The gypaète barbu celebrated two big birthdays in 2017:
- 30 years since its successful re-introduction into France (1987);
- and 20 years since the first gypaète was born in the Alps (1997);
Some gypaète barbu facts:
NAME – the gypaetus barbatus is what is known as an «Old World vulture»; ie it resides in Africa, Asia and Europe, as opposed to the Americas;
SIZE – the gypaète barbu is one of the largest birds of prey in Europe, with a wingspan measuring up to nearly 3m in length;
HABITAT – the gypaète barbu lives in a mountainous habitat, using cliffs/rock faces for nests;
DEPICTION IN HISTORY – the gypaète barbu was once considered as a terrifying animal, a danger to man and his flocks; it was thought that these birds of prey bathed in the blood of their prey! They were, as a result, hunted indiscriminately, and the last known living gypaète barbu in the Alps was hunted in Italy in 1913;
COLOURING – in fact, the gypaète barbu puts on ochre coloured “make-up”, which gives its plumage this reddish-tint that was once thought to be blood. The gypaète barbu colours its feathers by bathing in muddy puddles full of ferric oxides; the aim of this colour tint is to show that it is dominant in a certain territory;
FOOD – contrary to historical myths, the gypaète barbu does not hunt live animals; it is a scavenger, feeding off carcasses of dead animals. Its diet is 70 per cent bones (in the Alps, mainly bones of dead chamois and bouquetins). The bones that it is unable to consume whole, it drops on the rocks below from a height to shatter – this is how the gypaète barbu earned its nickname casseur d’os (bone breaker)! Its gastric acid is highly corrosive, so that it can digest the bones. As a scavenger, the gypaete barbu – like other vultures – prevents the spreading of certain diseases that might otherwise spread through the decomposing carcasses of dead animals, and thus has an important role in the ecosystem.
VULNERABILITY – the gypaète barbu is hence at the top of the feeding chain, but this also makes it very vulnerable to poisoning . . . other dangers include cables (gypaètes are prone to flying into them) and man, who may inadvertently disturb a nest through sport or leisure (for example parapentists, rock-climbers and photographers);
MATING & REPRODUCTION – the gypaète barbu only begins to reproduce from the age of 7 years (though the average is more like 10 years) and the reproduction period lasts for about 10 months of the year! The gypaètes start their courting game in autumn and reproduce in the middle of winter . . . of the two eggs laid, the parents will only raise one chick;
TAKING FLIGHT – the young gypaète takes flight around 4 months of age in the summer . . . he/she stays with its parents to learn how to fly and to feed, and then is chased away by them, so that they might recommence with a new mating season (though there is usually only one juvenile gypaète set to fly every 3 years);
LIFE SPAN – the gypaète barbu can live up to 20/30 years in nature, with a record of 46 years in captivity!
This above information regarding the gypaète barbu was found courtesy of:
- Antoine Rezer: who also gave me some advice and corrections in the editing of this text – merci, Antoine!
- Asters website: www.gypaete-barbu.com;
- Book: L’Envol du gypaète by Antoine Rezer and Jean-Luc Danis (preface by Allain Bougrain Dubourg / Histoire d’Images / Salamandre / 2016).
Le Centre d’ Élevage du Gypaète Barbu (Haute-Savoie)
Le Centre d’Elevage du Gypaète Barbu de Haute-Savoie, which is located on our doorstep in the Vallée de l’Arve, has a fundamental role in safe-guarding the gypaète barbu in its fragile ecosystem. It is run by Asters, and it is unique in France as the only centre to raise gypaètes barbus. Originally opened in 2002 to replace the one that existed in the commune of Ayse, it was recently renovated.
To ensure the best conditions for mating and rearing, the centre is not open to the public.
For more information about the centre, see here;
A love affair
Our boys love gypaètes barbus, and I can’t quite remember when this affection began . . . certainly visits to the 🌲 Centre de la Nature Montagnarde in Sallanches with school, explanations at the Fête de la Nature in Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval last springtime, and most recently a photo exhibition to coincide with the publication of the book L’Envol du Gypaète by Antoine Rezer and Jean-Luc Danis (preface by Allain Bougrain Dubourg / Histoire d’Images / Salamandre / 2016).
Another book which really tweaked their interest has been the children’s audio-book L’incroyable histoire de Gypa (from Asters Conservatoire d’Espaces Naturels Haute-Savoie / illustrations: Caroline Koehly / scénario et dialogues: Olivier Collin / création sonore: David Cardiofi / musiques originales: Marc Tomasi Jangala / Company OCK Productions under directorshop of Christian Schwoeher / 2015).
Our family appreciates all of the local initiatives to sensitise our children to this fascinating bird.
More information about the gypaète barbu
- Asters, Conservatoire d’espaces naturels Haute-Savoie (section about gypaète barbu);
- Vulture Conservation Foundation;
Photography & Books:
- 📷 Antoine Rezer website;
- 📷 Jean-Luc Danis website;
- 📷 Photo Book: L’Envol du Gypaète by Antoine Rezer and Jean-Luc Danis (preface by Allain Bougrain Dubourg / Histoire d’Images / Salamandre / 2016);
- 📚 Audio-book for children: L’incroyable histoire de Gypa (from Asters Conservatoire d’Espaces Naturels Haute-Savoie / illustrations: Caroline Koehly / scénario et dialogues: Olivier Collin / création sonore: David Cardiofi / musiques originales: Marc Tomasi Jangala / Company OCK Productions under directorship of Christian Schwoeher / 2015);
- Des gypaètes et des hommes by Mathieu Lelay;
- Ensemble pour le gypaète by Asters;
- 🎥 Gypaète, le retour by Michel Terrasse (1995);
Thank you to Antoine Rezer, who edited this post and also gave me permission to use some of his stunning photos of the gypaète barbu; his passion for this beautiful and fascinating bird of our mountains shines through . . .