This week the IUCN has uplisted the bearded vulture from Least Concern to Near Threatened at global level – mostly because of declines in Africa and Asia. In Europe, the VCF is actively restoring the populations and range. This early summer nine birds have been released.
The bad breeding success inside the bearded vulture captive breeding network (only 13 nestlings) meant that only 9 birds were available for release in 4 sites – the Hohe Tauern National Park in Austria, the Calfeisental valley in Switzerland, the Grands Causses in the French Massif Central, and Andalusia. Unfortunately the release planned for the Vercors, had to be cancelled as there were not more birds available to release.
All 9 birds fledged without problems, with the first one fledging with 105 days (in Calfeisetal), and the oldest with 125 days (in the Grands Causses and Andalusia). Birds are given at libitum food at the hacking site, so that they fledge in peak physical condition. Normally, soon after fledgling birds start to explore their surroundings, particularly if the weather conditions are appropriate, but they are still given food for a while.
As soon as birds leave the hacking cave, you can observe the evolution of several natural behavioural patterns, like flight capacity, searching for food and breaking bones. Reintroduced birds acquire these abilities earlier because they aren’t attended by their parents as the wild-born chicks. They became independent sooner (from the fourth week onwards), start breaking bones on average two weeks earlier and have bigger flying areas than wild-born birds. Their ability to find natural food depends on the distance of these resources to the release cave. If this is less than 500m, they can exploit it already during their first fight week, as one of the released birds did this year did when he found chamois weathered ribs during its first flight, promptly swallowed. Their flight capacity increases rapidly, from only 50-100m distance registered during their first flights, to flights of 3000m during their fourth fly-week, as you can follow by the birds in Grands Causses http://rapaces.lpo.fr/gypaete-grands-causses/le-suivi-des-oiseaux
The rearing method followed by the EEP assures an adequate development of their complete behaviour portfolio, and hand-rearing is avoided. Only natural reared birds can develop an adequate social contact and be able to reproduce without human help. This is certainly more expensive and time consuming than hand-rearing birds, but for reintroduction projects with such sensitive and rare species Quality is certainly better than Quantity! Slowly but steadily the species is being restored across Europe.