Zermatt is not only famous as a mountain resort with year-round skiing. It is also the region in the Swiss Alps with the most four thousand-metre peaks and an extremely abundant variety of flora and fauna.
For generations, chamois, ibex, marmots and eagles have lived in and around Zermatt. The bearded vulture was extinct in this area for a long time. Now they have returned. Visitors have seen individual birds for some years already above the Riffelhorn, Rothorn, around the Gabelhorn as well as at other locations.
Fledglings successfully raised
Bruno Mooser, an employee of the local cable car company Zermatt Bergbahnen AG (ZBAG) for many years, discovered the bearded vulture pair in 2012, and documented and observed it in his free time as reported by the ZBAG and the bearded vulture network of Western Switzerland.
Since the beginning of the captive breeding and release programme 30 years ago, comparably few observations were made in the Zermatt region. Generally speaking, bearded vultures prefer a region made of limestone or shale for nesting. In the Zermatt region, one primarily finds gneiss. The Zermatt birds built their nest at an altitude of over 2,400 m, which is also very unusual. In addition, the male bearded vulture was also almost too young for nesting, as the ZBAG wrote in a statement. He is only four or five years old, even though bearded vulture parents in the Alps are only successful at raising new-borns from about age eight.
Bearded vultures have a wingspan of up to 2.6 m. This makes them the largest birds living in the Alps. The golden eagle reaches a wingspan of up to 2.2 m in comparison. Bearded vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) usually have a red belly and the lower side of their wings is bright. There has been a captive breeding and release programme for bearded vultures in the Alps since 1986.