The origins of a bearded vulture which has been touring the UK over the past few months have been revealed with the help of genetic analysis of two feathers.
The bird, nicknamed Vigo, was thought to have flown over the English Channel from Europe, where there are only between 600 and 1,000 pairs in an area stretching from Spain to Russia, and spent the summer in the Peak District.
It has now been identified as a female vulture which hatched last year in a wild nest in the French Alps, where a programme to bring the species back to the region has been under way since 1986.
In the absence of any ring, tag or markings, the only way to find out more about its background was by genetic analysis of a blood sample or feathers, said the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), which works to conserve European vultures.
With the help of two small feathers collected in the Peak District by local Yorkshire birder David Ball, experts from Swiss conservation group Stiftung Pro Bartgeier were able to determine that the vulture was female and had come from the French Alps.
VXF director Jose Tavares said: “The VCF and partners have been releasing captive-bred bearded vultures in the Alps since 1986, to bring back the species to the region after it was hunted and poisoned to extinction.
“Today there are 60-plus breeding pairs, in what is considered one of the greatest wildlife comeback stories of our times.”
Comprehensive monitoring by local organisations within the French reintroduction project area – including collecting feathers at the base of nests – enabled the identification of the bird and its origin.
After three months ranging out from the Peak District, the bird headed south in September to Oxfordshire, before turning north again to arrive in Norfolk and then on to the Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire fens.
Tim Birch, from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, said the summer had been a “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to see the bearded vulture in the Peak District.
“It brought a lot of joy to the tens of thousands of people who saw it and attracted a lot of attention from across the whole of the UK,” he said.
“Many people really developed a strong bond to this bird, which has been so uplifting in these difficult times with the Covid-19 pandemic.
💚🦅 Breaking news! 'Vigo' comes from the French Alps, and is a female bird that hatched last year in a wild nest! @4Vultures shared their genetic analysis revealing her origin and gender this morning. Read more: 👉https://t.co/WVnMG0lP8M(c) Ashley James pic.twitter.com/LAadQHPu9w
— Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (@DerbysWildlife) October 13, 2020
“It has given everyone a glimpse of what a wilder future could look like if we help nature’s recovery where more amazing wildlife can be seen by more people, particularly in our National Parks.”
Bearded vulture youngsters often range far and wide before typically returning home after weeks or months, and wildlife experts are watching to see if Vigo crosses the Channel soon.
People are urged to help improve the bird’s chances of survival by sharing any observations of it with firstname.lastname@example.org to help monitor its condition and health.