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Pyrenees and Alps: 99 Bearded Vultures fledged in 2022

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Young Bearded Vulture in flight_Nello Petito
Young Bearded Vulture in flight © Nello Petito

The 2021/22 breeding season was very successful, as 99 juvenile Bearded Vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) took their first flight in the Pyrenees and the Alps, according to the report recently published by LPO/ BirdLife France. In the Alps, it was the best-ever breeding season, with 49 juvenile Bearded Vultures fledged from 80 breeding territories, seven of them in newly established territories. This news set a new record again for the Alpine population, with five more birds fledging compared to last year’s record year. 

Pyrenees: Bearded Vulture with higher reproductive success in France 

Across the Pyrenees, approximately 200 pairs fledged 50 juveniles in 2022. Although the number of territories is still increasing, the number of fledglings remains low. In the Pyrenees, the average reproductive success (RS = the number of young fledged / number of clutches) was 0.35.  

Compared to the southern slopes, the reproductive success of the French pairs is the best in the massif and is higher than the Pyrenean average. In France, 83% of the clutches hatched, with reproductive success of 0.47, higher than the Pyrenean average and also slightly higher than the average for France between 2010-2021 (0.44). 

Bearded Vulture fledglings table Pyrenees 2022
Source: LPO Report, December 2022 – Information from Elena Vega Aldrufeu (Generalitat de Catalunya), Jordi Solà (Govern d’Andorra), Marta López Liberal (Govierno de Navarra), José María Martínez González (Govierno de Aragon)

Alps: new record with 49 Bearded Vulture fledglings  

In 2022, 76 breeding pairs fledged 49 youngsters in the Alps, with a breeding success of 0.67, higher than in the Pyrenees. The average for the French Alps from 1997 to 2021 was 0.64. In the Southern French Alps, the breeding success was very good this year, with 0.80 young birds fledged per clutch. 

In France, from the 21 pairs that hatched, 14 produced fledglings. Three additional pairs are in formation, with nest constructions observed (1 in Drôme, 1 in Isère and 1 in Haute-Savoie). 

Bearded Vulture fledglings table Alps 2022
Source: LPO report, Dec. 2022

After the Bearded Vulture went extinct in 1913 in the Alps, the species made a notable recovery, thanks to the conservation and reintroduction actions that started in the late 1970s with a captive breeding programme. Between 1986 and 2019, the Vulture Conservation Foundation, together with partners, released over 230 juvenile Bearded Vultures into the Alps, and today, there are around 300 Bearded Vultures, including 60+ breeding pairs, across the Alps.  

The new breeding season has started

Europe’s rarest vulture is the earliest breeder of the European vulture species. In the Alps, Bearded Vultures usually start to lay eggs in late December and continue up until February, with parents sharing brooding responsibilities until the chick hatches after an average of 54 days. In the wild, a pair or trio can only raise one young bird per year, since even if they lay more than one egg, only the stronger chick survives due to the evolutionary behaviour of cainism. 

Mesa laid her 3rd egg in the Vallcalent breeding centre in mid-January
Mesa laid her 3rd egg in mid-January at our breeding unit located within the Vallcalent centre © Vulture Conservation Foundation

In captivity, the laying period extends from November to March included, and in some exceptional cases, until the beginning of April, as less experienced pairs tend to lay their first eggs later in the season. In our captive-breeding facilities, our breeding unit at the Centre de Fauna de Vallcalent and the Bearded Vulture captive breeding centre of Guadalentín, the breeding season is going well, with pairs already laying several eggs. Subscribe to our newsletter to learn the latest news from our breeding centres, as we will be sharing an update shortly.  

France: Protecting the cliffs for the Bearded Vulture 

In France, LPO reports a slight increase compared to 2021, as three new young fledged: 17 in the Pyrenees and 14 in the Alps. The report launched by LPO also sheds light on the conservation measures implemented in France. 

Bearded Vulture fledglings report Pyrenees Alps 2022

To protect Bearded Vultures during the breeding season, the French government declared “Areas of Major Sensitivity” (ZMS in French, Zones de Sensibilité Majeure). As the species breeds in mountain cliffs, where several human activities often take place. The aim of the ZMS is to inform mountain users about the susceptibility of these areas and thus prevent potential anthropogenic disturbances and promote coexistence. 

The ZMS encloses the mountain ridges where nests are being monitored. However, ZMS do not have a regulatory scope, which means compliance is mainly dependent on the success of the awareness-raising and education efforts made by the conservation organisations working in the area.  

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