Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is, along with black vulture (Aegypus monachus), the biggest bird of prey in Spanish territory.
Scientific name «barbatus» refers to the black feather tuft under the bill. This «beard» is the end of the black eye mask drawn on its face and highlights the yellow eye, surrounded by a red eye-ring.
Plumage changes colour thorugh the years, form dark brown with grey spots to white and slaty grey in sub adults. The tipycal orange coloured feathers in adults are, actually, stain feathers: they take muddy baths in puddles with sediments rich in calcareous and ferruginous minerals. It’s funny, they take bath to get «dirty»!
If they are flying, we tell them apart from griffon vultures paying attention to their tails: bearded vultures tail is diamond shaped.
This species existed in Picos de Europa National Park until late 1950s, when it disappeared because of the hunting and the poisoned baits. A few decades later, the FCQ (Spanish capitals for Bearded vulture Conservation Foundation) started a great project to bring back the vulture to the park, sponsored by a LIFE project.
If the species scientific name talks about their «beard», the common name gives us a hint on how these birds feed (in Spanish, they are known as «bonebrakers»). Is the only species in the world that feeds almost exclusively on bones and, as a scavenger bird, is a key element to keep mountains clean of dead animals and carcases.
If you want to know something more about such an interesting species, visit Nicole’s website.