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Griffon vultures in Croatia

In addition to Krk and the nearby island of Prvić, Cres is the last habitat for griffon vultures in Croatia. The village of Beli features an eco-research center for nature protection called ‘Caput insulae’. The center engages in protection of this much endangered bird that is facing extinction. Thanks to the efforts and activities of the Center, they managed to have the griffon vulture habitats on the island of Cres pronounced ornithological reserves. There are two such reserves, both on the east side of the island of Cres.

Birds of prey with a sense of family

Griffon vultures are birds of prey belonging to the scavenger group. This means they mostly feed on large dead animals, which are normally dead sheep on Cres. Their beaks are bent so they easily eat flesh, but their feet are flat and their claws are not curved, so they cannot hunt for prey. They are among the largest flying birds, growing up to 93 to 110 cm in height and weighing 7 to 12 kg, with a wingspan of 235 to 290 cm.

Griffon vultures are gentle partners – after selecting their partner, they remain with it for the rest of their lives. They live in colonies of 2, 3 or 5 couples, so up to a hundred or more nest, eat and rest together.

During the mating season, couples spend almost all their time together in marital flights. Marital flights on the island of Cres begin in October when you can see these birds flying one above the other or one next to the other.
 
They build their nests on cliffs overlooking the sea from twigs, dry grass and wool. When offspring is hatched, they line the interior with soft new feathers. A female only lays one egg every year and both parents sit on it for two months before the much expected little bird is hatched. Offspring remains in the nest for almost 4 months and its parents take good care of it during this period. After 3 months the little one begins with its first flights, normally to the first rock and back. After completing its ‘’flying lessons’’ that go on for 2 to 3 months, young griffon vultures are ready to conquer the skies under a watchful eye of the parents that will teach it how to use air currents and find food.

Migration from Cres, to Africa, and back

During its first year of life, normally in August or September, young griffon vultures will set off on their five-year wandering. Griffon vultures from Cres migrate across Europe, Asia and Africa. One was even registered in Chad, Africa, 4000 km away! When they reach their sexual maturity after five years, they return to Cres to breed. Unfortunately, few of them actually return because the mortality rates during migrations are very high. Only 4-5 of the 40-50 hatched every year manage to return to their home nest to start a family and continue their lives on the island of Cres.

The ‘Caput insulae’ center has a recovery facility for poisoned, injured and young griffon vultures that often end up in the sea during their trial flights, where they care for them until they are released back into nature.
The labyrinths of Tramuntana, Belej, well designed and organized, are an ideal place to learn about nature. According to one of the greatest labyrinth expert and writer, historian Herman Kern, you will never get lost in a labyrinth, you will find yourself in a labyrinth; you will not meet Minotaur in a labyrinth, you will meet yourself.