Category Archives: Birdlife of Spain

Bearded Vulture – Gypaetus barbatus – Quebrantahuesos

  • English: Bearded Vulture
  • Spanish: Quebrantahuesos
  • Alternative names / spellings: Lammergeier, Lammergeyer, Lammergeir.
  • Catalan: Trencalòs

This 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.

Bearded Vulture - Gypaetus barbatus - Quebrantahuesos
Bearded Vulture – Gypaetus barbatus – Quebrantahuesos – appeared in an official Spanishpostage stamp

They only live in high mountainous areas, usually between 500 to 4000m, preferring ledges on steep cliffs. They can be seen soaring through valleys in search for food. This can be live prey, carrion or the better known habit of breaking bones by dropping them from a great height onto rocks. This exposes the nutrient rich marrow and splinters the bone into smaller pieces which are also eaten.

These birds are very territorial, defending from 200 to 400 km2 against the presence of other adults. Sexual maturity is reached at 5 to 6 years old for females and 8 to 9 years for males. Nesting begins from mid December to January. Normally there are 2 eggs laid but all being well, only one will fledge in the June or July. Disturbances during the initial reproduction period are especially problematic, resulting in failure to raise chicks that year.

Human interference has pushed these birds to near extinction in many areas. Poisoning, power line collision or electrocution, shooting and encroachment have greatly reduced their numbers. There are protection, education, breeding and release programs in place to help support their numbers.

The Bearded Vulture was widespread through the main mountain chains of Spain until the mid 20th century, persecution had almost eradicated this raptor from its western European stronghold.

Bearded vultures in Andalusia

As recently as 1986 the last specimen disappeared from Andalucia but a reintroduction program has returned this stuning bird to the mountains of eastern Andalusia.

From 2006 to 2019 of the 60 odd individuals released in Andalusia 23 are still alive and being tracked. 19 are dead and the rest have lost their transmitors. However, 19 are confirmed alive and well from recent sightings,

In January 2021 6 pairs of bearded vultures had already nested and were sitting eggs. Great news!

The Junta de Andalucia official web page for this programme is here. (In Spanish) Plan de recuperación y conservación de aves necrófagas

There is an unoficial facebook page that has some English language updated information here. https://www.facebook.com/necrofagasandalucia/


Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture

This program has supplied food, mainly sheep limbs, during the winter months when chick survival is at a critical balance. In turn it has enabled the population to grow within the central Pyrenees and expand east and west into the provinces of Catalonia and Navarre. It is from these western populations that sub adults are once again expanding in search of new territories. They are reaching the Cantabrian mountains, especially the Picos de Europa, where projects are underway to prevent a repeat of the hunting / poisoning which eradicated them from here previously.

The “Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos” which translates to the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture are continuing with their protection and education schemes to ensure the expansion of this species.

There is an interesting Eco-museum / visitors centre at the Castle of Ainsa in the Aragon Pyrenees with information dedicated to these birds.

https://quebrantahuesos.org/the-eco-museum-visitor-centre-pyrenees-bird-center-of-the-ainsa-castle-huesca/?lang=en

If you see a bearded vulture and are lucky enough to also note the colors and position of any rings or wing tags then you can identify the bird on the website of Quebrantehuesos.org.

According to their website there are 135 tagged released birds. Some have radio tracking systems whilst others are ringed and/or wing tagged. Not all the birds are accounted for so your observation is important for the continuing success of the re-introduction system

https://quebrantahuesos.org/seguimiento-de-ejemplares-vivos-list/?lang=en

Some bearded vultures are mapped via gps and you can track their movements here…

https://quebrantahuesos.org/seguimiento-por-satelite/


Iberia Nature Forum

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Painting one turbine blade black reduces bird fatalities by 72%, says study

Sometimes the simplest solution is the most efficient!

Fascinating to hear that scientists in Norway have found that painting one of the three blades on a wind turbine black reduces avian deaths by 72%.

In the paper, the scientists explain why birds are susceptible to flying into rotating turbine blades and why a single black blade helps them to perceive the rotor as an obstacle.

“Relative to humans, birds have a narrow binocular [eg, using both eyes to focus on one object] frontal field of view and likely use their monocular [using each eye independently] and high‐resolution lateral fields of view [ie, having eyes on opposite sides of their heads] for detecting predators, conspecifics [ie, birds of the same species], and prey,” the authors write.

“Within an assumed open airspace, birds may therefore not always perceive obstructions ahead, thereby enhancing the risk of collision. To reduce collision susceptibility, provision of ‘passive’ visual cues may enhance the visibility of the rotor blades, enabling birds to take evasive action in due time.”

It is thought that birds see the rotating white blades as a “motion smear” — the blur effect humans see when waving a hand quickly in front of their eyes — and do not perceive this blur as a moving object.

Painting one blade black is believed to create motion smear patterns that the bird perceives as a moving object, “as the frontal vision in birds may be more tuned for the direction of movement”.

Read the full article at Recharge….


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Short-toed Eagles in the natural park of Grazalema

March brings a great joy for lovers of these spectacular birds when yet again they have made it across the Strait of Gibraltar to their breeding grounds in Europe. The first single birds start appearing at the end of February but the massive migration comes in March, when clouds of birds can be seen entering continental Europe.

This Eagle´s appearance and its habits make it a treat to watch, whether you are a seasoned birder, a casual nature lover or a walker who maybe has never seen an eagle before.  Once you have spotted this easy-to-identify, pale, graceful silhouette against the blue Andalucían sky, hovering like a kestrel while scanning the limestone rocks and scrub to find prey, you just may become a life-long fan. Continue reading Short-toed Eagles in the natural park of Grazalema

The Griffon Vultures of Grazalema (Gyps fulvus, Buitre Leonado)

Visible all year in the natural Park of Grazalema this bird is larger than an eagle, with a wingspan of up to 260 cm (8.53 Ft). In flight, their wings are broad, with the primaries (finger-like feathers) usually clearly visible; the tail is short, and the neck retracted. It has buff brown coloured plumage on the back, stomach and the anterior band of the wings, while the rest of the wing feathers and tail are dark brown. The head and long neck are covered with white down and there is a distinctive collar of long feathers. On adults the bill is yellow and collar white, whilst on juveniles the bill is grey and collar pale brown. They feed on carrion, most of the time in a state of decay and at other times in an initial stage (especialy large mammals). The carcasses left out by farmers are also an important part of the diet of these birds. Continue reading The Griffon Vultures of Grazalema (Gyps fulvus, Buitre Leonado)