The Bearded Vulture - Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus)

 

 

One of the largest and most beautifully feathered vulture is the Bearded Vulture. It is a massive bird of prey by size and by its huge wingspan. Altough the European populations are developing very positively, the Lammergeier still is one of the most endangered species in the Old World and especially in Europa. Its main distribution is in the French and Spanish Pyrenees, in the Southwest of France, in the Southwest of Spain, in the Swiss, Italian and Austrian Alps.

 

After it becoming distinct in Europe in the 1960s a conservation programme was launched in Europe to help the bird becoming native in the Alpine region again.

 

bearded vulture
Bearded Vulture - Head of an adult bird

 

Facts and Fiction on the Bearded Vulture

 

With regard to Old World Vultures the Bearded Vulture ranks high amongst the largest species of this group. Little wonder when we look at its size of 100-115 cm and wingspans ranging from 250 to 282 cm. As for its name, it really depends on the author whether the bird is called Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier. The latter one directly leads us the many other names the bird was given by people in bygone centuries which are: "Child Robber", "Golden Vulture", "Mountain Vulture" or "Chamois Vulture". His ability to crack bones by simply dropping them from great heights lead to the bird being called "Bone Breaker". Whilst "Bone Breaker" simply describes the bird's method of processing bones, all the other names make clear that the bird wasn't loved anywhere in Europe. 

 

That apart, its size and lovely feathering made it a target for trophy hunters from all over. 

 

Matter-of-factly the Bearded Vulture is a peaceful animal and there is no need for humans to be afraid. The vulture is no danger for any child and live stock at all. All these accusations have been thoroughly refuted as utter nonsense.

 

 

Description - Characteristics: Bearded Vulture - Lammergeier

 

Breeding – Clutch – Measurements – Habitat – Diet - Threats

 

Taxonomy:

Order: Birds of prey (Accipitriformes)

Family: Accipitridae

Species: Bearded Vulture - Lammergeier (Gypaetus)

Genus: Bearded Vulture

 

Scientific Name: Gypaetus barbatus

 

Names and Synonyms for the Bearded Vulture - Lammergeier

 

Name in German: Bartgeier - Lämmergeier

Name in French: Gypaète barbu

Name in Spanish: Quebrantahuesos

Name in Italian: Gipeto

Name in Dutch: Lammergier

Name in Finnish: Partakorppikotka

Name in Norwegian: Lammegribb

Name in Danish: Lammergrib

Name in Swedish: Lammgam

Name in Czech: Orlosup bradatý

Name in Slovak: Bradáň žltohlavý

Name in Hungary: Saskeselyű

Name in Polish: Orlosęp

Name in Russian: Krassny korschun - Бородач

Name in Greek: Γυπαετός

Name in Mongo: Ёл, Ооч ёл, Сахалт ёл

Name in Kazakh: Сақалтай

Name in Nepali: हाडफोर

Name in Chinese: 胡兀鹫

Name in Chinese (traditional): 鬍兀鷲

Name in Persian: هما

Name in Arabic: النسر الملتحي, نسر ابو ذقن

Name in Serbian: Bradan

Name in Croatian: Kostoberina

 

Characteristics of the Bearded Vulture

 

Distribution: The Lammergeier – Bearded Vulture is distributed across the Palearctic, Afrotropical and Indomalayan. In Europe it is distributed in the southern Alpine mountain ranges, and also in the mountain ranges of the Middle East and Southern Asia, also in the Himalayan.

 

lammergeier bearded vulture
Immature Lammergeier - Bearded Vulture

 

Voice: Generally silent except when in display, then shrill whistles such as „fiiij“, also falcon-like twittering such as “cheek cheek cheek”.

 

Sexually mature: Lammergeier become sexually mature between 6 to 8 years of age.

Mating Season: Monogamous breeding pairs. Usually mating takes place long before the birds become sexually mature.

 

Clutches per breeding seasonone clutch per season

 

Breeding

 

Breeding: Depends on the region: in Eurasia and North Africa between September-December; Indian subcontinent between December to June, Ethiopia between October and May, various parts of East Africa actually at any time throughout the year; Kenya mostly between April and November, Southern Africa between May and January.

 

Nest: The nest is a massive pile of branches simply put together, measuring on average 1 m across and up to 60 cm deep. Nest having been in use for several years can show much larger dimensions reaching 1.5-2.5 m across and 1 m deep. The nest is draped and lined with material found in the surroundings such as dried skin, dung, wool, feathers etc., even rubbish can come in handy to line the nest hollow. Usually the nest is place in inaccessible heights of at least 700 m and higher on overhung ledges or even in smallish caves that provide a good oversight of the area.

Clutch: usually two eggs, (1-2), in north India even 3 eggs have been reported.

Eggs: Eggs are broad oval with yellowish shells, widely covered with brown and red speckles.

Egg – Measures and Weights:

Length: 35.1-45.5 mm

Width: 29.5-34.3 mm

Ø: 39.5x30.8 mm

Weight of an freshly laid egg: 20.23 g; Ø = 21 g

Eggshell: 1.30-1.90 g; Ø 1.45 g (n=150)

 

Laying Interval: 4-6 days.

Breeding starts: Immediately after laying the first egg.

Incubation: 52-56 (max. 60) days, the task of incubation is shared between ♂ and ♀

Hatching: the young vultures hatch within 4-6 days of each other, in accordance with the laying interval.

 

Fledging: Because of the substantial age difference between the first and second hatched, the first one will not only immediately be fed with meat, but also will develop well in contrast to the last hateched. Mostly the smaller one is killed by its older sibling and becomes part of the diet itself. Fledging period 103-133 days, on average 123 days.

 

Dependency: After the young vulture has fledged it will still be dependend on its parents, that period may last up to a year.

 

 

Miscellaneous

 

Food: The Bearded Vulture feeds on a specialised diet that mainly contains bones and marrion, but also on tortoises, some smaller live animals such as small rodents, birds or reptiles. Though, the main feed are bones, which make up at least 70% but usually <85% of the diet .

 

Longevity: up to 30 years and at least 40 years in captivity.

 

Mortatility – Survival Rate: During the first four years, South African Bearded Vultures only have a survival rate of about 13%, after the birds enjoy a survival rate of about 94% per year.

 

Threats: The most common threats are poisoning and persecution mainly by illegal hunting. Further, disturbances at nest sites, a reduction in farm stock and, especially in many West European states, legislation that prohibits carcasses to be left out on the fields, which proves to be a substantial problem with European vulture populations as, simultaneously, that specific legislation prevents vultures from feeding.

 

 

 

References

 

Bauer, Hans-Günther, Bezzel, Einhard et. al. (HG), Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 1+2, Sonderausgabe 2012, Aula Verlag, Wiebelsheim

Bauer, Hans-Günther, Bezzel, Einhard et. al. (HG), Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 3, Literatur und Anhang, Aula Verlag Wiebelsheim, 2. vollständig überarbeitete Auflage 1993

Baumgart, Wolfgang, Europas Geier, Flugriesen im Aufwind, AULA-Verlag Wiebelsheim, 2001

Bezzel, Einhard, Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Non-Passeriformes, Band 1, AULA-Verlag Wiesbaden, 1985

Bruun/Singer/König/Der Kosmos Vogelführer, Franck'sche Verlagshandlung Stuttgart, 5. Auflage 1982

Ferguson-Lees, James and Christie, David A., Raptors of the World, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston New York, 2001

Glutz von Blotzheim, Urs et. al (HG), Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 4, Falconiformes, AULA-Verlag Wiesbaden, 2. durchgesehene Auflage 1989

Mebs, Theodor et. al, Die Greifvögel Europas, Franck-Kosmos Verlags GmbH, 2. Auflage 2014

Svenson, Lars et. al, Der Kosmos Vogelführer, Franck-Kosmos Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Stuttgart, 2. Auflage 2011

 

External Links

 

Vultures Conservation Foundation - European Vulture Protection and Conservation

 

Image Credits

 

Egg of the Bearded Vulture: Attribution: Von Didier Descouens - Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17082101; Muséum de Toulouse, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons