Return of the Lammergeier

After 50-odd years of having disappeared from the Picos de Europa due to intense persecution

(see Picos, Palencia and Poison) and a few years of a stalled reintroduction programme, it now looks like spring 2010 will be the date for the reintroductions to start. The Bearded Vulture Foundation (Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos) want to bring at least three young birds from the only remaining viable population of the Western Palearctic, the Lammergeiers in the Pyrenees (with about 130 breeding units), using an innovative technique of rescuing eggs from recently abandoned nests, raising the chicks by non-human intervention with adult bird-like puppets then translocating them to strategically placed acclimatisation cages in the Picos mountains from where the young birds will make their first flights after a couple of weeks.

fcq_lammergeier_chickThis year, 2009, has seen two young individuals checking out the area naturally. One has flown from the Pyrenees (see Spring Lammergeier News) and the other, named Pontones, from another conservation programme in the Sierra de Cazorla, Andalucia has been sighted flying around the Riaño area of the Cantabrian mountains.

The last carrion-eating species in the avian food chain, the Lammergeier will wait for the Griffon vultures to finish their feast before hopping in to collect the left-over bones. The Spanish name, quebrantahuesos, refers to its habit of flying up into the air with the bones before dropping them onto rocks in order to break them and reach the nutricious bone marrow inside.

See the Bearded Vulture Foundation for more information. Their new, lavishly illustrated, bilingual book on the world's Lammergeiers, "On the Trail of the Bearded Vulture" (Tras el Vuelo del Quebrantahuesos) can be bought online through this bookshop.

*Lammergeier can also be spelt Lammergeyer (I prefer the former as a test of my spelling!) as well as also being known as Bearded vulture.