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Griffon Vultures in the Alps: the results from the 2021 annual summer census are here

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Griffon-Vulture-in-flight
Griffon Vulture in flight © Nello Petitio

For the twelfth year in a row, the Annual Griffon Vulture Summer Census, coordinated by Envergures Alpines, has taken place to help count the number of visiting Griffon Vultures in the Alps. This year, it was a partial survey.

Griffon Vultures in the Alps

With the exception of small colonies in Austria and Italy, Griffon Vultures have been absent from the Alps for decades. As part of the French national action plan for Griffon Vultures, a programme began in the 1990s to reintroduce the species to Pre-Alps (Baronnies, Vercors and Verdon) and the Grands Causses. Today the population is firmly re-established in the regions and is a part of the important corridor that connects the western populations in the Pyrenees, Spain and Portugal with the eastern populations in the Balkans. 

The Alps is also a regular summering destination for young Griffon Vultures from both the western and eastern populations. The Iberian Peninsula is home to the largest population of Griffon Vultures in Europe, and during the first couple of years after fledging their nests, their wanderings take them to the Alps. During the summer months, the birds take advantage of the ideal foraging conditions there, when many livestock go up to the Alps in the summer, and there is plenty of food. In the last few years, a regular pendulum movement between Iberia, southern France and the pre-Alps has appeared, leading to a summering seasonal population of non-breeding Griffon Vultures, particularly in the westernmost Alps (France-Italy).

The 2021 Annual Griffon Vulture Summer Count in the Alps

Griffon Vultures in the Alps 2021 survey map

Each summer since 2010, through the cooperation of national and natural parks, ornithological associations and other partners, Griffon Vultures summering in the Alps have been surveyed with a simultaneous count in August when the birds are most active in the mountains before they disperse from the area. 

This year, the organizers and local coordinators conducted a partial survey with some National Parks not deploying observers on the day for reasons beyond their control. On Saturday, 21 August 2021, 143 volunteers and staff (318 in 2020) spread across the Alps in 57 (116 in 2020) observation stations to observe the species. The count recorded a total of 975 Griffon Vulture individuals, compared to 2780 in 2020, 2312 in 2019, 1873 in 2018, 2459 in 2017, 1732 in 2015 and 1682 in 2014. It is, of course, not possible to make comparisons with previous censuses given the random behaviour of the vultures in certain regions and the absence of data on the most frequented sites (Verdon, Baronnies, Mercantour).

Based on the results of the census and ongoing observations, Griffon Vultures were once again present in the Alps this summer, providing benefits to the environment and local communities. They continue their work of cleaning up after carcasses, contributing to the health of functioning mountainous ecosystems. Their efficient scavenging behaviour also benefits the pastoral economy since they can minimise the need for carcass disposal services, which can be expensive and polluting.

This is a great effort by everyone involved and fantastic to see the continued return of the species to the region. 

Well done to all the volunteers, and to the fantastic work done by Envergures Alpines in coordinating the effort.

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