Here, in the Spanish countryside, a Griffon Vulture soaring overhead is a familiar sight and one which the locals take for granted. In the Bird of Prey world, vultures in general tend to have a somewhat negative image, but not so in Spain. Indeed, in the autonomous region of AragÃ³n alone there are 42 centres dedicated to feeding these magnificent creatures.
The Griffon Vulture is considered rare, with only ten thousand existing pairs in the Mediterranean region. It lives in mountainous areas, usually nesting on cliff-ledges or in caves. It patrols mountain ranges for carrion. In flight, the Griffon Vulture is majestic. It is markedly bigger than most eagles. It soars and glides, with only the occasional wingbeat.
The cousin of the Griffon Vulture is the Black Vulture. Rarer again, and spotted with much less frequency, with only one thousand pairs remaining. With a wingspan of almost three metres, these are amongst the largest of all birds. In contrast to the Griffon, it prefers to nest in trees.
A more distant relative perhaps is the Egyptian Vulture. It summers in the Mediterranean regions of Spain, and winters in Africa. Like the Griffon, it prefers cliff-ledge nesting. The Egyptian Vulture is considered to be medium-large, with a wingspan of up to 170cm.
Approximately 80% of EuropeÂ´s vulture population live in Spain, favouring the arid, steep mountainsides and rocky outcrops. The population of all of these species is declining.
The work of the Mas de Bunyol Vulture Observation centre, in AragÃ³n, is undertaken by JosÃ© RamÃ³n Moragrega. He has worked for over 17 years to reintroduce the Griffon Vulture to its original habitiat, and he now receives over 200 daily avian visitors to his centre. Whilst the vast majority of these are Griffon Vultures, he is proud to count both Black and Egyptian Vultures amongst that number. Sr Moragrega has a passion for vultures and works tirelessly in support of reintroduction and education regarding the species.
EU directives, which rule that carrion be removed from land immediately by farmers, have meant that this vital food source has severely depleted in recent years. This has, of course, affected scavenger populations. These centres aim to provide vultures with enough food to survive whilst ensuring that they do not rely solely on this food source.
Education is key to the survival of any species, particularly that of one with a negative stereotype in the minds of many. If you are lucky enough to see these regal birds regularly, you will realise that they are certainly worthy of the respect and protection that they currently do not often receive.