Two pairs – and two chicks – in the bearded vulture reintroduction project in Andalusia!

Marchena (left) and Hortelano (right) flying together in their territory ® Paco Montoro
Marchena (left) and Hortelano (right) flying together in their territory ® Paco Montoro
Hortelano (left) and Marchena (right) in the historical nest they are using. ®Paco Montoro
Hortelano (left) and Marchena (right) in the historical nest they are using. ®Paco Montoro

Last January we were very happy to announce that a second bearded vulture territorial pair, composed by birds Marchena and Hortelano, had laid an egg in Andalusia. We are even happier to say now that the Consejería de Medio Ambiente de la Junta de Andalucía (Andalusian’s environmental department) informed that there are not one but TWO wild born chicks in the mountains of Cazorla this year – as the new pair has managed to hatch a baby bearded vulture in their first breeding attempt!


This is a remarkable success, and follows on from the first breeding in the wild in 2015, after the species went extinct in Andalusia in the mid-eighties. The first pair to be established – Tono and Blimunda, raised a chick in their first breeding attempt two years ago (a chick aptly named Esperanza), but then took a year off last year, to start nesting again this year – and they too are raising a chick!


Marchena and Hortelano were both bred in captivity at the Guadalentin specialized captive breeding center and released as part of the reintroduction project led by the Junta de Andalucia and the Fundación Gypaetus, in collaboration with the VCF. Hortelano was born in 2010 and was released together with Huéscar (that was found dead by poison in 2016) and Blimunda, the female of the other breeding pair in Andalusia and mother in 2015 to the first Bearded vulture born in the Andalusian mountains in over three decades.  Marchena was released 2 years later in 2012, and has been paired with Hortelano since September 2014, when he came back from Sierra Nevada and established a territory together with Marchena in the Sierra de Segura. They chose an old historical nest of a pair that was killed by humans in the eighties - hopefully its new owners will once again bring joy to the site. 


Marchena is the same age as Blimunda was when she first starts to reproduce – 5 years old –, which is the earliest breeding attempt ever seen in the wild. It has been documented in other species that in order to colonize suitable regions more rapidly, pairs start breeding at an earlier age in areas with optimal habitat and a small population (less competition). This might explain why this is happening in Andalusia, with extensive areas of prime habitat for the species.


The reintroduction project in Andalusia has been running for 11 years, with 46 birds released up to date, and already two breeding pairs established. This is quite remarkable considering there are only 10 birds over 5-years-old and moreover the average age when this species starts breeding in the wild is 8-9 years. Unfortunately, 13 of those 46 birds have been found dead so far while the whereabouts of at least 7 other birds is unknown. The future of the project is quite bright, but will only succeed if we manage to decrease the significant mortality affecting the population. 


We’ll keep you informed of the progress with these two breeding pairs in Andalusia. Probability says it’s quite unlikely that both will be able to fledge chicks, but our Andalusian birds insist on going against the odds. We are betting on them, keep your fingers crossed!



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