After a long wait, bearded vultures started to breed this year in Écrins National Park (western Alps, France). Bearded vultures often passed through this national park, which has seemingly suitable habitats for breeding, and good food resources, but they had never settled - so the observations of a trio of birds building a nest this year, and then laying eggs, left the local staff and volunteers ecstatic!
The trio – an adult female and two males, one adult and the other one a 5th year - have settled in Haute-Romanche, an area that has been frequented by bearded vultures for the last three winters. These birds had repeatedly shown the beginnings of reproductive behavior but they have never gone beyond the stage of intentions ... until now!
Egg laying is thought to have occurred around the 13th February, which means that hatching would occur in early April. So when Nils Paulet, warden of the Park in the Briançonnais sector, and Mikaël Robert, a wildlife watcher, spotted changes in the behavior of the birds, everybody suspected that the young bearded vulture was born. This is Mikael´s report: "When I arrived at the observation post, a bird was on the nest, - I found out later that it was the female. Then the subadult male arrived with food. The two birds then stood on the nest, watching the nest center as they moved around for several moments, and then the female caught the food and started pulling out small pieces then lowering the head towards the bottom of the nest”.
Even though it is impossible to see the bottom of the nest, and so is difficult to confirm 100% that adults are feeding a chick, all points to a baby bearded vulture. Nils Paulet also observed that "the two male birds have, during the day, repeatedly hunted a juvenile eagle that tried to "attack" the nest.
One of the male vulture which is part of the trio is Basalte, hatched in Berlin Zoo as part of the bearded vulture captive-breeding network, and released in 2012 in Grands Causses. The bird has colour rings, which allowed him to be identified.
The birds will continue to be monitored by staff from the park and also by Envergures Alpines, an association that coordinates the sightings of large raptors on the Dauphiné and contributes to the knowledge of the species in the alpine arc. All observations are valuable in this sensitive period - you can send your information to: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
The VCF and its partners will still be releasing birds in the Alps this year, with a dual objective of diversifying the genetic pool of the wild populations (still smaller than what would be expected from a population of the same size) and to promote the connection between the Alpine and the Pyrenean populations.
Photo: Hansruedi Weyrich/VCF