Nationalpark Hohe Tauern

Monitoring birds of prey
The lords of the skies

Enormous wing spans and their majestic gliding make golden eagles, bearded vultures, griffon vultures and cinereous vultures some of the most impressive animals in the Alps. Their flight, extraordinary vision and ability to survive even in often inhospitable conditions in the mountains have always commanded people's admiration.

With regard to the large birds of prey i. e. the bearded vulture, griffon vulture and cinereous vulture along with the golden eagle, the Hohe Tauern National Park has a special  standing in Austria.

In the Rauris Kruml valley, the first young bearded vultures were released as part of the Alps-wide bearded vulture reintroduction project, and since 2010 the first successful bearded vulture hatchings have been recorded in Austria. The core of the currently small Austrian bearded vulture population can be found here near Pöllautal (Pöllau valley - Carinthia) and Gschlösstal (Gschlöss valley -Tyrol). In the national park the only free-flying griffon vultures in Austria can be observed regularly during the Alpine farming season. Since 2013, cinereous vultures can be observed sporadically in the Hohe Tauern along with the griffon vultures. Furthermore, the Hohe Tauern are an important core habitat for golden eagles in the Austrian Alps. Currently, about 40 pairs of golden eagles breed here. This means that around 15 percent of Austria's total number of golden eagles live here.

Monitoring measures have been implemented for each species of these large birds of prey. 

Bearded vulture

The project of reintroducing bearded vultures (gypaetus barbatus) to the Alps began in 1986 with the first birds being released in the Kruml valley. At the beginning of the present project (2015), the numbers for the Alps-wide release were at 197 for young vultures and the number of young vultures flying in the wild across the entire Alpine region was 128. The total number of bearded vultures in total had been estimated at around 220. However, there had been only five successful hatchings in the wild across the whole of Austria. Meanwhile, the number of releases into the wild has increased to 223 and births in the wild to 235, with the Hohe Tauern total at 11. This positive development means that the number has increased to an estimated 280 in the Alps.  

Despite the already very well established population at the heart of the Alps, there is still a need to catch up in the Eastern Alps and in the Southwestern Alps, especially in terms of the number of breeding pairs and hatchings in the wild. In Austria there are only two successful breeding pairs so far and the figures show a very high fluctuation, a high loss of adult birds and a high mortality rate. Lead poisoning  has been identified as a key factor. That is why initiatives to promote lead-free rifle ammunition were started and monitoring has been intensified. Finding a solution to this issue is the top priority for this project, but also for establishing a metapopulation, as the Eastern Alps form an important stepping stone and toehold to South East Europe. Furthermore, it is very important that additional targeted measures are taken in the Austrian Alps to strengthen the young bearded vulture population in order to establish a bearded vulture population that survives without human assistance in Austria, the Alps and Europe.


Bearded vultures Online

Golden eagle

The golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is considered the emblem of the Alps and is a symbol of the freedom, unspoilt nature and integrity of habitats/regions. The Hohe Tauern also represent an important core habitat for golden eagles within the Austrian Alps. 42–43 pairs breed here. This means that around 15 percent of Austria's total number of golden eagles live here.

From 2003 to 2005, the golden eagles in the Hohe Tauern were surveyed as part of the cross-border project Interreg III-A "The Golden Eagle in the Eastern Alps". Since 2011, these surveys by the national park are conducted almost solely by national park personnel (rangers and professional hunters) with the involvement of other people, mostly from the hunting and forestry communities with the aim to identify population trends and to determine reproduction success.

Generally speaking, the golden eagle population figure is currently stable. An average of 15.7 young eagles per year can be assumed, which corresponds to a reproduction success of 0.46. These values ​correspond with those for the Alps. However, the generally low growth rates among golden eagles in connection with the high youth mortality rate of 65% between the fledging stage and reaching sexual maturity and the thus not to be underestimated loss of young eagles in the first years show that even stable populations can quickly dwindle if any negative factors begin to take hold.

However, the coming years could be interesting, as golden eagles start to breed in late March/April in the region and the question arises whether climate change will have any possible long term effect on this type of wildlife species.

Griffon vulture and cinereous vulture

The Hohe Tauern form the only region in Austria, where griffon vultures (gyps fulvus) living in the wild can be observed regularly in summer. At the start of the Alpine season, the first griffon vultures arrive in search of the carrion of domestic and wild animals. These "white-headed vultures" are not breeding birds but predominantly young and non-breeding birds from the breeding grounds of Friuli (I) and the North Western Balkan.  The high density of wildlife and grazing livestock in the Hohe Tauern usually provides a rich food supply; depending on the food situation, the vultures also switch back and forth between their breeding areas and summering grounds at short notice. Currently, there are between 60 and 80 bearded vultures that spend the summer in the Hohe Tauern.

As part of the national park project, six griffon vultures were fitted with GPS satellite transmitters at the Lago di Cornino vulture station. The GPS satellite data as well as the documentation of observations of ringed birds from Croatia, Spain and France record the incredible mobility of this impressive vulture species and long-range networking.

In 2013, three cinereous vultures (aegypius monachus) spent summer in the Hohe Tauern National Park. Since then, cinereous vultures have been seen time and again in the Hohe Tauern. These rare visitors are expected to swap with the griffon vultures from Friuli in the Hohe Tauern.


Griffon vultures Online

Education and public relations

A key module for protecting the birds of prey is provided by the measures for environmental education and awareness for the "Lords of the Skies". One priority is the ongoing support for the volunteer observer network as well as special target groups such as hunters, mountaineers, ornithologists, etc.

You can subscribe to the "Lords of the Skies" newsletter directly on the national park website (only available in German) and will receive interesting information every quarter with the latest project news. There are regular reports about bearded, griffon and cinereous vultures as well as golden eagles in the national park magazines. Facebook and Instagram keep providing exciting and up-to-date reports and photos of the "Lords of the Skies".

The Hohe Tauern National Park participates in the annual international bird fair "Bird Experience".  Large press trips to wildlife conservation projects are conducted with regular advertising in media and targeted education and public relations measures. 

As part of the national park's educational programme, excursions to the "Valley of the Vultures" are offered, interns and bearded vulture keepers inform visitors to the national park at hotspots about the "Lords of the Skies" and the in-house exhibition about said "Lords of the Skies" rounds this module off.