Wildlife in the Alps – Spotlight on the Bearded Vulture

Bearded vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) lay their eggs in the middle of winter. That’s extraordinary because most birds lay their eggs in spring. But then again, most birds don’t eat bones like a bearded vulture does. Reproducing in winter works very well for bearded vultures, because when chicks are born during the end of winter, food is widely available. After all, vultures feed on dead animals and harsh winters in the Alps make a lot of victims amongst wildlife.

Bone breakers

The food of a bearded vulture consists mainly of bones of carcasses (supplemented by a little bit of meat and tendons). Some bones are too big to be swallowed whole, but that’s not a problem for a bearded vulture. The bird will grab the bone between its claws or in its beak and fly high into the sky. It will then drop the bone from a great height onto rocks below. This way the bone will break into bite-sized pieces. Hence the bearded vulture’s nickname: the bone breaker.


Bearded vultures are scavengers and don’t hunt. Instead, they fly around in search for carcasses of animals that have died of natural causes or in accidents, like avalanches. Bearded vultures mainly feed on carcasses of wild ungulates, such as alpine ibex and chamois. They also eat carcasses from domestic life stock, like sheep. The bones of animals that don’t survive winter, might become a wonderful meal for a fluffy bearded vulture chick.

Where to see a bearded vulture?

Keep your eyes on the sky when hiking the Tour du Mont  Blanc, because bearded vultures are one of the most iconic species you might see on this trek. Sightings are especially common over the Col du Bonhomme.

Would you like to read more about the bearded vulture and other wildlife you might see on the Tour du Mont Blanc?

Click here: Wildlife on the Tour du Mont Blanc: top five species

Simone van Velzen

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