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Summer is just over – but for bearded vultures the breeding season is now starting!

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The fall migration is still in full swing, but for bearded vultures (both in the wild and in captivity), the 2014 breeding seasons is just starting.

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! The snow and cold of their mountain realms does not deter them, and so they incubate through the cold winter months.

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.

Animal collections in individual zoos are typically too small by themselves to be of much value to long-term conservation. Therefore, cooperative international or regional ex situ breeding programmes are required to form larger, viable populationsThe EEP is the most intensive type of population management for a species kept in European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) zoos. Each EEP has a coordinator who is assisted by a species committee. For the bearded vulture, but also for the black vulture and the Egyptian vultures, the VCF collects information on the status of all the animals kept in EAZA zoos, produces a studbook, carries out demographical and genetic analyses, produces a plan for the future management of the species and provides recommendations to participating institutions.

This is a busy time for the VCF bearded vulture EEP coordinators (Dr. Hans Frey and Dr. Alex Llopis), as birds are starting to show breeding behavior. Colleagues from the specialized breeding center in Andalucia have reported the first copulations, while in Bulgaria a young pair is showing some signs of pair binding.

Hopes are high in the Green Balkans wildlife rehabilitation center

The pair in the Green Balkans center is rather typical of the animals in the EEP.  The birds are owned by the VCF and were given in 2008 to our Bulgarian partners. Until last year they have shown nothing other than polite ignorance to each other – nothing unexpected, as bearded vultures normally start to breed in captivity when they are 8 or more years.

Last year the first signs of mating behavior were seen, as the two birds started constructing… two separate nests! This year though things have advanced a bit – the female has been constructing a nest with pieces of wool and twigs, and has allowed the male to come closer and spend the night near the nesting platform – the very first modest attempts for establishing a pair. You can see footage of this young female collecting nesting material below.

In Bulgaria, like elsewhere in the 30 centers in the bearded vulture EEP, love is in the air – at least for the bearded vultures! May they breed well, since these pairs are really the source of the young used in the reintroduction projects in the Alps and in Andalucia.

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