Vercors welcomed two new residents — two young Bearded Vultures coming from captive backgrounds that now play a key role in our LIFE GypConnect reintroduction efforts. The project aims to establish a breeding population of Bearded Vultures in the Massif Central and the Pre-Alps, through reintroduction and promoting dispersal movements between the Alpine and the Pyrenean population.
Get to know the young Bearded Vultures
The two male Bearded Vultures travelled thousands of kilometres via car to reach their new home. The bird coming from Austria hatched at the Richard Faust Bearded Vulture Specialised Captive Breeding Centre (RFZ) in Haringsee on 25 February, but it was reared elsewhere. The parents of the chick at RFZ, a very experienced pair, had already adopted another chick at the time, which is quite normal in specialised centres, and so the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, coordinated by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) on behalf of EAZA‘s EEP, needed to find another pair to adopt and rear the chick. The pair of Schönbrunn zoo in Vienna was a perfect choice since it is an old and experienced pair that does not produce fertile eggs anymore, therefore, not able to hatch chicks. When the transfer and adoption occurred on 3 March, the pair immediately accepted the chick. Vincent Vittoz, a French former cross-country skier and trainer of the French biathlon ski team, sponsored the Austrian Bearded Vulture, named him Telemark. The other young Bearded Vulture hatched on 20 February at the Green Balkans‘ Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre in Bulgaria, where it was also reared. Local children who helped finance last year’s release baptized the Bulgarian bird Novo.
The young vultures released in their new home
On 23 May, it was time for the young Bearded Vultures to get a taste of life in the wild. Ahead of the release, a Parc naturel régional du Vercors team equipped the vultures with identification rings, bleached a unique set of feathers and fitted them with GPS tags to be able to identify them in the wild and track their movements and behaviour. The team then hiked to the artificial nest in the Tussac site at the commune of Châtillon-en-Dois to release the two vultures. In this nest, the Bearded Vultures will acclimatize to their new environment until they fledge. This method is known a hacking, which is more or less the ‘natural’ way of fledging. The role of the parents at that time is to supply them with food and provide social contact. So, the local LIFE GypConnect team will now monitor the birds to ensure their safety and feed them without human contact until they fledge the nest, therefore, avoiding human imprinting.
It will take the Telemark and Novo about a month until they are ready to take their first flight. The good news is that we can track their progress live through a webcam! We hope they have a long and bright future ahead in the wild.
UPDATE: 26 June 2021
After spending about a month acclimatising to their new home, both birds successfully took their first flights! Telemark, who was the more dominant of the two, fledged on 23 June, and yesterday on 25 June, Novo followed suit!
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.