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Wandering Bearded Vulture Pierro continues exploring unusual regions

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At first, we could tell that the Bearded Vulture Pierro was a wandering bird as he was rescued at Indre-et-Loire, France, a location outside the typical habitat for the species. Then, the genetic analysis determined that the vulture originated from the French Alps, over 600km away from where the vulture was rescued. Now, we can track all the movements of Pierro thanks to the GPs tag on his back, which tells us exactly where the vulture is and would help us realize if the bird needs help again. For the time being, it seems that Pierro is doing well and continues travelling vast distances, exploring new areas.

Rescue, rehabilitation and release

The Bearded Vulture rescued by Marc Grellier in Sorigny © Jules Catala

In mid-May 2020, a citizen of Sorigny in Indre-et-Loire, France, discovered a Bearded Vulture in trouble. As the vulture found himself in an unsuitable habitat for the species without the right thermals and adequate food resources, he got exhausted, but thankfully, help was on the way! The French Agency for Biodiversity (OFB) swiftly recovered the bird and transferred him to Hegalaldia (64) for rehabilitation.

Upon his arrival, the centre’s team diagnosed that the bird suffered from severe weakness and hypothermia. X-rays further showed that the bird ingested foreign material, including pieces of wire that could cause a perforation or intestinal obstruction. Fortunately, the bird eventually regurgitated these harmful materials in the following days, avoiding the worst. Finally, to ensure no lead was present in the bird’s body as it can cause poisoning, VetAgro Sup performed a blood test and ruled it out.

In the meantime, as the vulture was undergoing treatment, Franziska Lörcher from the Stiftung Pro Bartgeier and the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) received a blood sample to uncover the origin of this unmarked vulture through genetic analysis. The analysis revealed that the Bearded Vulture was Pierro, a male that hatched in a wild nest at the Bargy Massif in Haute-Savoie in 2019. Pierro is a part of an important milestone as his father is the first wild-hatched Bearded Vulture from the reintroduction project in the Alps that started over 30 years ago by the VCF and its local partners, successfully restoring the species in the region. Interestingly, Pierro was a neighbour of another wandering Bearded Vulture — “Flysch” also nicknamed “Vigo”. Flysch that visited the UK in 2020 and crossed the English Channel also hatched in the Bargy Massif in the Haute-Savoie region, north-west Alps, in the same year as Pierro. 

After more than a month in rehabilitation at Hegalaldia, Pierro made a full recovery, regaining his strength and muscle mass. Ahead of his release, Pierro was equipped with a GPS tag provided by the VCF to track his movements. All the partners agreed to release Pierro back into the wild in the Alps at the Vercors Regional Nature Park in early July 2020. This release site seemed like a good choice since the team there just released two young captive-bred Bearded Vultures, provided food in several places and kept a close eye to the vultures in the area. Furthermore, as Pierro was probably still in dispersal mode, this site could prevent him from wandering to an unfavourable habitat again since it is close to his hatching place. 

Pierro’s movements after release

But, Pierro surprised us. Contrary to our expectation, the vulture did not remain in the Alps. Shortly after his release in Vercors, Pierro started moving south, crossed the Rhone Valley and headed north again. From mid-July up until mid-September, he roamed Parc Naturel régional des Volcans d’Auvergne. This region is north of the Grands Causses where we are reintroducing the Bearded Vulture with the LIFE GypConnect project, and so far, we were not aware that there are any Bearded Vultures. It seems, however, that Pierro was finding enough food and remained there for two months. 

When he left that region, Pierro started flying south and had us hoping that he will visit the Grands Causses, but he soon turned east, crossed the Rhone Valley and flew back to the Parc Naturel régional du Vercors where he was released. In October, Pierro started moving again, heading south, and exploring the northern Apennines, between Florence and Bologna in Italy. This is only the second GPS record of a Bearded Vulture in this region — the first was eleven years ago when Maseta released in Nationalpark Hohe Tauern visited the area after travelling all the way from Austria. 

But contrary to Maseta who spent the winter in the Alpi Apuane, Pierro flew north and crossed to Po Valley. A few days ago, he spent some time at the north of Lake Garda in the Trento region in a small Parco Naturale Adamello Brenta area. This area is still unusual for Bearded Vultures, so far south in this region of the Alps, but apparently, Pierro found food and is resting on cliffs. Just a week ago, he started to fly longer distances again. So far, Pierro did not move to another area, and we are looking forward to seeing where this wandering Bearded Vulture heads next. 

The VCF and our partners are closely monitoring Pierro’s movements and learn a lot from the movements of this vulture.

You can also follow the movements of Pierro and other Bearded Vultures we track by visiting our online Bearded Vulture maps.

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