3 Aug, 2012 @ 09:00
1 min read

‘Bone-breakers’ are back in Spain

spanish vulture

By Eloise Horsfield

ONCE on the verge of extinction, now Spain’s bearded vulture – or ‘quebrantahuesos’ – is flying back to good health.

The majestic birds of prey once thrived in Andalucia, but by 1986 they had all but disappeared due to shooting, and poison designed to kill vermin.

Thanks to a successful breeding programme birds have been released as far away as Sierra de Gredos, in Castilla y Leon, and La Rioja’s Picos de Urbion.

Some vultures have been found to regularly travel between Jaen and the Pyrenees. Breeding centres helped an impressive 18 chicks to be born in captivity last year.

“The aim is to get the vultures to reproduce naturally, although this will not be possible for four or five years,” said Rafael Arenas, regional coordinator for vulture conservation.

Sadly, of the 23 individuals released since 2006, eight have died – mostly because of lead poisoning.

The birds are named ‘bone-breakers’ in Spanish because they crack bones too large to swallow by dropping their prey onto rocks from high above – a trick which young birds can take seven years to master.


  1. The biggest enemy of these beautiful birds is poisoned bait put out by farmers and hunters and meant for foxes. This practice is illegal however it still happens, killing many birds of prey and vultures.

    Last year the release of young chicks of the Bearded vulture or Lammergeier in the hacking centre in Cazorla was stopped because of that very reason.

    The true come back of this bird very much depends on stopping the poison bait once and for all. Unfortunately, releasing the birds just to see them die is what´s happening recently. Fundación Gypaetus (this is the latin name of the bird, Gypaetus barbatus) organises educational chats and programmes on the subject.

  2. Saw one of these vultures flying above the forests which lie above Alcaucin, Axarquia. Common name Lammergeyer (various spellings), easily identified by its very long narrow black wings and light coloured body when viewed from underneath. It cannot be mistaken for any other bird.
    A fantastic sight.
    This indiscriminate poisoning mania is killing off all the wildlife, not to mention pets. For instance, griffon vultures used to be a common sight just 5 years ago but now just the odd one or two may be seen in this area.
    The poisons used ensure a horribly painful death.

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