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New breeding record in the Balkan Mountains helps to secure the future of Cinereous Vultures in Bulgaria

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An encouraging record-breaking breeding season for the Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) in the Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria, as three chicks hatched in the wild, surpassing last year’s breeding success. A fourth chick may still hatch in the coming weeks, making it a tremendous victory for the conservation efforts ongoing in the country for more than 30 years. 

Cinereous Vultures in the Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria_Hristo Peshev_FWFF
Cinereous Vultures in the Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria © Hristo Peshev/ FWFF

Three Cinereous Vulture chicks hatched in the Balkan Mountains, setting a new breeding record for the species  

At the beginning of this breeding season, the number of Cinereous Vultures pairs established in the Kotlenska Mountains (Eastern Balkan Mountains) was a precursor for a record-breaking season: two pairs produced offspring, setting a new regional record. A third chick hatched in the Western Balkan Mountains, and there is still hope for a fourth chick to hatch in the same colony.   

The breeding period for Cinereous Vultures is quite long. Each season, the pair lays only one egg between February and March, and it takes about 55-60 days of incubation until the offspring hatches. Dedicated parents, Cinereous Vultures will spend the following 100-115 days rearing their chick until it is ready to leave the nest in late August or early September.  

Bringing back the Cinereous Vulture to Bulgaria’s skies   

The Cinereous Vulture is the largest and heaviest bird of prey in Europe. Once a common sight in several European countries, poisoning incidents, direct persecution and habitat loss led to its extinction in many countries. By the end of the 20th century, the last wild colonies got confined to Spain, in the west, and to the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park in Greece, which held the last remaining population in the Balkans for many years.  

Although some individuals from the Greek population could be seen flying over Bulgaria every year, there were no records of Cinereous Vultures breeding in the country or any other Balkan state for decades. The species became locally extinct in 1985, and a single pair was recorded in 1993 in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains but disappeared after the breeding season.   

Securing the Future of Cinereous Vultures in the Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria  

To restore the Cinereous Vulture population in Bulgaria, organisations working at the national level, the Green Balkans, FWFF, the Birds of Prey Protection Society and the Nature parks “Vrachanski Balkan” and “Sinite Kamani” have joined forces with international organisations such as the Vulture Conservation Foundation, Euronatur and Junta de Extremadura. With the Vultures Back to LIFE project funded by the EU’s LIFE programme, the first three Cinereous Vultures were released in 2018 in the Balkan Mountains, and by the end of the project, in 2022, over 70 birds would have been released.

Last Cinereous Vultures released in Bulgaria © FWFF
Last Cinereous Vultures released in Bulgaria © FWFF

At the end of 2020, two released Cinereous Vultures formed pair and successfully hatched a chick in the wild in 2021. This was the first Cinereous Vulture hatching in the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina) in 60-70 years and the first in Bulgaria in nearly three decades. In December 2021, the project team rejoiced when another two released birds formed pair, beginning their attempts to start a family in the Western Balkan Mountains. In 2022, the number of hatchlings rose to two as a chick hatched in the Western Balkan Mountains for the first time.  

Across the Balkan Mountains, estimations indicate that 11-13 pairs have been formed, thanks to the releases in different sites in the framework of the Vultures Back to LIFE project. Over the coming years, the released juveniles will become sexually mature and form new pairs, bringing renovated hope for the future of Cinereous Vultures in Bulgaria. 

Source: Green Balkans 

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