In spring this year, the juvenile Bearded Vulture Eglazine reintroduced in the Grands Causses, France, left her release site heading north, finally reaching the Netherlands where she spent most of her time over the past six months. Now, it seems she is returning ‘home.’ In this blog post, we reveal the details of her adventures north.
Bred in captivity, released into the wild
In March 2020, Eglazine hatched in Parco Natura Viva, a part of the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, coordinated by us at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) on behalf of EAZA’s EEP. Captive-bred Bearded Vulture chicks have a significant purpose — they support reintroduction and restocking efforts across Europe. Eglazine is no different. Around three months after hatching, the LIFE GypConnect team in the Grands Causses received the female vulture. They equipped her with an identification ring and a GPS transmitter before releasing her into the hacking platform, where she got familiar with her new environment until she fledged and ventured into the mountains. Her release supported the project’s goals to establish a breeding population of the species in the Massif Central and the Pre-Alps through reintroduction and promoting dispersal movements between the Alps and the Pyrenean population.
Bearded Vulture Eglazine: her movements in the north
The young Bearded Vulture left the Grands Causses on 19 April 2021 and began her northbound travel. On 24 April, she reached the English Channel near Le Havre, and she continued to fly north along the North Sea coast. She entered Belgium on 30 April and crossed the country in a single day, landing in the Netherlands. From this moment on, the VCF’s president Hans Pohlmann, a Dutch resident, began closely monitoring her progress, vising her daily during her first days in the country to make sure she was safe and healthy.
In the beginning, she spent some days in the southern and central part of the Netherlands, and on 5 May, she flew directly overhead the village where Hans lives! In another peculiar coincidence, she reached the Lemelerberg Nature Reserve on the same day, which is a reserve managed by Hans on behalf of Landschap Overijssel. She spent a couple of weeks in this area, attracting large crowds of nature enthusiasts, with up to 100 people observing her at the same time, going on for days!
On 20 May, she flew east and continued until she reached the peninsula of Rúgen in Germany two days later, spending some time, before flying straight back to the Lemelerberg, where she arrived on 1 June. Because of the big crowds at her earlier visit, we decided to keep her presence quiet. After some time, she flew a bit more to the southwest to arrive in the National Park Hoge Veluwe, where she stayed for a couple of months. She roosts in a quiet, restricted part of the park or a nearby military ground. The area is home to wolves. These are the first that inhabit the Netherlands for two centuries and have arrived naturally from the expanding population in Germany. These packs feed on the present Red Deer, Wild boar, Roe deer and the introduced Mouflon. The long presence of Eglazine in the area might be connected to the presence of the wolves. A nice example of the recolonisation of wildlife, and the direct impact that this can have on other species.
On the night of 7 to 8 October, she roosted in a different area compared to previous months. This sudden change of behaviour sparked the expectation of her leaving soon. Already the next day, on 8 October, she left and began flying south. She reached Belgium that same day, covering a distance of 150 km in 3 hours. On 10 October, she finally arrived in France.
Bearded Vulture wandering is normal
Bearded Vultures live in the mountainous regions of Europe, Asia and Africa. There they find the perfect conditions for flying, steep walls for breeding and open landscapes to search for food.
It is normal for young Bearded Vultures to travel vast distances and explore new areas. For example, a study in the Pyrenees estimates that young individuals have a range of up to 10,000 km². Throughout the years, we have observed immature Bearded Vultures moving away from the mountains every year, usually in spring, both released and wild-hatched birds.
The first bigger explorative movements of Bearded Vultures usually start in spring from their second calendar year. Typically, after some days or weeks, they return to their mountainous habitats, but sometimes they need to be rescued, like in the case of Bearded Vulture Schils. Some special observations could be made from birds released in Andalusia in Southern Spain where individuals have made big travels more than once until they settled for breeding. For example, the Bearded Vulture Tono from Andalusia flew four consecutive years to the Pyrenees and remained there from spring until autumn. Until today we don’t know why some young birds undertake these huge travels and some do not. It might be that they just follow other migrating birds and are aided by strong winds, but we do not know precisely why. In the case of Alpine Bearded Vultures, but also birds from Andalusia, most of the dispersion occurs to the north, which is also puzzling.
Eglazine has spent nearly six months away from the area where she was released. Even though travelling over long distances is normal behaviour for young Bearded Vultures, such a long period away from ‘home’ was never observed before with one of our GPS-tagged birds.
A big thank you to everyone who looked after Eglazine during her travels!
Led by the League pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), the LIFE GYPCONNECT project aims to establish a breeding population of Bearded Vultures in the Massif Central and Department of the Drôme. Releasing captive-bred Bearded Vultures into the wild at sites such as the Parc Naturel Régional des Grands Causses, Parc Naturel Régional des Baronnies Provençales and Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors will create a core population that will connect the two populations of the species in the Alps and Pyrenees. To facilitate movements between the new population and the Alpine and Pyrenean populations the LIFE GYPCONNECT team is creating a network of supplementary feeding stations, and tackling threats such as poisoning, and collision and electrocution with the electricity infrastructure.