On this overview map, you will find locations of all the existing and planned colonies, as well as the wintering colony in Tuscany.
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Here, after almost 500 years, the first Northern Bald Ibis colony in Europe was founded. Former occurrences in the regions along the Salzach have been handed down through pictures and texts. In the Burghausen castle museum, a young bald ibis is depicted on an altar piece from the 15th century. In 2004, representatives of Waldrappteam at the Landesgartenschau in Burghausen presented the Northern Bald Ibis as an extinct, regional bird species. Since then, there has been an ongoing collaboration between the city of Burghausen, the Nature Conservation Association, and the Waldrappteam. The establishment of the colony began with hand-breeding in 2007. In 2011, for the first time, a Northern Bald Ibis from the wildlife area in Tuscany returned to Burghausen independently. This was a major milestone for the project. Every year since 2012, there has been an increasing number of birds breeding in the artificial incubation walls of the Burghausen Castle. The Northern Bald Ibises can be observed around the castle from April to August. The colony is located near the Powder Tower and can be easily observed from the rose garden of the nearby hospital.
There is evidence of Northern Bald Ibises breeding in the city of Salzburg in the Middle Ages, but the historical breeding grounds such as Möchberg no longer offer favorable nesting grounds for the birds. The Georgenberg is located around 30 km south of the city and, with its large number of natural niches, meadows, and pastures as foraging areas, the Georgenberg offers ideal conditions for a breeding colony. In 2011, the human led migrations began in Salzburg and in 2013 the return of an ibis from the wintering area was celebrated for the first time. The birds were first acclimated to the artificial breeding structures at the floor of Georgenberg before two breeding pairs, including nest and chicks, were relocated to the natural structures of the mountain in spring 2019. The transfer initiated the use of the rock face by the entire colony the following year. The method for colonizing a new breeding site, which has been successfully tested here, is to be used in other locations in the project’s future.
After the successful establishment of two colonies in Kuchl and Burghausen, Lake Constance was selected as the third colony location in the first LIFE project. There is concrete evidence of historical breeding activities by Northern Bald Ibises on the Molasse rocks, which are on the lake shore between Überlingen and Sipplingen. The rocks still offer the best conditions for nest building. Thanks to the sustainable and organic cultivation of the areas, the birds also have access to high-quality feeding grounds. Yearly between 2017 and 2019, human led migrations began from Überlingen. The young ibises were released in Tuscany and the first birds returned that following year (2019). In 2011 they founded the new breeding colony with three nests in artificial structures below Hödlingen. Outside the LIFE project, a further human-led migration to strengthen the number of individuals is planned for Überlingen, as well as the relocation of the colony from the artificial wall to the natural structures in 2022.
A sedentary ( non-migratory) breeding colony of Northern Bald Ibises has been living in the small area of the Rosegg Zoo for twenty years. The birds fly free during the warmer months and are kept in an aviary during the winter. The 20 founder birds come from various European zoos and form a genetically diverse flock. During the new LIFE project, the sedentary colony is to be integrated into the migrating population. Using a new method, the young birds will now be allowed to fly free through the fall while the rest will be moved to the aviary. After, they will be placed with experienced birds of the wild population, to migrate with them in the winter and learn the migration route. This new approach has already been successfully tested: in spring of 2020, the first Northern Bald Ibis raised in Rosegg returned independently from their winter area and in 2022, the first breeding of migratory zoo birds took place. As part of the new LIFE project, a breeding wall made of natural stone is to be built in the zoo to have sufficient breeding opportunities for the migrating colony.
The Goldau Zoo is a partner in the second LIFE project. The first migrating Northern Bald Ibis colony in Switzerland is to be established near the zoo area. For this purpose, the release of young birds from various Swiss zoos is also planned during the project period.
For the establishment of the colony in Switzerland, the relevant permits under nature conservation law and flight law are still required before the reintroduction can begin. In 2023, however, a pair from the Überlingen colony bred independently and unexpectedly for the first time in the canton of Zurich in Switzerland, thus already initiating the return of the species as a breeding bird in Switzerland.
The Parko Natura Viva is located near Bussolengo not far from Lake Garda in northern Italy. The zoo has been cooperating with the reintroduction project for 20 years, mainly in public relations and campaigns against illegal bird hunting in Italy. As a part of the second LIFE project, the first breeding colony south of the Apls is to be established outside the visitor area on zoo grounds. Not all Northern Bald Ibises reach their traditional breeding grounds north of the Alps, as many only fly part of the way, or not at all. The alpine ridge represents an insurmountable barrier for some birds, so individual birds gather on the southern edge of the Alps each year. They are to be captured in a new approach to colony founding and transferred to Bussolengo. Until the start of breeding, they will remain there to acclimate. Since they already know the way to the wintering area, they can finally lead the young birds to Tuscany independently in the fall. The establishment of the colony near Bussolengo is scheduled to begin in 2023. It is an essential part to the measures against climate change, since crossing the Alps is becoming an increasing challenge for colonies on the northern edge of the Alps.
The emergence of satellite colonies as offshoots of mother colonies is a natural process which will enable new breeding and feeding grounds. The establishment of satellite colonies increases a population’s flexibility and resilience to infections, environmental disasters and climate change. Establishing a satellite colony is a new approach and is to be carried out by translocating birds that have arrived from the Burghausen and Kuchl colonies. In 2022, another human-led migration will take place in Salzburg to promote colony growth in Burghausen and Kuchl. If the colonies are large enough by then, up to ten birds are to be transferred to a new location for a satellite colony each spring, starting in 2025. Initially, the birds will be held in aviaries to acclimate before the start of breeding. The young, new birds, will then be able to remember the location and seek it out independently to breed, when they are sexually matured.
The WWF oasis in southern Tuscany serves as a common wintering ground for existing and planned ibis’ colonies in the migratory European population. Since the historical migration destination of the birds has not been passed down, the choice of the new winter area is based on its suitability. The protected area in Tuscany serves as a refuge for many species of migratory birds during the winter months including curlews and flamingos and is managed by WWF Italy. The protected area near Orbetello also provides a suitable winter spot for the Northern Bald Ibises. After being released into the wild, the birds usually remain in the WWF oasis until they reach sexual maturity, which is why Northern Bald Ibises can be observed all year round here. From September to April, birds from the breeding areas join. At the same time, Northern Bald Ibises are extending their ranges in Italy and are now also using areas on the Tyrrheimen coast or looking for feeding grounds in the Po Valley for winter. The expansion of the winter range to the north is a natural process that is closely related to climate change and has also been observed in other migratory bird species.