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A photo of a Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)
Bearded Vulture

Bearded Vulture

Gypaetus barbatus

The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), also known as the lammergeier and ossifrage, is a majestic bird of prey that stands apart in its genus Gypaetus. This bird, with its feathered neck, is not as closely related to Old World vultures as one might think, sharing a minor lineage with the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus). It is distinguished by a lozenge-shaped tail, a feature it shares with its closest living relative.

Identification Tips

Adult bearded vultures are predominantly dark gray, rusty, and whitish in color, with a striking contrast between their creamy-colored forehead and the black band across their eyes and lores. The species gets its name from the black bristles under the chin, forming a beard-like appearance. The tail feathers and wings are gray, and the bird's body may appear bulkier due to its often hunched posture. Juveniles are dark black-brown with a buff-brown breast and take five years to reach full maturity.

Habitat

The bearded vulture is found in high mountainous regions, preferring crags and cliffs for nesting. It is typically found at or above the tree line, often near the tops of mountains.

Distribution

This vulture has a vast range, from the Pyrenees and the Alps to the Arabian Peninsula, the Caucasus, and the Himalayas. It is also found in the Atlas Mountains, the Ethiopian Highlands, and as far south as the Drakensberg in South Africa.

Behaviour

The bearded vulture is a solitary bird, known for its remarkable ability to digest bones, which comprise the majority of its diet. It is known to drop large bones from great heights to crack them open and access the marrow inside. This species is also known for its spectacular territorial and breeding displays, which involve tumbling and spiraling in flight.

Song & Calls

The bearded vulture is generally silent but may emit shrill whistles during breeding displays and a falcon-like call near the nest.

Breeding

Breeding pairs are monogamous and display biparental care. The nest is a massive pile of sticks, and the female typically lays 1 to 2 eggs. The young spend 100 to 130 days in the nest before fledging and may depend on the parents for up to 2 years.

Similar Species

Due to its unique appearance, especially in flight, the bearded vulture is virtually unmistakable and has no similar species.

Diet and Feeding

The bearded vulture's diet is unusual among birds, consisting of 70–90% bone. It is capable of swallowing whole or biting through brittle bones and has a powerful digestive system that dissolves even large pieces.

Conservation status

The bearded vulture is currently listed as near threatened by the IUCN Red List. Its population is thought to be in decline due to habitat loss, collisions with energy infrastructure, reduced food availability, poisoning, and direct persecution. Conservation efforts include mitigation plans to reduce population declines and reintroduction projects in areas like the Alps.

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