With much of the mountains of Europe snowed under due to heavy snowfall this winter, the wild Bearded Vultures currently incubating their eggs must be having a rather cold time… The 2018/19 Bearded Vultures breeding season got off to an early start with the first observation of a pair incubating a clutch of eggs already in early December.
Bearded Vulture Breeding Season
Bearded Vultures are the earliest breeders of the four European species of vultures, timing the raising of their young to coincide with the early Spring when there is potentially a rich supply of food (due to the complications of births and harsh conditions that cause fatalities among the mountain herbivores, and the exposure of dead animals frozen in the thawing snow).
Breeding behaviour and pair bonding rituals, such as nest building and mutual preening, has been observed this year by colleagues from the Alps to the Sierras in Andalucia and the Pyrenees from the end of October.
First reported clutch laying
In the 2017/18 breeding season the first recorded clutch laid by a breeding pair of birds was reported from a pair in Planeil in the South Tyrol region of the Italian Alps on the 30 December 2017. This year the Italians also reported the first observation of incubating a clutch, this time from a breeding pair in Bormio in the Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio on 10 December 2018. The same Bormio pair back in 1998 were also the first pair to breed in the Italian Alps since the species went extinct across the Alps at the beginning of the 20th Century. The first successful breeding in the Alpine project, happened one year earlier, in 1997 in the French Alps, in the Haute-Savoie
This is an early start to the egg laying, which usually starts in late December and continues up until February.
More clutches laid over all of Europe
With an estimated 230 breeding pairs across Europe, and 51 pairs across the reintroduced population in the Alps, we’ve been getting reports of clutches being laid from different regions of the Bearded Vulture range.
In the Alps our colleagues have been monitoring the population closely and reporting their observations to the International Bearded Vulture Monitoring Network (IBM), the database that monitors the population of the species across the region. We’ve had several reports including from several of France’s national parks in the Alps.
At the Parc National des Écrins the female of the breeding trio in the region – that started to breed only last year, laid agan the clutch a whole month earlier than during the 2017/18 breeding season, whilst over at Parc National de la Vanoise one of the five breeding pairs has been observed incubating a clutch. Other pairs across the Alps such as the pair in Aravis-Nord (Haute-Savoie) also laid an egg on the 8th January
Meanwhile elsewhere in the Bearded Vulture range in the Pyrenees our colleagues at the Réserves Naturelles Catalanes have spotted at least two of the six pairs of the French Pyrenees Atlantiques incubating. In Andalucia in Spain the successful breeding pairs Tono and Blimunda and Hortelano and Marchena are joined this season by Encina and Sansón, a third breeding pair. On Friday 18 January it was reported that Hortelano and Marchena were the first of the three pairs to lay a clutch of eggs. This is the third year the pair have successfully bred, this year colleagues have reported that the pair have formed a new nest. hich hopefully will result in a record breeding season in the region.
The heavy snowfall has made accurate observation difficult this year but so far the breeding season for the wild Bearded Vultures is off to a great start. You can follow the latest observations by following #BeardedVultureBreedingSeason on Twitter and Facebook - we’ll publish another summary in the coming weeks.