With its 2 metres wingspan, the Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is one of the biggest raptor in Europe. It is also one of the rarest. When it flies, its long wedge-shaped tail enables to distinguish it easily from other species. Unlike most vultures, the bearded vulture does not have a bald head. The bird has an orange and black plumage. The creamy-coloured forehead contrasts against a black band across the eyes and lores and bristles under the chin, which form a black beard that give the species its name.
The bearded vulture feeds mostly on the remains of dead animals, and especially on bones. This is the only living bird species that specialized in feeding on bone marrow. It cracks bones to large to be swallowed by carrying them in flight to a height of 50-150 m above the ground and then dropping them onto rocks below, which smashes them into smaller pieces and exposes the nutritious marrow.
So the bearded vulture feeds on carcasses after other scavengers (as griffon vultures, cinereous vultures or common ravens, which feeds on flesh), and make them disappear.
During the first years of its life, the bearded vulture travels a lot. It settles down when it is 6-7 years old: it has then attained its sexual maturity. A couple of bird breeds no more than one young per year.
Its late maturity, the low reproductive rate, and human activities (disturbance, but also poisoning, shooting, electrocution) make the bearded vulture a fragile species.
In France, the species is present in Corsica, in the Pyrenees and in the Alps. Since 2012, bearded vultures have also been reintroduced in the Grands Causses, in ordre to create settlements in the Massif Central and help movements of birds between the Pyrenees and the Alps. The aim is to enable a genetic mixing, which is necessary for the long-term viability of the species. Severy birds have thus been released in Meyrueis, on the way to Saint Guilhem. So… open your eyes! If you are lucky, you may see a bearded vulture flying above you.