Category Archives: Birdlife of Spain

Short-toed Eagle – Circaetus gallicus – Aguila culebrera

March and early April brings a great joy for lovers of the spectacular Short-toed Eagle – Circaetus gallicus -Aguila culebrera when yet again they have made it across the Strait of Gibraltar to their breeding grounds in Europe. The first single birds start appearing in the Sierra de Grazalema 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.

Short-toed Eagle - Circaetus gallicus - Aguila culebrera
Short-toed Eagle – Circaetus gallicus – Aguila culebrera

There are many features which make the European Short-toed Eagle special, probably the most defining one being its diet. This eagle is a successful snake hunter, its diet being a narrow speciality as far as birds of prey are concerned.

Where do the short-toes fit in, then?

This bird has powerful but stubby toes, covered in thick scales which protect it from snake bites. When the eagle spots a snake from above using its excellent binocular vision (its eyes are very large and facing well forward) it lunges at the reptile, grabbing it with its strong toes and pecking at the head with its sharp hooked beak. The snake, in defence, will try to crawl on the bird´s wings, damaging the feathers and the struggle can be quite spectacular as the eagle does not shy away from large snakes. Once subdued the snake is swallowed whole. The bird throws its head back and using gravity and a snake-friendly gullet, let´s the prey slide bit by bit into its stomach.

Nesting and chick rearing

The Short-toed eagle nests in bushy tree-tops, such as Holm or Cork Oaks; only one egg is laid. The Short-toed “Eaglet” hatches from mid May to the beginning of June and starts flying in August, only one or two months before it is time to migrate to the tropical zone of Africa. There are well-documented cases of both juvenile and adult birds overwintering in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, although it is more of an exception than a rule.

The young chick is first fed with small snake snacks and then taught to swallow the reptile whole like thick spaghetti. It is a fascinating sight to witness the adult eagles carrying wiggling snakes hanging from their beaks making the tricky delivery to the nest. The Short-toed will also pursue lizards, especially the large Ocellated Lizard which seems to be its favourite delicacy. When no snakes or lizards are available, it will cheat hunger with an occasional amphibian or even large insects.

How to identify the Short-toed Eagle – Circaetus gallicus – Aguila culebrera

Before you ask yourself what it is, it´s good to think what it is not. By far the most likely bird of prey in the skies around Grazalema in Andalusia is the large Griffon Vulture; however all of our resident and migratory eagles are smaller than the Griffon, even the powerful Golden Eagle. So, if it is a little smaller than a Griffon Vulture, we may want to start paying attention.

Short-toed Eagle - Circaetus gallicus - Aguila culebrera
Short-toed Eagle – Circaetus gallicus – Aguila culebrera

Very pale. The Short-toed eagle in flight will at first glance appear to be purely white underneath, at a closer look you will notice fine barring on the wings and chest. Young birds will often lack those fine dark lines. The wings are quite wide and the tail is long, often fanned out when the birds is suspended in the air.

If it hovers and it is much, much larger than a Kestrel, then it is the Short-toed Eagle. The wing beats are not as fast as the Kestrel’s but the Short-toed can stay suspended in one spot for quite a while.

Large, often fluffed up head, quite startled-looking large orange eyes, hooked beak and match-stick thin legs make up the image of a perched Short-toed. It will happily rest on rocks or in trees.

In the breeding season, or flying with the young, these birds can be quite vocal, uttering mournful, nasal shrieks, like someone suffering from a heavy cold. The parents and the young love play-fighting dive bombing each other in mid air.

These spectacular animals are not endangered in Spain at the moment but they are considered to be birds “of special interest”. They could start disappearing rapidly due to the progressive destruction of large forests and due to the thoughtless persecution of snakes which is still common in all parts of Europe. The bird´s survival depends on the availability of reptiles.

In Spanish, the Short-toed is called “la Culebrera”, the Snake Eagle, which is also an alternative, less used, English name for this impressive raptor.

Watch this fantastic footage from the Spanish wildlife show “El hombre y la tierra” with the unmistakeable narrative voice of Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente.


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Bearded vulture reintroduction

It seems that the success up in the north of Spain for the Bearded vulture reintroduction now requires the translocation of “floaters”. Ie non breeding bearded vultures that are infringing on the territory of breeding pairs….. It really is fascinating and incredible work that these guys are doing at the Vulture Conservation Foundation.

Read more here: https://www.4vultures.org/one-more-bearded-vulture-translocated-as-part-of-the-newest-reintroduction-project-in-maestrazgo

And in Andalucia a record breaking 10th Bearded vulture in 2021 has just hatched…. They called him “Guinness” after the Guinness book of records…..

In Spanish here: https://www.heraldo.es/noticias/sociedad/2021/03/24/record-mundial-en-andalucia-con-el-nacimiento-de-diez-quebrantahuesos-en-el-centro-guadalentin-1480198.html

Read more about Bearded Vultures here on Wildside holidays – Spain
https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/bearded-vulture-gypaetus-barbatus-quebrantahuesos/

Injured bearded vulture released after good recovery

The bearded vulture ‘”Aquilón” who is part of the recovery project in the Picos de Europa has been re released this Tuesday, March 2 in Cantabria by the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture (FCQ)

Almost three years old, this young male has now been returned to his natural habitat in the vicinity of the town of Espinama, in Camaleño after spending the last few months in rehabilitation.

He was found in a badly injured state after an impact with power lines and although his foot was so badly damaged that it had to be amputated, it was deemed that he still had a very high percentage of survival in the wild.

Aquilon the bearded vulture with his amputated foot
Aquilon the bearded vulture with his amputated foot

Read more about the Beraded Vulture here

Source: https://www.animalshealth.es/animaladas/veterinarios-espanoles-recuperan-quebrantahuesos-electrocutado


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Bearded Vulture – Gypaetus barbatus – Quebrantahuesos

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

The Bearded Vulture – Gypaetus barbatusQuebrantahuesos 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 or their transmitors are broken . However, 19 of these individuals are confirmed alive and well from recent sightings.

The Guadalentin breeding centre in Cazorla is run by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF)


VCF website here: https://www.4vultures.org/10-bearded-vulture-chicks-guadalentin-andalusia-world-record

In March 2021 6 pairs of bearded vultures had already nested and were sitting eggs. with 10 chicks already hatched….Great news!

Guinness the Bearded vulture chick
Guinness the Bearded vulture chick

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/


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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