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International Observation Days 2021: Bearded Vulture population estimates and more insights

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Bearded Vulture in flight © Hansruedi Weyrich
Bearded Vulture in flight © Hansruedi Weyrich

Over a thousand participants have joined the 2021 International Bearded Vulture Observation Days (IOD) to carry out simultaneous counts across different European regions. The 2021 IOD report is now available, providing population estimates of the Bearded Vulture, an overview of the age class distribution and more insights.

Understanding the Bearded Vulture population 

The IOD has become an important event for ornithologists, bird-watchers and nature lovers who want to head to the mountains, searching the skies for this majestic bird species. 2021 marked the 16th annual Bearded Vulture census. The International Bearded Vulture Monitoring network (IBM), coordinated by us at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), organizes this monitoring action. Monitoring this species on a European wide scale would not have been possible without the effort and expertise of the regional coordinators of the 18 IBM partners and several associated organizations. Thanks to this international collaboration, it was possible to compile, evaluate and summarise the observations and estimates over the monitoring area and get an overview of the age class distribution.

The number of volunteer observers has been growing every year. Last year, we had 1295 participants joining the count in Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. Spread across 748 sites, observers logged in 960 Bearded Vulture observations. The estimated age class distribution is as follows: adults (N = 523, 54%), subadults (N = 42, 4%), immatures (N = 157, 16%), juveniles (N = 138, 14%) and unknown (N = 100, 10%).

Bearded Vulture population estimates

The Alpine population was estimated to vary between 284 and 381 individuals. The small population of the Massif Central is estimated to vary between 7-13 individuals. Around seven individuals have been estimated to be present in the Aude region in the French Pyrenees. In Spain, outside of the Pyrenees, Bearded Vulture populations have been estimated to vary between 3-4 individuals in Maestrazgo and 21-33 in Andalusia and Rioja. Similar as in the last years, no Bearded Vultures have been observed in Bulgaria where the species has been considered extinct since 1972. 

Out of these observations, many Bearded Vultures were identified on an individual level — 63 in the Alps, 6 in the Massif Central and 6 in Spain, while another 19 (Alps) and 7 (Spain) individuals were identified with lower probability. Furthermore, 62 animals could be tracked by GPS, whereby only 14 of the 39 animals that were present in the Alpine region could be visually identified by observers. These valuable individual-based data provide important information on the life history of the animals and can serve to calculate parameters for demographic modelling. Such individual-based information on an international scale is unique and allows to estimate survival rates and to follow the bird’s life history – important key elements in order to monitor the development of the Bearded Vulture project. 

A big thank you to our local partners and the volunteers for their important contributions!

Download the 2021 IOD report for all the details.

International Bearded Vulture Monitoring Network (IBM)

International Bearded Vulture Monitoring Network (IBM) Logo

The International Bearded Vulture Monitoring Network (IBM) is a unique international collaboration led by the Vulture Conservation Foundation between national & natural parks and non-governmental organizations to coordinate the monitoring activities for European Bearded Vulture populations. Through this network, data about the Bearded Vulture in Europe is collected, shared and made available to everyone working for the conservation of the species. The IBM-network also uses this data and comes together to discuss conservation strategies and priorities for this species on an international level. There are currently 18 partners and two associated organizations part of the IBM-network.

If you have any Bearded Vulture observations and photographs in the Alps, please report them here.

IBM IOD logos

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