Hardly any bird in the National Park has awakened so much interest as the bearded vulture.
The bearded vulture became extinct in the Alps during the 19th century. Previously thought, erroneously, to be a predator of sheep (hence the name «Lämmergeier»), it actually feeds on carrion and bones. Its talons are not adapted to catching prey.
Historical documents depict the supposedly rapacious behaviour of the «lämmergeier». It was even accused of carrying off children.
With its imposing wingspan of nearly 3m it is easy to understand why the bearded vulture was thought to be a threat and consquently persecuted.
Bearded vultures feed primarily on bones, which have a high fat and protein content. Larger bones are dropped from a great height onto stone slabs, causing them to splinter. This strategy allows the bearded vulture to occupy an uncontested ecological niche.
Since 1986 bearded vultures have been released in the Alps as part of an international project. In the National Park, the first birds were released in 1991.
The release of these birds should enable the gap between the Pyrenees and the Balkans to be closed. Other sites where birds have been released are Rauristal (Austria), Haute Savoie and the Mercantour National Park (France), as well as, since 2000, the Marteltal in the Stelvio National Park (Italy)
From 1991 to 2007, 26 young captive-bred bearded vultures were released in the Swiss National Park’s Stabelchod valley .
It is not known exactly how many of these young birds have survived; most probably considerably more than half. In recent years there have been several occurrences of natural broods in the Engadine and Swiss-Italian border region. For this reason, there will be no further releases of captive-bred birds in the National Park. Further information about the bearded vulture is available at the National Park Centre in Zernez, or at www.bartgeier.ch.
Young and adult bearded vultures are easily distinguishable by the colour of their feathers.
Young vultures are brown-grey from head to tail. The head and chest only become paler once they are 3 or 4 years old. There is practically no difference between male and female birds.
The reddish colouring of an adult bearded vulture is an interesting characteristic. This colour is the result of bathing in pools of water rich in ferric oxide.
Bearded vulture eggs are quite large and weigh between 200 and 250g. The female generally lays two eggs.The first chick hatches several days before the second and kills its sibling in its first week. The second egg is nature’s way of ensuring a backup, should something go wrong with the first. The parents would not be capable of rearing two young vultures.