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The birds of Andalucia - Roller

Visiting Andalucía - why not add your best photos to the surfbirds galleries?

White-headed Duck

White-headed Duck, copyright Stephen Daly, from the surfbirds galleries

Red-knobbed Coot

Red-knobbed Coot, copyright Jon Hall, from the surfbirds galleries

Audouin's Gull

Audouin's Gull, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

Lesser Kestrel

Lesser Kestrel, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

Blue Rock Thrush

Blue Rock Thrush, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

Thekla Lark

Thekla Lark, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

Azure-winged Magpie

Azure-winged Magpie, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

Crag Martin

Crag Martin, copyright Tony Davison, from the surfbirds galleries

Black-winged Stilt

Black-winged Stilt, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

Kentish Plover

Kentish Plover, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

Rufous Bush Robin

Rufous Bush Robin, copyright Stephen Daly, from the surfbirds galleries

Black-bellied Sandgrouse

Black-bellied Sandgrouse, copyright Stephen Daly, from the surfbirds galleries

Spectacled Warbler

Spectacled Warbler, copyright Colin Bradshaw, from the surfbirds galleries

Black-eared Wheatear

Black-eared Wheatear, copyright Stephen Daly, from the surfbirds galleries

Spanish Imperial Eagle

Spanish Imperial Eagle, copyright Stephen Daly, from the surfbirds galleries

Exploring this region of southern Spain from mountains to coast

Birdwatching in Andalucía is one of Europe's hidden gems. The sheer number and variety of species-rich habitats found in this region of southern Spain make it one of the most important areas on the continent for resident and migratory birds.

Blue Sky Wildlife

The region of Andalucía in southern Spain, which takes in the provinces of Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Seville, has a seductive range of other birdwatching opportunities. With an arid interior ringed by several mountain ranges, deep gorges and wide river valleys, lakes and extensive coastal wetlands, the countryside of Andalucía contains many unique and protected ecosystems.

What's more, thanks to a good rail and road system and an international airport at Málaga, most of these areas are easily accessible. This is a perfect location for a birdwatching trip that encompasses a variety of biodiverse habitats, with fascinating cultural, historical and culinary experiences thrown in.

Short-toed Eagle

Short-toed Eagle, copyright Manuel Morales Holgado, courtesy Birding Tarifa

Sierra Morena

High in the Sierra Morena mountains the Andalucía birdwatching adventure begins with watching an Imperial Eagle soar over the oak and chestnut tree forests. This is the home of Blue Rock Thrush and Thekla Lark, Sardinian Warbler and Black Vulture. In summer, add Short-toed Eagle, Great Spotted Cuckoo and Melodious Warbler to the many already on the resident list. And in winter Golden Plover, Lapwing and Red Kite.

The Sierra Morena is a treasure trove of native bird species, supplemented in spring and autumn by the many migrants that pass through on their journeys to and from Africa and northern Europe.

The Mediterranean woodlands that clothe the slopes of this mountain range not only shelter a rich variety of avian species but also the elusive Iberian Lynx, Genet, Iberian Wolf, Wild Boar and Spanish Ibex. This is the most extensive, continuous protected natural habitat in the whole of Spain. A unique ecosystem made up of a number of Natural Parks, nature reserves and other protected areas.

Bonelli's Eagle

Bonelli's Eagle, copyright Carles Santana, courtesy Photo Logistics

The Sierra Morena is a treasure trove of native bird species, supplemented in spring and autumn by the many migrants that pass through on their journeys to and from Africa and northern Europe.

Sierra de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas

But the Sierra Morena is not the beginning and end of this particular birdwatching journey. Further east of Sierra Morena is Sierra de Cazorla, within which lies Spain's largest National Park and the second largest protected area in Europe. Sierra de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas Parque Natural was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1983 and an EU Special Protection Area for migratory birds in 1988.

The Sierra is noted for its ancient pine forests – a mix of almost all the pine species known in Europe – which combine with the rugged rock formations and powerful waterfalls to give a feeling of being in a true wilderness. This is the largest expanse of forest on the Iberian peninsula. It is the haunt of Rock Buntings, Crag Martins, Azure-winged Magpies, White Wagtails, Alpine Accentors and Red-billed Choughs. In the oak woodlands can be found Short-toed Treecreepers and, in winter, Blackcaps and Song Thrushes.

Twenty-nine species of raptors can be seen soaring above the mountain tops of Sierra de Cazorla, including Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Short-toed, Booted, Bonelli's and Golden Eagles, Red Kites, Kestrels, Goshawks, Sparrowhawks and Peregrine Falcons.

There can also be sightings of Lammergeiers as it is the location of the Lammergeier Breeding Center, a project that has been very successful in reintroducing these magnificent vultures to the local area. As might be imagined, the opportunities to see these scavengers flying free in their natural setting are good.

Sierra de Cazorla is also a botanist's dream with its 1,300 species of plants. Herbs such as rosemary and thyme mingle with lavender, orchids and peonies – a feast for the eyes and nose. Twenty-four endemic flowers flourish here, including two unique species of daffodil.


Lammergeier, copyright Roger Sanmarti, courtesy Photo Logistics

Cota Doñana National Park

Coming down from the heights of Andalucía's mountains, a contrast of species can be found in the numerous marshes and wetland areas, most famous of which is the Cota Doñana National Park. This is a mingling of habitats seldom seen elsewhere. The coastal rolling sand dunes, freshwater and saline marshes, Mediterranean scrublands, myriad creeks and ponds and woodlands of oak, stone pines and junipers support a dizzying array of land and water birds. The close proximity of the north African coast brings species not necessarily found in the rest of Spain.

Covering 1,300 sq km (500 sq m) Doñana is one of Europe's most important bird areas, particularly for nesting and migrating species. In autumn and winter the wetlands are flooded and come alive with ducks, geese and waders. Meanwhile, the water margins and reedbeds are full of warblers and herons. Marsh Harriers and Black-winged Kites take to the air and White-headed Ducks and Marbled Teal, Snow Geese and Barnacles, Glossy Ibis and Black-winged Stilts crowd the marshes. Along the coast seabirds abound - Audouin's Gulls, Caspian Terns and Great Skua.

Through spring and summer the waters recede and species such as Golden Oriole, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Red-necked Nightjar come to the fore. On the land side Spoonbills nest in the cork oaks where Azure-winged Magpies and Scops Owls roost and, in the skies above, Booted Eagles, Montagu's Harriers and Griffon Vultures catch thermals. Smaller birds throng the woods and scrublands – Spectacled Warblers, Nightingales and Rufous Bush Robins. Andalucía birdwatching at its best.

The Cota Doñana National Park is a mingling of habitats seldom seen elsewhere. The coastal rolling sand dunes, freshwater and saline marshes, Mediterranean scrublands, myriad creeks and ponds and woodlands of oak, stone pines and junipers support a dizzying array of land and water birds.


Bee-eaters, copyroght AC Henderson, courtesy Ebro Delta Birding

Odiel Estuary Saltmarshes

Further west from Doñana are the Odiel saltmarshes at Huelva. This is another crucially important mosaic of tidal ecosystems. A Biosphere Reserve, located between the Tinto and Odiel Rivers, this is also a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and, most interesting for birdwatchers, habitat for more than 220 species.

The saline lagoons, which have sustained a salt industry as far back as Roman times, attract year-round flocks of Greater Flamingos, Spoonbills, Kentish Plovers and Great and Little Egrets. The reserve contains 30 per cent of all the Spoonbills present in Europe.

In winter the waders and wildfowl fly in, bringing sightings of Grey Plovers, Whimbrels, Bar- and Black-tailed Godwits, Scoter, Pintail Ducks and Shovelers. The reserve is also the principal wintering site for Ospreys in Spain.

In summer the herons arrive –Purple and Squacco along with Little Bitterns and Collared Pratincoles. This is also a place for viewing migrating terns in the season, as Common, Arctic and Black all pass through.

There are a number of bird hides in the reserve or you can travel the waterways by boat. Aside from the amazing selection of avian species, in the sandier parts of the reserve you can encounter southern Europe's largest congregation of chameleons. And in the wooded spots Iberian Lynx shelter.

White Storks

White Storks on migration, copyright Manuel Morales Holgado, courtesy Birding Tarifa

Tarifa and the Straits of Gibraltar

In spring and autumn there is a birding spectacle in southern Spain that should not be missed. The passage of thousands of birds of prey over the Straits of Gibraltar to and from Africa and Europe is a mind-blowing sight. Raptors galore - Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Egyptian, Griffon and Ruppell´s Vultures, Honey Buzzards and Black-shouldered Kites, they stream across the short stretch of water, joined by Black and White Storks.

The Straits are not just famous for bird migration, though. The coastal area around Tarifa is very good for waders, wildfowl and gulls, with frequent sightings of White-headed and Ferruginous Ducks, Red-knobbed Coots, Purple Swamphens, Red-crested Pochards and Black-necked Grebes, among many others. And it is here that you may have the chance to spot two one of the rarest birds in Europe, the Northern Bald Ibis and the Marbled Teal.

This is also a great place to embark on a whale watching trip as the narrow pinchpoint between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic sees a steady stream of cetaceans pass by. Year-round you can enjoy Pilot and Fin Whales, Bottlenose, Common and Striped Dolphins. In spring Sperm Whales cruise through and in July and August Orcas can be found.

Egyptian Vulture

Egyptian Vulture, courtesy Inglorious Bustards

Grazalema and Ronda Mountains

Leaving the coastal areas to seek yet more birdwatching adventures we reach the rocky limestone crags of the Grazalema and Ronda mountain ranges, west of Málaga. These are favourite haunts of Egyptian and Griffon Vultures. This is also a good area for Rock Sparrows, which are easiest to find in spring and summer as they nest among the cliffs. Other cliff nesters are the Red-billed Choughs, and flocks of more than 100 of these birds are possible.

It's also common to find Black Wheatears, Southern Grey Shrikes and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes eking a living in the open fields, scrubland and poorly vegetated areas. Some of these birds are easier to see in the wintertime when they stand out against the bare earth and the grey of the rocks.

The forests on the mountain slopes, made up of Mediterranean species such as Sweet Chestnut, provide winter accommodation for many small birds such as Ring Ouzels, Short-toed Treecreepers, Hawfinches and Firecrests. And, before the breeding season begins, migrating Common Cranes gather in their hundreds in the fields of the surrounding plains, along with Great and Little Bustards and Black-bellied Sandgrouse.

As if that wasn't enough, there is another birdwatching wonder to be enjoyed in this area. The Ronda mountains play host to one of the densest populations of birds of prey anywhere in Europe. Bonelli's, Golden, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Peregrine Falcons and Lesser Kestrels, Tawny, Little and Eagle Owls, can all be found here in good numbers.

Great Bustards

Great Bustards, copyright Carles Santana, courtesy Photo Logistics

Planning an Andalucía Birdwatching Trip with Blue Sky Wildlife

Andalucía birdwatching benefits from the fact that around 20 per cent of the region's lands are protected, which represents 30 per cent of all the preserved areas in Spain. Whether they are state or locally maintained, governmental or privately owned, the Andalucian parks and nature reserves are protected under a unifying body called Red de Espácios Naturales Protegidos de Andalucía (RENPA).

Birdwatching visitors are welcomed year-round to these nature-rich areas and there are many local expert guides to lead guests to the best places to see the best birds. Accommodation is plentiful and there are many interesting historical and cultural sites to visit and places to find traditional cuisine.

Tour operators on Blue Sky Wildlife can plan the perfect itinerary. Whether it is a two-week dedicated birdwatching holiday or a days outing as part of a mixed nature and heritage trip, you can enquire using the form on the operators' pages.

About the author

Sheena Harvey is Editorial Consultant at Blue Sky Wildlife. A former Editor of the UK's Birdwatching, Wild Travel and BBC Wildlife magazines, she has spent many happy hours watching wildlife in Spain.

Sponsored Article

The article has been sponsored by the Tourist Office of Spain in London in collaboration with Blue Sky Wildlife, a unique online market place supporting local wildlife experts from around the world.

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Northern Bald Ibis

Northern Bald Ibis, courtesy Inglorious Bustards