Category Archives: Spain Wildlife News and Updates

Tetrao urogallus cantabricus – Cantabrian capercaillie – Urogallo cantábrico

  • The western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) is the largest member of the grouse family and the heaviest-known specimen, recorded in captivity, had a weight of 7.2 kilograms (16 pounds). The species is found across Europe and the Palearctic, is primarily-ground-dwelling and is renowned for its elaborate courtship displays. (Males are also nearly twice the size of the females). The global population of Tetrao urogallus is listed as “least concern” under the IUCN.

There are, however, sad signs that some of the sub species are threatened, especially the Spanish Tetrao urogallus cantabricus – Cantabrian capercaillie – Urogallo cantábrico.

There are two sub species in Spain

  • Tetrao urogallus cantabricus (Cantabrian capercaillie) can be found in northwestern Spain
  • Tetrao urogallus aquitanicus can be found in the Pyrenees of Spain (and France)
Tetrao urogallus cantabricus - Cantabrian capercaillie - Urogallo cantábrico
Tetrao urogallus cantabricus – Western capercaillie – Urogallo cantábrico – The males are much larger than the females

Imminent extinction for the Cantabrian capercaillie

Having been declared in danger of extinction in 2018, the latest survey reveals that there are less than 300 individuals left in the Cantabrian mountains and very few of these are reproductive males. This brings the number below the minimum for a viable population for the survival of the subspecies which has already disapeared from Galicia and Cantabria. The remaining bulk of the surviving birds are located in León with a few also still present in Asturias.

The cause for the decline in numbers has various factors such as the impact of human activities, infrastructure, forest fires, illegal hunting, crashes with power lines and habitat fragmentation. Added to this, in breeding, a low birth rate and also a high mortality rate of hatchlings can be pointed out.

However, one must not forget that this species was hunted legally up to the 1980’s and then heavily poached pretty much up to present day. The male, due to his size was coveted by hunters and the results of this indiscriminate hunting are now plain to see.

Tetrao urogallus cantabricus - Western capercaillie - Urogallo cantábrico
Tetrao urogallus cantabricus – Western capercaillie – Urogallo cantábrico – The females are almost half the size of the males

Secrecy and mixed messages surrounds the Asturian captive breeding programme

As early as 2007, a captive breeding programme was set up in the Asturian locality of Sobrecobio but since that date very few Cantabrian capercaile have been released into the wild. Even volunteers from various ecological groups such as SEO/BIRDLIFE have been blocked from entering of finding out what the project entails and the methods being used. In 2020 records published showed that just 13 eggs were produced by the captive individuals with only 4 hatchlings that went on to die within the first weeks of life.

Something is obviously not right when one looks at the Scottish successes of captive breeding and re introduction and most people are pointing the finger at the bad management practices at the centre.

Un undated (maybe 2017?) report on the official website of the The Life + Cantabrian Grouse program publishes that 5 female birds were released into the wild with four dying quite quickly and the 5th losing transmitter signal so its fate is unknown. The overall message of the report is positive and no mention is made of the project failing either now or in the future. You can read the report in English here: https://lifeurogallo.es/en/content/results

The situation in Castilla y León

The news is slightly more positive in Castilla y León where there is a new recovery project being developed to adapt power lines in capercaille habitat and also there are plans for a new captive breeding center for in Valsemana (León). However, although announced at the beginning of 2021 the breeding centre still has not been created so time will tell what the fate of the Cantabrian capercaillie will be here.

The future

Tetrao urogallus cantabricus – Cantabrian capercaillie – Urogallo cantábrico thrives in places where humans do not go and that can be demonstrated by the habitat where the species is more abundant across Europe. They really need the zero presence of humans, cattle and deer; the lack of forest or livestock tracks, other infrastructures and especially power lines.

One of the big debates has been whether or not to introduce males into the Cantabrian Mountains from the Pyrenees where there are more than 3,000 individuals at the last census ( in France the species is abundant and still classified as a hunt species). Of course if males of the other Spanish subspecies Tetrao urogallus aquitanicus are introduced, this will of course be another nail in the coffin for Tetrao urogallus cantabricus.

Strong criticism has also come from many sectors about the money spent in recent years on actions to try to recover the population of the species, especially in the Life + Cantabrian Grouse program where over 6 million euros has been invested. Without doubt full transparency and cooperation with experienced organisations will be needed if this project continues. Right now though, the future looks pretty bleak for the Cantabrian grouse.

There is an official video from the The Life + Cantabrian Grouse program official website but I always find it suspicious when comments are not enabled. I suppose they don’t want any negative comments posted. 🙂


Further reading

Wikipedia has a pretty good information page here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantabrian_capercaillie

The Life + Cantabrian Grouse program oficial website is here: https://lifeurogallo.es/en (mostly Spanish with some English information)

In Spanish, SEO/BirdLife also has an information page: https://seo.org/ave/urogallo-comun/


Feel free to leave any comments or join in with the conversation about the Cantabrian capercaillie over at the Iberia Nature Forum: https://iberianatureforum.com/forums/topic/future-not-good-for-the-cantabrian-capercaillie/

Eight bearded vultures released in Andalucia in 2021

The Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) have announced a very successful release season for bearded vultures in Andalucia this year with 8 individuals hacked back to the wild. Two of the birds were released in the Sierra de Castril Natural Park in Granada and the remaining six in the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park.

One of the released birds was a rescue from a wild nest in the Catalan Pyrenees after one parent died and the remaining parent abandoned the nest.

The European cooperation for this re introduction project is impressive as this time the released birds originated from different facilities. One from Liberec Zoo (Czech Republic), one from Berlin Zoo, two from Tallinn Zoo (Estonia) and three from the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Centre of Guadalentín (Spain).

Ahead of the releases all the birds were fitted with identification rings and fitted with GPS transmitters

The released birds were named Brinzal, Fapas, Grefa, Quercus, Depana, Adenex, Panda and SEO after various Spanish conservation organisations that have contributed over the years to making Andalusia’s fauna one of the richest in Europe.

Read more about bearded vultures in Spain here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/bearded-vulture-gypaetus-barbatus-quebrantahuesos/

See the VCF origial article on their website here: https://4vultures.org/blog/bearded-vulture-releases-andalusia-2021


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Calafell’s turtle hatchlings enter the sea

Great to hear that many of the sea turtle eggs that made the news earlier this year for being the first recorded nest of the season in the entire Western Mediterranean have hatched and entered the sea.

Since the discovery of the nest the site has had a 24 hour volunteer network taking care of it. Once the notice was received that the volunteers, who were guarding the nest, had seen the first turtles emerge, staff from the CRAM Foundation Clinic and Rescue Area team as well as Elena Abella from the University of Vic (Caretta a la Vista Project) and technicians from the Generalitat de Catalunya traveled to the area.

A total of 44 sea turtles emerged and 34 found their way to the sea whilst 10 were captured and transferred to the facilities of the CRAM Foundation where they will be part of a study project and reared in captivity until they reach the optimum weight for their reintroduction.

The next day the nest site was excavated and 38 undeveloped eggs were found along with one live turtle hatchling that was having difficulty exiting the egg due to a malformed body shell. This individual has also been transferred for hand rearing. 2 other hatchlings were found dead.

Calafell's turtle hatchlings enter the sea
One of the hatchlings that is now part of the captive rearing and re introduction project

When the nest site was discovered earlier this summer 61 eggs were removed for artificial incubation and 30 were found to be fertile. These hatchlings will also be part of the reintroduction program.

See more at the CRAM website here: https://cram.org/nacen-tortugas-nido-calafell/


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Reintroducion of Iberian lynx to Catalonia and Aragon

From the most endangered cat species in the world to a success story for managed wildlife protection schemes, the reintroducion of the Iberian lynx to Catalonia and Aragon seems to be the next step forward with the project being supported by the Spanish Government and an area of around 30,000 hectares being studied for suitability.

The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) has been absent from Catalonia and Aragon for over a century but in 2018 an introduced lynx called “Litio” managed to reach Santa Coloma de Cervelló just 15 minutes from Barcelona, ​​after making a seemingly impossible 1000 km journey crossing motorways, rivers and mountains from the Portuguese Algarve.

Litio” was later captured (in lynx heaven one supposes) on a farm surrounded by rabbits and cherry trees and returned to Doñana (Huelva), where the species has one of its largest populations.

There are two main areas of studies for this project with the first being a suitable habitat with food supply (rabbits) for the reintroduction of the species in an area that includes 10,000 hectares of Aragón and 20,000 in Catalonia and the second (being larger and more difficult) with the study and implementation of wildlife “corridors” connecting some of the eastern Iberian populations of lynx.

Reintroduction habitat

The initial field work in both Catalonia and Aragón has located possible ideal habitats, with an abundance of prey such as rabbits, shelters such as rock and scrub and with little human infrastructure. In Catalonia the location is the Mas Melons-Alfés area, a natural space already protected by the Natura 2000 network, between the Garrigues and Segrià regions south of Lleida and adjacent to Aragón. In Aragón the chosen area is the Sierra de Alcubierre, located at the western limit of Los Monegros. (Los Monegros is also being studied for posible inclusion as national Park)

Wildlife corridors and project coperation

The initial idea would be to create a corridor from the east, linking the regions of Valencia, Murcia, Catalonia and Aragón. The plan is also to cooperate with existing and new lynx projects such as the two new lynx re introduction areas, one in Lorca (Murcia) and the other in Sierra Arana (Granada) which already have funding of almost 20 million euros over the next five years. (In Valencia, there is also a project run by the Cardenal Herrera University to study the viability of lynx reintroductions in the Valencian Community).

It seems that all the experts are agreeing that the only way forward now for the Iberian Lynx is the natural mixing of the various lynx populations across Iberia in order to ensure a complete genetic diversity of the species.

Further reading on the Reintroducion of Iberian lynx to Catalonia and Aragon

The PreLynxCatAr project will 12 months and in its preliminary phase the suitability of the territory, already defined, will be studied to assess the risks (such as roads) and its population of rabbits. It is being carried out by CBD-Hábitat, CREW Foundation, Trenca, Zoo de Barcelona and the Fundación Biodiversidad del Ministerio para la Transición Ecológica y el Reto Demográfico del Gobierno de España.

Article in Spanish here (El Pais): https://elpais.com/clima-y-medio-ambiente/2021-07-23/el-lince-iberico-se-acerca-a-cataluna-y-aragon.html

Read more about the Iberian Lynx here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/iberian-lynx-lynx-pardinus-lince-iberico/


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