Bearded vultures are one of the earliest breeders in Europe – their timing perfectly adapted to have chicks in early spring, when many of the mountain herbivores on which they feed (when they die) have their first births – and birth complications! Pairing take place in October or November, approximately 2 months before eggs are laid, and the end of the year is one of the peak laying periods! The snow and cold of their mountain realms does not deter them, and so they incubate through the cold winter months.
In general females which are breeding for the first time lay their first egg later (an average difference of around 30 days between first-egg laying date and later). Just before laying their eggs, females become more occupied with the nest and can be found lying down on it more often. In double clutches the second egg is laid on average 5-6 days later, and is smaller and almost white.
In the bearded vulture captive breeding network – managed by the VCF, at least 28 eggs have so far been laid from 18 breeding pairs – see photo of the pair in Académie de Fauconnerie Puy du Fou (France). At least 3 pairs laid 1-1,5 months earlier than last year, including a young pair from Torreferrussa (Spain) which last year laid at the beginning of February. This pair surprised us again by laying a second egg a week later.
This year there are a few pairs laying eggs for the first time, including a pair in the specialized captive breeding station in Guadalentín (Andalusia, managed by the Junta). The male, 50% Pyrenean, is reproducing for the first time. The female is a descendant of the old Prague breeding pair and reproduced successfully with another male in the past. The great news is that descendants of this new pair have no genes from the most represented blood lines inside the captive-breeding network, so their chicks will be ideal for the alpine reintroduction project, where we are now focussing on increasing the genetic variability
The Vulture Conservation Foundation is the coordinator of the bearded vulture European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), a collaborative and coordinated network of over 30 zoos, wildlife parks, specialized breeding centers and private collections, that aims to breed the species in captivity for conservation purposes. The bearded vulture EEP is at the base of the ongoing reintroduction projects in the Alps, Cazorla (Southern Spain) and Cevennes (Central France). In the Alps the species is staging a remarkable comeback, with +30 established territories 100 years after it went extinct there – in Andalusia the species bred in the wild for the first time last year, with the first wild born young fledgling from its nest in the Cazorla mountains last July.
Photos Puy du Fou