Rüppell's and Griffon Vultures hybridise in European first


A mixed pair of Rüppell's and Griffon Vultures successfully bred in Spain this year, marking the first time such hybridisation has occurred in Europe.

The pair, comprised of a male Rüppell's and female Griffon, raised one chick in Malaga province. The youngster fledged the nest in September.

In an article written by Antonio-Román Muñoz, Juan Ramírez and Raimundo Rea, to be published in 2024 in the journal Ardeola, the breeding record is detailed thoroughly. The male was first found as part of a European LifeWatch project in December 2022 and was witnessed mating with a female Griffon Vulture.

The adult male Rüppell's Vulture with its hybrid young (Antonio-Román Muñoz / Ardeola)

The latter began incubating an egg at the end of December 2022. Hatching took place in spring 2023 and the youngster fledged in September.

The presence of Rüppell's Vulture has been well documented across the Iberian peninsula during the past three decades and, in 2015, the species was taken off the list of Spanish rarities and instead recognised as a fifth resident or migrant vulture species in the south of the country. Birds have been observed to arrive with Griffon Vultures at the Strait of Gibraltar in spring, having migrated north through north-west Africa from the Griffons' wintering grounds in the Sahel.

Exceptionally, an adult Rüppell's remained at a Griffon Vulture breeding colony in southern Portugal between 1999 and 2007. It apparently attempted to breed, but no further detail could be documented.

Furthermore, at least one vulture showing mixed features of both Rüppell's and Griffon Vultures has been observed in Spain, further fuelling speculation that hybridisation was occurring in the wild, even if it had not yet been conclusively proven. There have been strong suggestions of hybridisation since 2019, though it wasn't proven until this year.

Although it is still early to determine the success in the reproduction and hybridisation of Rüppell's Vulture in the region, these observations offer a fascinating insight into a species with an otherwise dire conservation outlook across Africa. It is now classed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is therefore one of Spain's most threatened birds.