Lammergeyers or quebrantahuesos (bone breakers) as they are known in Spanish are the largest bird of prey in Eurasia, and Europe’s rarest vulture, around 70% of which live in the Aragonese Pyrenees, where the expedition takes place. They feed on marrow which they get by dropping bones repeatedly onto rocks, as their Spanish name aptly suggests. Their old name in English of ossifrage also refers to this habit. They are also known in English as bearded vultures. This is in reference to the ochre ruff of quills they sport around their necks. They are not born this way, but acquire the colour by actively seeking out iron-rich muds and rubbing their feathers in them. The theory goes that in a stand-off, the redder the feather, the tougher the lammergeyer.
The lammergeyer population was decimated in the 20th century by poisoning, hunting, electrocution from power lines and habitat destruction. Much of the local persecution was due to the totally mistaken but incredibly widespread belief that lammergeyers take young lambs. Lammergeier or lammergeyer (both correct) comes from the German Lämmergeier, meaning “lamb-vulture”, presumably for the same reason.
Climate change is one of the most critical global challenges of our time. Recent events have emphatically demonstrated our growing vulnerability to climate change. Climate change impacts will range from affecting agriculture, sea level rise and the accelerated erosion of coastal zones, increasing intensity of natural disasters, species extinction and the spread of vector-borne diseases.
Capercaillie and ptarmigan all serve as indicators of an intact ecosystem and information on the distribution of ptarmigan is particularly useful as a local indicator for climate change in the Pyrenees. Cold winters and snow partridges go hand in hand and as such it is important to record any reduction in their numbers so that adequate conservation measures can be taken.