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.