Over 300 people took part in the ninth annual griffon vulture census across the Alps, coordinated by Envergures Alpines, and despite the terrible weather conditions counted 1873 griffon vultures on Saturday 18 August.
Griffon vultures in the Alps
With the exception of small colonies in Austria and Italy, Griffon vultures have been absent from the Alps for decades. Efforts to reintroduce the species to the Alps began in the French areas of the Baronnies and Verdon.
Besides the breeding griffons, an increasing number of immature griffon vultures from elsewhere in Western Europe (mainly Spain and Portugal) have been summering in the Alps, taking advantage of the ideal foraging conditions there in the summer, when many livestock go up to the summer alpages, and there is plenty of food. This regular pendular movement of griffon vultures from Iberia and southern France to the Alps, departing to the mountains in May-June, and returning to Iberia in August – is becoming larger every year.
The Annual Griffon Vulture Count
Each summer since 2010, through the cooperation of national and natural parks, ornithological associations and other partners, griffon vultures summering in the Alps have been surveyed with a simultaneous count in August when the birds are most active in the mountains before they disperse from the area.
This year the area that was focused on covered the French Alps: from the Rhone to the west to the Italian border to the east and from the Mediterranean in the south to Lake Léman in the north, with around 90 observation stations staffed with 300 volunteers and staff. The birds were counted at their roosts at the end of the day, between 4pm and nightfall.
The weather played a major factor in the count this year with fog and thunderstorms in many areas, this along with the poor upper air thermals also affected the birds’ abilities to return to their roosts. Despite these adverse condition nearly 1900 birds were spotted which is in line with the numbers observed in 2017, 2016 and 2015. They are lower than the 2400 birds counted last year but the weather conditions prevent a direct comparison between this year and 2017.
This is a great effort by everyone involved and fantastic to see the continued return of the species to the Alps.
A word of thank you to all the volunteers who braved bad weather this August, and to the fantastic work done by Envergures Alpines in coordinating the effort.