Quebrantahuesos en Teruel

The Picos de Europa National Park sees the birth of its first bearded vulture since the disappearance of the species from the area in the mid-20th Century.

The event marks a milestone in the reintroduction of  the species into this protected parkland, a project funded by  the LIFE programme and headed by the FCQ.

The Picos de Europa National Park (Spain) has harboured the birth of bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus); the first such birth since the species disappeared from the area some 70 years ago. The event was recorded by the technical team at the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture (Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos—FCQ) and the National Park forest wardens, both of whom had been monitoring the reproductive process for some weeks.

The parents of the fledgling are Deva and Casanova who made a first bid at breeding in 2017. Deva is a 10-year old female from the Pyrenees, reintroduced into the Picos de Europa in 2010 within the framework of the recuperation project for this species. Casanova is a male of at least 13 years, arriving from the Pyrenees in 2013 to establish himself in the Picos de Europa. The mating pair’s pre-reproductive activity was detected last autumn within the framework of the monitoring actions of specimens selected by the After-Life programme. They installed themselves in a rocky hollow in the central area of the Picos de Europa. Here the egg was laid. FCQ technical staff, in close association with the national park wardens, watched how the pair took turns incubating the egg over 54 days and later witnessed the feeding of the fledgling in the nest after hatching.

This reproductive episode marks an expected milestone in the project for reintroducing the species in the Picos de Europa (Cantabrian Range). FCQ has headed the initiative since its inception in 2002, working in collaboration with the central government and the respective regional authorities,-especially the outstanding collaboration of the government of Aragon Wildlife Service-, together with the European Commission, through two projects. The first is LIFE 02/NAT/E/8624, carried out 2002-2005, and aimed at creating the environmental  and social conditions needed for the re-colonisation of this species, which disappeared from the area in the 20th Century. The second is LIFE12NAT/ES/000322, carried out 2013-2018, and which freed 21 Pyrenean specimens, yielded by the regional government of Aragón, with the aim of creating a new stable core population for this species in the area.

For the FCQ, the years of work with EU, regional and local institutions, has brought about significant advances in the biological and ecological knowledge of the species and in consolidating an efficient methodology for the rescue, breeding and freeing of endangered specimens. In turn, that has brought about a significant advance in the preservation of the bearded vulture, not only because  of the possibility of restoring an extinct population, but also because of the valuable contribution of these rescued specimens, -coming from reproductive units that are poorly represented genetically- represent for the European genetic pool (bearded vulture is an endangered species in Spain, France, Andorra and Russia, and Critically endangered in Italy, Greece and Switzerland).

The regional government of Aragón yields the bearded vulture specimens recovering from at-risk (non-viable) nests in the Aragón Pyrenees, in agreement with the technical protocol approved by the Bearded Vulture Working Group within the Ministry for Ecological Transition (MITECO). The document herein includes the procedures for actively dealing with deficient mating pairs to ensure there are no negative impacts upon the donated population.

The confirmation of this birth now in the Picos de Europa, 400 km from the Pyrenees, marks a very important step towards the survival of the species in Spain; an even larger one if the young bird survives. It therefore marks a satisfactory conclusion to the LIFE project, which finalised in 2018.  It also complies with the objectives laid out in the After-Life programme.

Nevertheless, the need remains to continue with this work in the short and medium term in order to consolidate this incipient population in the Iberian peninsula, fostering biological connection corridors and keeping up the fight against the main hazards still threatening the species. Such endeavours further demonstrate how the preservation of biodiversity acts as an axis to employment and economic development in rural mountainous areas.