The Cinereous Vulture

History and conservation status of the species in Portugal and Spain

History and conservation status of the species in Portugal and Spain

During the 20th century, the once-common sight of a Cinereous Vulture soaring through the skies became increasingly rare across Europe, including the Iberian Peninsula, due to several threats. These threats included illegal wildlife poisoning, habitat destruction, and direct persecution. However, thanks to years of dedicated conservation efforts, the population of this majestic species is now growing once again. But, it still needs our help to secure its future.

The Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) was once widespread in Iberia and other European regions, with thousands of birds soaring through the skies. However, throughout the 20th century, the species became increasingly scarce due to habitat loss, mortality from poisoning campaigns against predators, and direct persecution. In addition, human disturbance, particularly during the breeding season, made it difficult for the species to thrive in many parts of the continent, causing it to become extinct in several areas.
Previous slide
Next slide

In Portugal, the breeding population of Cinereous Vultures was driven to extinction in the 1970s, while in Spain the situation was also alarming, with only a minimum of 206 pairs remaining by 1973. Since then, the species has started to recover in Spain, partly due to effective legal protection, the end of persecution and poisoning campaigns, and the implementation of targeted conservation measures. 

Status Worldwide

Near Threatened (population decreasing)

Status in Portugal

Critically Endangered

Status in Spain


The Cinereous Vulture population range has been significantly affected by human threats. Currently, the population in Europe is split between a Western population in the Iberian Peninsula and a reintroduced one in France, with a smaller Eastern population in Greece and Bulgaria – the latter was reintroduced with the Vultures Back to LIFE project. 

Since the 1980s, the population of Cinereous Vultures has been steadily recovering in Spain, with the number of breeding pairs increasing from 250 in the 1980s to about 3000 currently. Yearly monitoring of local populations shows that the Spanish breeding population has continued to grow in several areas. For instance, in 2020, there were striking increases in the number of breeding pairs in the two most important breeding colonies in Europe located in Extremadura. The Sierra de San Pedro saw an increase of 51%, and the Monfragüe National Park recorded a 24% increase since 2016. This remarkable growth allowed the Junta de Extremadura to support the reintroduction projects in France and Bulgaria by donating birds for their eventual release into the wild. Furthermore, after a 50-year absence, the species returned to Sierra de la Demanda near Burgos with around 20 breeding pairs recorded in 2022, following a reintroduction project led by GREFA.

The growth of the Cinereous Vulture population in Spain and conservation efforts supporting scavenging species in Portugal have allowed the species to naturally recolonize Portugal, with birds settling there from nearby Spanish colonies. The first pair was formed in 2010, and since then, the Cinereous Vulture population in Portugal has continued to increase. From a few pairs and one colony, the breeding population grew to 40 pairs in four colonies by 2022. While the growth of the Spanish population was the primary driving force, projects in Portugal have also been instrumental in benefiting this scavenger species, particularly LIFE Rupis for the species in the Douro and LIFE Habitat Lince Abutre for the establishment of the colony in Herdade da Contenda.

Juvenile Cinereous Vulture in the nest © Carlos Pacheco

However, the natural recolonisation process is slow and limited, as the species is colonial, highly philopatric, and does not normally recolonise areas far away from established colonies. The breeding colonies in Portugal are still fragile due to the small number of pairs, very restricted breeding range, and limited connectivity between colonies, making them vulnerable to stochastic events such as fire and poisoning. Furthermore, birds from the Spanish breeding colonies have a lower probability of foraging in Portugal due to a lack of food resources and carcasses, which slows down dispersal towards potentially favourable Portuguese areas and recolonisation.

Therefore, in order to sustain the continued growth of the Cinereous Vulture colonies in Portugal and secure their future viability, a specific project needs to be implemented to complement the positive dynamics coming from the Spanish population.

Discover the concrete steps the project will take to promote the population growth of the Cinereous Vulture in Portugal.

Project actions

Scroll to Top