The bearded vulture, a species of vulture


Vulture emblematic of our French mountains, this scavenger loves the carcasses of dead animals. The vulture owes the qualifier bearded to a physical characteristic: the tuft of feathers which protrudes under its beak. Close-up of a raptor with a black beard.

The bearded vulture family

The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus barbatus) is one of the four species of vultures present in France. It belongs to the family of Accipitridae which brings together 69 genera and 260 species of diurnal raptors. All have in common:

  • A sexual dimorphism, the male being smaller than the female;
  • A binocular vision making it easier to spot prey;
  • A hooked beak and sharp aiming to tear the flesh;
  • From the legs with four fingers to the curled nails and sharp, favoring the capture of preys.

The orange plumage of the bearded vulture

The bearded vulture in adulthood is distinguished by color orange of its plumage on the belly, neck and throat. In this vulture, females are generally more colorful than males. This shade comes from mud baths taken in water sources ferruginous which charge the plumage with iron oxide and apply this rusty pigmentation. In regions devoid of water rich in iron, such as Crete or Corsica, bearded vultures do indeed have a underside. whitish. The rest of the plumage is creamy white and slate on the shoulders and wings. Each of its feathers is adorned with a white line. A black mask surrounds his eyes and follows the ear canal.

Bearded vulture: large European raptor

The bird owes its name to the “wicks” of black feathers located under its beak and which resemble a goatee. Its narrow, pointed wings and long wedge-shaped tail are another characteristic trait of the bearded vulture. Its straw-colored iris is surrounded by a red orbital circle. The animal is one of the largest European raptors : its size is between 1.10 m and 1.50 m and its weight between 5 and 7 kg. The wingspan varies from 2.60 to 2.90 m in the largest individuals.

The bearded vulture, altitude bird

The bearded vulture is found in central and southern Europe, North Africa, the Near East, Asia Minor from Iran to China. In France, the species is observed in the mountainous regions – Pyrenees and Alps – between 700 and 2300 m of altitude. The bird preferably nests in cliffs and rock faces within a vast domain that can extend over more than 50,000 hectares. In addition to rocky precipices, the raptor searches for large areas of pasture to find food. This bird sedentary lives all year round in the mountains and only deserts its habitat in the event of extreme cold or famine. Knowing every nook and cranny of its territory, the bearded vulture squares it daily for its meals, taking advantage of the thermal currents in order to save the beating of wings.

The bearded vulture, a bone breaker

The bearded vulture feeds mainly on big bones (corpses of sheep, goats, wild ungulates such as chamois…) and their marrow. The raptor is able to swallow whole pieces (from 20 to 25 cm) thanks to its elastic throat and to dissolve them with its digestive juices. If the frame is really too large, the bird uses a very effective method: it grasps the bone with the talons and carries it in the air to release it between 50 and 100 meters in height, in a usual place called ossuary. The bearded vulture may repeat this process several times until they are the right size to swallow them. In times of scarcity, it can also take prey alive : small mammals, rodents, birds or reptiles.

Bearded vulture: a faithful couple

The bearded vulture reaches the age of sexual maturity at 7 or 8 years old. Faithful, the raptor generally lives in pairs that it defends against the intrusion of its congeners. The two mates look for a place to nest from October-November and build their nests in crevices cliffs inaccessible and sheltered from bad weather. The materials used are various: twigs, branches, grasses for the structure and sheep’s wool, goat hair, hair and pieces of skin to line the bottom. The laying takes place between late December and early March depending on the location. At the end of a incubation which lasts from 53 to 60 days, the female lays one or two eggs 4 or 5 days apart. Usually, the weaker chick perishes, leaving only the stronger chick. Fed by preys and bones, the survivor leaves the nest after 4 months but will depend on his parents for food for another 7 months to a year.

Preservation of the bearded vulture

At the level global, the bearded vulture is classified as “Least Concern” on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In France metropolitan, the species is considered ” Endangered ” on the Red List of breeding birds. On a European and Mediterranean scale, the raptor remains in a state of conservation precarious. However, the evolution of its population has returned to positive in the Alps and the Pyrenees thanks to reintroduction. Lack of food resources, hunting, poisoning, collision with electric pylons or ski lifts represent the main threats to the vulture. Her longevity is 30 to 35 years old and 45 years old in captivity.