Two bearded vulture chicks fledge in the wild in Andalusia

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Following the first breeding in the wild two years ago, after extinction in the 80s, the reintroduced bearded vulture population in the sierras of Andalusia produced two chicks this year. This is a remarkable result!

The first pair to be established – Tono and Blimunda, raised a chick again this year, after their successful breeding in 2015, while a second pair, Marchena and Hortelano, raised an offspring for the first time, in their first breeding attempt.

All these breeding birds have been released as part of the reintroduction project in the sierras of Cazorla, Segura and las Villas, led by the Junta de Andalucia and the Fundación Gypaetus, in collaboration with the VCF. Hortelano was born in 2010 and was released together with Huéscar (that was found dead by poison in 2016) and Blimunda, the female of the other breeding pair in Andalusia and mother in 2015 to the first Bearded vulture born in the Andalusian mountains in over three decades – aptly named Esperanza (Hope).  Marchena was released 2 years later in 2012, and has been paired with Hortelano since September 2014, when he came back from Sierra Nevada and established a territory in the Sierra de Segura. They chose an old historical nest of a pair that was killed by humans in the eighties.

Marchena is the same age as Blimunda was when she first starts to reproduce – 5 years old –, which is the earliest breeding attempt ever seen in the wild. It has been documented in other species that in order to colonize suitable regions more rapidly, pairs start breeding at an earlier age in areas with optimal habitat and a small population (less competition). This might explain why this is happening in Andalusia, with extensive areas of prime habitat for the species.

The reintroduction project in Andalusia has been running for 11 years, with 50 birds released up to date, and already two breeding pairs established. This is quite remarkable considering there are only 10 birds over 5-years-old and moreover the average age when this species starts breeding in the wild is 8-9 years. Unfortunately, 13 of those 50 birds have been found dead so far while the whereabouts of at least 7 other birds is unknown. The future of the project is quite bright, but will only succeed if we manage to decrease the significant mortality affecting the population. 

The chick from Hortelano and Marchena – named Fergurson after James Ferguson-Lees, one the first ornithologists that explored Doñana, and that died this year – was tagged in the nest in the end of June by staff from the Junta de Andalucía, who have mounted a GPS tag, put a color ring and also decolored two of its flight feathers so that it can be easily spotted in the field (at least until those feathers moult naturally). It has eventually fledged by mid-July.

The chick from Tono and Blimunda – named Felix after the great Spanish naturalist Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, a sibling from Esperanza, that fledged in 2015, also left the nest in the end of July, but could not be marked because the nest was not accessible to the expert climbers from the Junta who have been supporting the project. You can see some footage from Felix above flying with Blimunda.

Video: Paco Montoro García

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