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Which Bearded Vulture pair laid the first egg of this new breeding season?

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It’s buzzing time for Bearded Vulture pairs in the wild and held in captivity as the new breeding season evolves in full swing. Pairs within the Bearded Vulture EEP have been showing breeding behaviour since October, but while some are still involved in courtesy displays, an experienced pair has already laid its first egg. Can you guess who?

Incubating the first egg laid in this breeding season 2023-2024, at the Richard Faust Zentrum, Austria © RFZ

Which Bearded Vulture pair laid the first egg of this new breeding season?

Every year, we announce with awe the first egg laid within the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding network (Bearded Vulture EEP). It is the kick-start of a hopefully very successful breeding season. The effectiveness of the ongoing restocking projects in several European regions depends on the number of chicks we are able to rear in captivity.

A great week’s start

Our colleagues at the Richard Faust Zentrum Specialised Breeding Centre (RFZ) in Austria were surprised this Monday, December 4, as they confirmed the first egg had been laid overnight. Once again, the first pair laying a clutch was the experienced couple BG108 and BG175. This year, however, they were slightly later than last season, which happened on 26 November 2022.

BG108 and BG175 have repeatedly been the first pair to lay a clutch in the season over the last few years. As a long-lived species, Bearded Vultures take almost a decade to breed successfully but can reproduce until their late thirties. The unfortunate loss of Bearded Vulture Hanneke this year reminds us that even a 39-year-old bird can successfully rear two chicks, as Hanneke did last season.

Punctuality and effectiveness

The female, BG175, born in 1992 (31 years old), was the first hatchling of the old breeding pair from Tierpark Friedrichsfelde Zoo in Berlin and holds Asian heritage. The male BG108 hatched in Haringsee on 6 February 1989 (34 years old) and is of Cretan descent (2 offspring from his father in the network).

Both birds have been paired before, but since they were paired in 2001, they are among the most productive breeding pairs within the Bearded Vulture EEP. They’ve laid more than 40 eggs and hatched over 30 chicks. Last year, their two chicks were released in Cazorla Nature Park, within the Andalusian project, to strengthen the Bearded Vulture population.

A long breeding season ahead

In the coming days, we can expect another clutch from this experienced pair, BG175 and BG108. According to Kathrin Heissenberger, technical director at the RFZ,

“The laying interval between the two eggs is usually seven days. The incubation period is 54 days, so the hatching of the first egg (if fertilised) is calculated for January 27. We hope they will have two viable eggs and a good breeding season! “

Kathrin Heissenberger, RFZ

Bearded Vultures are devoted parents. Once the chicks hatch, they will share responsibilities to rear the chick, providing food and thermic comfort as the chick(s) grow stronger and are, eventually, released in the wild. Last season (2022-2023), the Bearded Vulture EEP achieved the highest number of hatchlings ever recorded, with 35 offspring successfully hatched in captivity. From these, some were held captive to ensure genetic diversity within the EEP, and 21 nestlings were released in the wild in five European areas in Spain, France, Switzerland and Germany.

Breeding Bearded Vultures to strengthen Europe’s population

The network has 182 Bearded Vultures held captive in 45 different institutions, from Zoos to specialised breeding centres and private collections. The VCF coordinates it on behalf of EAZA’s Ex-Situ Programme, ensuring the best husbandry practices among the network every season, and defining the release sites according to the chicks’ genetic heritage.

After the successful reintroduction of Bearded Vultures in the Alpine range, where the species has been extinct since the early 20th century, we are now expanding our range of action for the species. Together with partners in Bulgaria, we will set the foundations to bring the species back to the Balkan Mountains within the project “Life for the Bearded Vulture”. Chicks reared in captivity might have a new destiny to explore in the upcoming seasons.

We look forward to a very successful season for our Bearded Vultures held in captivity across the Bearded Vulture EEP! Stay tuned, as we will be sharing with you fresh news from the EEP.

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