Birding tours in Spain have to be top of every keen birder’s wish list of choices for spending their leisure time, whether there’s only a day to spare or a week or more to enjoy.
When it comes to locations, types of birding and ways of getting around, there are numerous options open to you in Spain. You can plan to watch birds in the mountains, on the central plains, in some of the globally important wetlands and along the coast, on foot, by boat, in a car or minivan, or even by some less common modes of transport. Birding tours in Spain offer it all – and some great birds as well!
Want to travel to see Spain’s birds?
The local specialist tour operators on Blue Sky Wildlife offer set departure or bespoke organised trips to Spain. Enquire direct or book through Blue Sky Wildlife for the best deals.
Here are 10 suggestions for amazing birdwatching trips you can enjoy in Spain this year, from the wide range of tours on offer with Blue Sky Wildlife tour operators.
1. Ebro River Birding Boat Trip, Spain – 1 Day
Great choice if you’re short on time: Join Ebro Delta Birding for a 1-day Ebro River Birding Boat Trip in Spain’s world-famous wetland, easy to get to as it’s just south of Barcelona with its good and international transport links. The fact that you are confined to a day – or even half a day – won’t compromise your chances of seeing some great birds, especially if you go with this expert local guide who can take you straight to the best places.
The variety of habitats to be found close to each other in the Ebro Delta lend themselves to a day trip, and in a silent, electric-powered boat you can reach inaccessible spots on the river and explore exclusive birding sites that cannot be reached on foot.
This kind of birding tour in Spain is also great for wildlife photographers because you can get so close to your subjects. Species you can expect to see include Little Bittern, Purple Heron, Squacco Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, Kingfisher, Bee-eater, Golden Oriole, Whiskered Tern, Penduline Tit and Great Reed Warbler. Even the rare Audouin’s Gull is a possibility as the Delta is home to a large proportion of the world’s population of this seabird.
2. Birding by Bike Trip in Doñana, Spain – 1 Day
Something different and special: A 1-day Birding by Bike Trip in Doñana in southern Spain with Living Doñana is an eco-friendly way of covering more ground on your short birdwatching break. And it doesn’t mean a hard slog pedalling up hilly tracks because with the bikes are electric!
A day out in Doñana National Park on this kind of trip requires only a moderate level of fitness. The electric bikes take much of the heavy work out of touring around – although if you’re not used to cycling you’ll have to be prepared to be a little saddle-sore as you’ll be riding around for about six hours. However, the trip can be adapted for every level of cycling ability, from experienced to novice, with distances ranging from 20km to 80km.
Apart from being less polluting, a bike – even an electric one – is also much quieter than a regular vehicle, so the birdlife is less disturbed. Coupled with frequent breaks to spend time scanning and observing the birds, this makes it a great trip for birders who want to experience something less ordinary. Guided by a local expert, you can access areas of of Mediterranean forest and natural marshland away from the crowds and find desirable species such as Imperial Eagle, Glossy Ibis, Black-shouldered Kite, Blue Throat and Great Spotted Cuckoo.
3. Ebro Delta Bird Photography Tour in Spain – 2 Days
For wildlife photo buffs: If you fancy a birding tour in Spain that gives you plenty of time with experts who can give helpful tips as well as good guidance, a 2-day Ebro Delta Bird Photography Tour with Photo Logistics is the choice for you. They supply different hides in and around the extensive and well-known Spanish wetland of the Ebro Delta, ensuring great views of the most desirable target species.
On this short Spanish tour you will get the best advice on productive and comfortable places to set up your camera equipment. And you will get the opportunity to see the magnificent Purple Swamphen, Collared Pratincole and Audouin’s Gull, along with spending the night in a typical rustic Spanish hotel enjoying regional dishes and local wines at dinner.
In just two days, Photo Logistics can give you an experience of mountain, steppe and wetland birds that will have you ending your Spanish break with a full portfolio of wonderful Iberian species.
4. Lammergeier Birding Tour, Cazorla, Spain – 5 Days
Sighting Europe’s most impressive bird: A 5-day Lammergeier Birding Tour in Cazorla led by local experts Iberian Lynx Land offers good opportunities to watch the mighty Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture, soaring freely amongst the high sierras of Andalucía.
There are thought to be more than 25 of these magnificent birds living in the wild in the Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas National Park, the result of a reintroduction project. From May to September Lammergeier birding is made easy as Iberian Lynx Land has access to their breeding centre so guests are able to get close to the birds. There is an added bonus that photography of the birds is permitted.
Apart from Bearded Vultures, visitors to the area can enjoy its 125 other species of birds, 36 mammals, 29 reptiles and amphibians, and 130 species of butterfly, along with some amazing endemic flora, all on view in one of the largest protected areas in Europe.
5. Birding La Mancha Tour – 6 Days
Fabulous displays from Great Bustards: One of the highlights of a visit to the central plains of Spain on a 6-day Birding La Mancha Tour in spring is the sight of displaying Great Bustards, Europe’s heaviest flying birds. Local expert tour company Oretani Wildlife, takes you to the best places to see these large, strutting animals perform their extravagant courting rituals.
Males exhibit what has been dubbed their ‘foam bath’ routines to the females, which involves puffing up their throats and withdrawing their heads, cocking their tails and fanning out their white secondary feathers so they look like a frothing mass of feathers. Both Great and Little Bustards can be found if you know where to look in the steppe landscape of the Campo de Calatrava, a volcanic field in the province of Ciudad Real.
Ciudad Real, which includes the arid plateau of La Mancha, is an underrated area of Spain, even though it has the distinction of being the only province in the country to have two National Parks – Tablas de Daimiel and Cabañeros. The area is easy to reach from the capital, Madrid, with its international air links, because the Madrid to Seville high-speed railway passes through it. As well as Great and Little Bustards, other species you can aspire to see include Stone Curlew, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Calandra Larks, Montagu’s Harriers and Black-shoulder Kites.
6. Bird Migration Flyways and Cetaceans Tour, Andalucía, Spain – 7 Days
Experience flocks of birds by the thousand: The passage of migrant species between Europe and Africa is a sight not to be missed and Inglorious Bustards offers a 7-day Bird Migration Flyways and Cetaceans Tour to get you in the thick of the aerial action.
There can be no better place in Europe to witness millions of migrating birds flying overhead in spring and autumn than southern Spain and, in particular, the Straits of Gibraltar. This narrow 14km stretch of water is the shortest crossing point between Africa and Europe and birding in this part of Spain during migration weeks in March/April and September promises a thrilling spectacle.
Combining land-based observation with a boat trip into the Straits itself, as guided by local experts Inglorious Bustards, will get you close and personal not only with the raptors and passerines making the trip across but also a good selection of seabirds – Cory’s, Scopoli’s and Balearic Shearwaters, Northern Gannets, and in the right conditions, Wilson’s and European Storm Petrels. A trip to the Straits also affords sightings of Common, Bottlenose and Striped Dolphins and Long-finned Pilot Whales, Fin and Sperm Whales.
7. Best of Tarifa Birding & Wildlife Tour, Spain – 7 Days
Fifteen different birds of prey on one trip: The variety of habitats encountered on this 7-day Best of Tarifa Birding & Wildlife Tour ensures an equally exciting variety of bird species. Birding Tarifa, local experts in the Cadiz area, have put together a programme that takes guests from the marshlands and salt pans by the Guadalquivir River to the heights of Grazalema Natural Park with its Spanish Fir and Mediterranean forests, and abundant Holm and Cork Oaks woodland.
Aside from the many raptor species that inhabit this part of Spain, either resident or on passage between Europe and Africa, it is one of the locations chosen for the reintroduction of the very rare Northern Bald Ibis. So there is a chance on this trip you may get a glimpse of a highly desirable bird on anyone’s life list. Other unusual birds to look out for are Little Swifts that has colonised a few sites in Cadiz as they spread north from their accustomed sites in Morocco.
There is also an opportunity on this birding tour in Spain to add some impressive cetaceans to your collection of wildlife sightings. One of the days out of the seven will be spent on a boat trip into the Straits of Gibraltar where you can hope for many exciting species of seabirds as well as a number of different whales and dolphins.
8. Catalonia and Aragon Birding Tour, North-East Spain – 8 Days
Spring wetlands and mountains at their best: This grand 8-day Catalonia and Aragon Birding Tour in North-East Spain explores the most cosmopolitan and attractive regions in the country. Local specialists, Barcelona Birding Point, introduce you to a land of contrasts. In the morning you can enjoy the majestic flight of Lammergeiers and the crisp sound of Citril Finches in the mountains, while in the afternoon you can admire the silhouettes of Little Bustards and Rollers on the steppes.
In just four hours you can drive from high mountain prairies to massive coastal wetlands, crossing as you do semi-desert habitats and low hills covered with typical Mediterranean flora. No wonder then that your bird list can include species as varied as Bonelli’s Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, Eurasian Eagle and Tengmalm’s Owls, Ortolan Bunting, Dupont’s Lark, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Red-necked Nightjar and Audouin’s Gull.
Couple this with the interesting culture of the region and some superb food and drink and you have eight days birding in Spain bliss.
9. Extremadura Birding Winter Tour, Spain – 8 Days
Winter gatherings of thousands of Cranes: The cooler months between November and February are ideal for an 8-day Extramadura Birding Winter Tour. The key attraction that wildlife experts at Birding Extremadura are excited to present to you is the huge over-wintering flocks of Common Cranes, flying in to roost with their loud, bugling contact calls.
At this time of year, Extremadura holds Europe’s largest population of this evocative leggy species, and that can mean about 140,000 at their peak in December and January. And it’s not only Cranes that draw visitors to the area. There is also an exciting supporting cast of vast numbers of waterfowl, and birds such as bustards, sandgrouse and eagles, Hen Harriers and Merlins.
Winter birding tours in Spain are pleasant because the temperatures are mild and lighting conditions good for bird photography. In Extremadura in particular, there is the highest bird species richness of anywhere in Spain in winter, thanks to the relatively warmer weather and abundance of food.
10. Andalucía Birding Tour in Doñana & Sierra Morena, Spain – 8 Days
One of the world’s most beautiful wetlands: This 8-day Andalucía Birding Tour in Doñana & Sierra Morena will introduce you to not only the diverse habitats and avian wonders of Doñana National Park in southern Spain, but also the glories of the Sierra Morena mountain range. Wild Doñana’s guides are regional specialists and know the best places to take their guests in and around the Park.
Doñana is famous for many reasons – it was the first project undertaken by the World Wide Fund for Nature, 30,000 water birds breed there and it is a ‘superhighway’ for migratory birds in spring and autumn, with over 500,000 species spending the winter. This 1,300 sq km park is made up of marshlands, scrub, dunes and lagoons, and it is home to not only the majestic Imperial Eagle but also the rare and elusive Iberian Lynx, subject of a local conservation effort.
The other leg of this southern Spain tour is the Sierra Morena in the north of Andalucia, an excellent example of a Mediterranean ecosystem. The fauna there includes Iberian Lynx, Black Vulture, Black Stork and Golden Eagle. The wood pastures on the western side of the hills are grazing areas for the famous Iberian black pigs.
Sheena Harvey is the retired Editor of the UK’s BBC Wildlife magazine and now Editorial Consultant to Blue Sky Wildlife. She has been birding over the years in the wetlands of the Ebro Delta and Doñana National Park, the plains of Extremadura and the mountains of north-east Spain.