addition to the four experienced pairs, two new pairs successfully bred for the first time. The successful pairs include: 

  • The pair located in Katschberg, which is rearing its tenth chick 
  • The pair at Krumltal (Salzburg), whose female is over 35 years old and the oldest breeding Bearded Vulture in the Alps, welcomed its ninth chick
  • A new pair formed this year near Heiligenblut (Carinthia), with Ambo and Fortuna being able to hatch a chick for the first time
  • A new pair formed this year in Dorfertal near Prägraten, making it the very first breeding success in the East-Tyrol’s part of the National Park in 100 years. 

Another pair in Mallnitz (Carinthia) only started breeding in February, and the monitoring team of the National Park is waiting to see how it develops. Another pair settled in East-Tyrol but unfortunately aborted.  

Bearded Vultures have a long breeding season 

Bearded Vultures are the earliest breeders of all four European vulture species. The monogamic pairs start making aerial displays and building their nests in late autumn. In the Alps, they usually start laying eggs in late December and continue until February. Parents share brooding responsibilities until the eggs hatch after 54 days of incubation.  

Chicks hatch around the last weeks of winter, which is naturally planned to happen when there are higher chances for carcasses’ availability after the avalanche season. The first weeks after hatching are critical for the parents to show their ability to rear their offspring. This season, every breeding pair seems to be fit for the task!  

Bearded Vultures are dedicated and devoted parents, equally sharing the responsibilities to keep the chicks warm and fed. In the first weeks, as chicks are not able to digest bones, parents need to feed them with a made of digested bones and saliva. They will spend the next months rearing their chicks until they can autonomously fly across the Alpine skies. In total, the breeding period lasts around nine months! 

The reintroduction of the Bearded Vulture in the Alps 

The first Bearded Vulture releases in the Alps took placed in 1986 at Hohe Tauern National Park in Austria

The first Bearded Vulture releases in the Alps took place in 1986 at Hohe Tauern National Park in Austria.

The Bearded Vulture population in Europe is increasing, but it wasn’t always like this. In the Alps and other parts of Europe, the species was driven to extinction in the 20th century. Direct persecution, habitat loss and fragmentation and the decrease in food availability were some of the reasons for the collapse.  

To bring the species back to the Alps, pioneers from the Alps initiated a reintroduction project in the 1970s. The first Bearded Vulture was released in the Hohe Tauern National Park in 1986 and finally, in 1997, the first breeding pair successfully hatched and raised a chick in the wild in France. Across Austria, there are currently around 30 Bearded Vulture individuals, and the Hohe Tauern National Park holds the easternmost population of this fascinating bird. 

We hope the four pairs can successfully rear their offspring!  

Source: Nationalpark Hohe Tauern  

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