One of the largest and most beautifully feathered vultures is the Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus). It is a massive bird of prey by size and also by its huge wingspan. Although the European population are developing very positively, Lammergeier still is one of the most endangered species in the Old World. Bearded Vultures are mainly distributed in the French and Spanish Pyrenees, the southwest of France, the southwest of Spain and also in the Swiss, Italian and Austrian Alps.
This post provides essential reading on the Bearded Vulture / Lammergeier, its distribution, habitat, conservation and breeding.
In the 1960s the Bearded Vulture had become distinct in Europe. A conservation programme started in 1986 to help the vulture become native again in the Alps.
Facts and Fiction on the Bearded Vulture
With regard to Old World Vultures, the Bearded Vulture is one of the largest species of this group. Little wonder when we look at its size of 100-115 cm and wingspans ranging from 250-280 cms. Depending on the author it is either Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier, how this bird is called. The many other names given to this vulture are “Child Robber” or “Golden Vulture” or “Mountain Vulture” or “Chamois Vulture”.
In the Alpines people used to call the bird also “Bone Breaker”. The vulture earned this name because of its ability to crack bones by dropping it from great heights. While “Bone Breaker describes the bird’s method of processing bones, all other names make clear that the Bearded Vulture wasn’t loved anywhere in Europe.
Being unpopular or not, because of its lovely plumage, the Bearded Vulture was a target for trophy hunters from all over the world.
Matter-of-factly, the Bearded Vulture is a peaceful animal and humans don’t need to be afraid of it at all. On top of that, this vulture is no danger for any child and live stock. All these accusations have thoroughly been refuted as utter nonsense.
Conservation and Release into the Wild
A conservation programm to release Bearded Vultures into the wild is running since 1986. In that year the first two Bearded Vultures were released in Krumltal (valley) in the Austrian Alps. Since then this programme has gone from strength to strength. In 2021 we are talking about 272 young Bearded Vultures released into the Alpine region.
For more information on release and breeding programmes in Europe please refer to the site of the European Vulture Conservaton Foundation (VCF).
Bird Facts: Bearded Vulture
Order: Birds of Prey (Accipitriformes)
Species: Bearded Vulture – Lammergeier (Gypaetus)
Genus: Bearded Vulture
Scientific Name: Gypaetus barbatus
Names and Synonyms of the Bearded Vulture:
German: Bartgeier – Lämmergeier
French: Gypaète barbu
Czech: Orlosup bradatý
Slovak: Bradáň žltohlavý
Russian: Krassny korschun – Бородач
Distribution – Movements – Habitat – Voice
Distribution: The Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture is distributed across the Palearctic, Afrotropical and Indimalayan. In Europe it is distributed in the southern Alpine mountain ranges; also in the mountain ranges of the Middle East and Southern Asia. The Bearded Vulture lives throughout the Himalayan.
Movements: Breeding pairs of the Bearded Vulture are sedentary. Only juveniles and ammature birds are migrational. Some young Bearded Vultures have already reached the North Sea coast of Germany and the Netherlands.
Habitat: The Bearded Vulture is common to mountain ranges and hilly landscapes. This species also settles on alpine pastures and meadows and montane grassland and heath as well. Also it distributes in rugged mountain terrain with cliffs, crags, outcrops, caves and gorges.
The bearded vulture needs a sufficient supply of dead animals in order to settle in an area.
Voice: The Lammergeier is mostly silent, except when in flight display. In flight the vulture utters shrill whistles such as “fkiij” and also falcon-like twittering such as “cheek-cheek-cheek”.
Maturity: Bearded Vultures sexually mature between 6-8 years of agee.
Mating Season: Bearded Vultures are monogamous breeding pairs. Mating usually takes place long befor the birds become sexually mature.
Clutches per breeding season: One clutch per season.
Breeding: The breeding seasons are at different times, depending on the geographical region: in Eurasia and North Africa = between September-December; Indian subcontinent between December to June; Ethiopia between October and May.
In various parts of East Africa the Bearded Vultures breeds almost at any time throughout the year. Whereas in Kenya breeding mostly takes place between April and November, in Southern Africa mainly between May and January.
Nest: The nest of the Bearded Vulture is a massive pile of branches, on average measuring 1 m across and up to 60 cm deep. Bearded Vultures can use nests for several years. In such cases nests can reach dimensions of 1.5-2.5 m across and up to 1 m deep.
Usually nests are lined with material found in the surroundings, such as dried skin, dung, wool, wool etc. Sometime the vultures use even rubbish to line the nest.
The nest is mainly placed at inaccessible heights of at least 700 m and higher; mainly on overhung ledges or even in smallish caves. Any nest must provide a good oversight over the area.
Clutch – Eggs – Measures and Weights
Clutch: usually two eggs (1-2), up to three eggs were reported for North India.
Eggs: Eggs are broad oval with yellowish shells, widely covered with brown and red speckles.
Egg Measures and Weights:
Length: 35.1-45.5 mm
Width: 29.5-34.3 mm
Ø: 39.5×30.8 mm
Weight of fresh egg: 20.23 g; Ø = 21 g
Eggshell: 1.30-1.90 g; Ø = 1.45 g (n=150)
Laying Interval – Incubation – Fledging – Dependency
Laying intervals: 4-6 days
Breeding starts: immediately after laying the first egg.
Incubation: 52-56 (max. 60) days; the task of incubation is shared between male and female.
Hatching: The young Bearded Vultures hatch within 4-6 days of each other, in accordance with the laying interval.
Fledging: Because of the substantial age difference between the first and second chicken hatched, the first one is fed with meat from day one. Therefore the older chicken is stronger, whereas the younger one is weaker and going to be killed by its sibling, becoming part of the diet itself. Fledging period is about 103-133 days, 123 days on average.
Dependency: After the young vulture has fledged it is still dependend on its parents for a period lasting up to a year.
Food: The Bearded Vulture feeds on a specialised diet that mainly contains bones and marrion, but also on tortoises, some smaller live animals such as small rodents, birds or reptiles. Though, the main feed are bones, which make up at least 70% but usually <85% of the diet .
Mortality – Survival Rate: During the first four years, South African Bearded Vultures only have a survival rate of about 13%, after the birds enjoy a survival rate of about 94% per year.
Threats to the Bearded Vulture: The most common threats are poisoning and persecution mainly by illegal hunting. Further threats are disturbances at nest sites and a reduction in farm stock. In almost all EU member states legislation prohibits carcases to be left ount on the fields. This has a substantial impact on the food supply because the Bearded Vultures have nothing to feed on.
You may also be interested in Vulture Life – About Feeding and Quality Time – click here.
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