Spain is a popular destination for birdwatchers, as the country boasts a rich diversity of birdlife, with over 600 bird species recorded. Some of the most iconic bird species in Spain include the Spanish imperial eagle, the Eurasian griffon vulture, and the common crane. Other notable bird species found in Spain include the flamingo, the hoopoe, and the bee-eater. Spain’s varied landscapes, which range from mountains and forests to wetlands and coastal areas, provide habitats for a wide range of bird species. Additionally, Spain is located on the migratory path for many bird species traveling between Africa and Europe, making it a popular spot for birdwatchers during migration season. Overall, Spain’s birdlife is a reflection of the country’s rich natural heritage and makes it an exciting destination for birdwatchers from around the world.
Alternative names / spellings: Lammergeier, Lammergeyer, Lammergeir.
The Bearded Vulture – Gypaetus barbatus – Quebrantahuesos is one of the largest raptors in Spain and also the rarest. It has a wingspan of 2.8 m and length of around 1.10 m. The dark, narrow wings taper to a point while the tail is long and wedge shaped. The body, legs and head are a dirty white although they deliberately stain this to a dark orange colour using iron oxides contained in calcareous rock where available. They have dark feathers around the eyes and it is the long bristles draped beside the bill which leads to the English common name of Bearded Vulture.
At just one year old, a griffon vulture named “M68” has embarked on an incredible journey filled with perilous twists and turns, ultimately leading it back to its homeland in Spain. This remarkable bird’s odyssey includes being plucked from the high seas by Moroccan fishermen, a pit stop at the Jbel Moussa vulture recovery center, and a recent sighting near Colmenar Viejo in Madrid, thanks to the distinct wing tag “M68” that tell the tale of its epic adventures.
Photographed by a camera trap near Colmenar Viejo in Madrid
The saga of M68 began on July 24 when a photo-trapping camera, situated on a Madrid livestock farm collaborating with GREFA (Group for the Rehabilitation of Native Fauna and its Habitat), captured images of a vulture with distinct black wing bands adorned with the inscription “M68.” Initial inquiries ruled out the possibility that this bird was registered in Spain, prompting investigators to cast their net wider, exploring neighboring countries such as Portugal and France. However, the mystery remained unsolved until they turned their gaze southward to Morocco.
Mystery of Vulture M68 solved
Their Moroccan counterparts not only demystified the enigmatic wing markings but also unearthed an article on the website of the Moroccan conservation association AMPOVIS, featuring the adventurous young griffon vulture M68. According to the news article, this fledgling had been spotted near the coast of Ceuta on November 9, 2022, after a daring flight across the Strait of Gibraltar, presumably from the Iberian Peninsula. However, strong winds and relentless seagull attacks disrupted its journey, diverting it into the Mediterranean. Just hours later, the AMPOVIS association received a distress call from Moroccan fishermen in the port of Fnideq, who had plucked a stranded griffon vulture from the sea.
Vulture being mobbed by gulls
A remarkable aspect of this species is its trans-Saharan migration pattern, primarily undertaken by young vultures in their first year of life. In the fall, they embark on a journey across the Strait of Gibraltar to winter in countries like Senegal and Gambia. Most return to the Iberian Peninsula come spring, although some opt to wander the African continent for several years, even establishing breeding colonies, as witnessed in northern Morocco recently.
Rehabilitated and released
M68, the vulture “castaway,” was subsequently transferred to the Vulture Rehabilitation Center (CRV) of Jbel Moussa, located near the Moroccan side of the Strait of Gibraltar. This center, in collaboration with GREFA, has played a pivotal role in the monitoring and marking of various species of scavenging raptors, including the Rüppell’s vulture and the African white-backed vulture. At Jbel Moussa’s CRV, experts confirmed that M68 was indeed the same vulture spotted approaching the coast, thanks to video footage captured by specialist Cristián Marfil, which allowed for a detailed comparison of plumage.
After undergoing a thorough examination and receiving the necessary care to recover from its harrowing ordeal, the griffon vulture was returned to its natural habitat. But not before a set of distinctive wing markings was affixed, which would later enable its identification when it reappeared, months later, near Colmenar Viejo close to Madrid.
Controversy has ignited (yet again) over the reintroduction of white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) in the Asturias region, with conflicting views on their impact. Concerns have been raised by ecologists about the potential threat these “superpredator” eagles pose to local wildlife.
A recent incident involving an encounter between a bearded vulture and a released “pigargo”, shared by the Coordinadora Ecoloxista d’Asturies (who are in total opposition to this project) has now sparked further debate with some demanding the prompt capture of the released eagles to prevent any further detrimental interactions. While some viewed it as evidence of potential issues, GREFA (the project coordinators) has maintained that such encounters were a natural part of the ecosystem.
The “Pigargo Project”, initiated with the goal of reintroducing the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) into Spain using individuals from Norway, faced immediate controversy when it was first announced. Biologists and ecologists from the region warned of potential dangers to native species, especially those already threatened.
Environmental associations have argued that these “superpredators”, known for their diet of fish, birds, and mammals, could significantly disrupt the conservation efforts for threatened species in the Asturian fauna. In response, the GREFA association, the driving force behind the Pigargo Project, have contested these claims.
After more than two years of intensive monitoring, GREFA reported that there had been no documented negative interactions between the released pigargos and protected species. They argued that portraying these eagles as catastrophic for local wildlife or livestock was based on incomplete information.
GREFA has also highlighted the positive side of their project, citing the benefits of introducing the eagle (known as a pigargo in Spanish) to the region. Notably, their presence has led to improved safety measures for birds, such as anti-electrocution measures on power line supports in Asturias and Cantabria.
In this video from 2017 it is really easy to see that the interaction between the white tailed eagle and other birds of prey are quite normal. In this case its a visiting white tailed eagle with both Bonelli’s and Imperial eagles. (This video was taken before GREFA started its introduction project in Asturias.)
The controversy raises essential questions about the balance between conservation efforts and the potential risks associated with species reintroduction. As discussions continue, it is crucial to consider the comprehensive data gathered through extensive monitoring and avoid demonizing these eagles without a clear understanding of their impact.
In the absence of conclusive evidence, the fate of the Pigargos in Asturias remains uncertain, leaving stakeholders to navigate the complexities of wildlife conservation and coexistence.
In an ambitious effort to restore the majestic Cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus) to its historic home, a collaborative reintroduction project has been launched in Spain’s Iberian Highlands. Once a common sight, this magnificent scavenger bird faced decline and extinction in the region due to shrinking forest habitats a century ago.
Organised by the Castilla-La Mancha regional government and Alto Tajo Nature Park. The initiative is a joint endeavor between Terra Naturalis association and Rewilding Spain. The project involves the reintroduction of the Cinereous vulture with seven individuals recently released after a meticulous seven-month acclimatization period in an aviary. These birds, equipped with GPS transmitters, are now becoming acquainted with their new environment.