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Did you know? There are nearly 70 species of mammals, 89 species of nesting birds and around 2000 plant species in the French Alps.
These inhabitants of natural spaces frequent the same hills, forests and mountains as we do for our sporting activities. It's important to get to know them to make sure they are respected and not disturbed too much.
Now let’s try to identify two types of birds of prey, the Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus Barbatus) and the Griffon Vulture (Gyps Fulvus).
These two kings of the sky can be found easily in our French mountains in summer. Their large wingspan lets them glide almost indefinitely over thermal currents with the wind. With an average wingspan of 2.6 m, the griffon vulture often travels in groups of several birds. It's not rare to see colonies of several dozen circling in the sky looking for food.
The bearded vulture is much more discreet. It flies alone until reaching sexual maturity (7 years) then in a pair and this is one way to identify it: if there are more than two then they are likely griffon vultures.
Another differentiating factor between the two species is their colour. In flight it’s possible to differentiate the griffon’s grey coloured head, while the bearded vulture has orange chest plumage. The griffon’s long neck also gives it a different shape in flight if you have the opportunity to be at the same level, whereas the bearded vulture’s neck with orange feathers is in perfect alignment with its chest.
These two birds are scavengers by character. The griffon vultures feed off dead animal carcasses and can fly several hundreds of kilometres in just one day looking for food. The bearded vulture also feeds off dead animals but as a last resort and only cares about the animal bones. It either swallows them in one piece or breaks them up on stones to extract the marrow and only eats the fragments.
Real flying machines, their efficiency in the air gets them away from any threat quickly and therefore they aren’t unsettled by the presence of humans.
Unfortunately, some of our activities affect their habitat: high voltage lines and cable cars can injure them if they hit the cables. Paragliding may also be prohibited (overflight) over cliffs where there are nests. This is particularly valid for the bearded vultures as real efforts are in progress to reintroduce them to our mountains.
Unfortunately, another more recent activity is disturbing these special birds: leisure drones. Flown by humans to capture beautiful views, they frequently cross the path of griffon or bearded vultures, disturbing and frightening them when airborne. Drone pilots should take this factor into consideration in their flight spaces. Even if there is no visible restriction from the ground, their drone flies several kilometres from that point, perhaps into a prohibited zone and threatens the survival of these magnificent creatures.
There you go, now you have a few cards in hand to better identify and respect our mountain birds.
Want to find out more about griffon and bearded vultures?
Head straight to the Vulture Conservation Foundation website committed to to conservation, restoration and protection of vultures as umbrella species for their natural habitats throughout Europe..