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Home > Wildlife News > Birding > Spanish Birdwatching: Where To Choose To Go

There are so many reasons to book yourself for some Spanish birdwatching this year. The wide variety of habitats within easy reach of each other thanks to a good transport network, the availability of expert local guides, exciting species to add to your list, and an opportunity to contribute to a range of bird conservation projects. Plus, don’t forget the vibrant culture, traditions and cuisine of Spain which, combined with the excellent birding, make the country so attractive to visitors.

Birdwatching tours in Spain can also be very flexible – offering a choice of dates, locations, tour lengths and modes of birding to suit anyone’s availability and budget. A scan through the Spanish birdwatching tours to be found on Blue Sky Wildlife will reveal just how varied and interesting a trip you can arrange and how you can combine locations for a great all-round Iberian birding experience.

To give you a flavour, here are 10 of the many compelling locations and types of holiday to select in Spain for your next birding expedition.

1. Birding in Spain’s Wetlands

The wetlands of Spain hold year-round interest for birders but are particularly rich in interesting species during the spring and autumn migration. At these times the native birdlife is joined by species travelling to and from Africa and northern Europe as they feed up for the journey south or rest after the long flight north.

Two of the most notable wetlands to aim for on a birdwatching tour in Spain are the Ebro Delta, just south of the city of Barcelona on the northeast Mediterranean coast, and Doñana National Park in Andalucía in the south. The Delta of the river Ebro is a myriad of habitats – rice paddies, saltpans, mud flats, freshwater lagoons, reedbeds, riperian woodland, sand dunes and open sea.

Al Henderson - Black-winged Stilt

Photo Credit: Al Henderson – Black-winged Stilt, Ebro Delta Birding

It is a key breeding site for around 95 bird species and home to large flocks of waders, ducks, gulls and terns including the world’s largest colony of endangered Audouin’s Gulls.

Doñana National Park is famous for its varied ecosystems consisting of marshes, coastal dunes and pine forests. It is situated directly opposite the African coast, across the narrow Straits of Gibraltar so it attracts great numbers of migratory birds. You can find more than 230 species of birds there, both land and water species. It is particularly known for its large flocks of Greater Flamingos feeding en masse in its saline pools.

2. Finding Raptors in the Spanish Mountains

Spanish birdwatching tours cover the mountain ranges both north and south of the country and aim particularly to encounter fantastic raptor species such as Lammergeiers, Imperial, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Griffon, Black and Egyptian Vultures, as well as smaller high-altitude species such as Alpine Accentors. In the north are the Cantabrian mountain range, containing the famous Picos de Europa, and the Pyrenees that border France. Both are excellent places for mountain birding, easy to access and offering a range of different montane habitats. In the northeast there is also the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas, the largest protected area in Europe.

Inglorious Bustards -Ruppells Vulture

Photo Credit: Ruppells Vulture, Inglorious Bustards

In the south are the Sierra Nevada and the Sierra Morena with extensive protected areas that offer shelter to a wide variety of endangered animals. Birding in these areas can also bring you into contact with the elusive Iberian Lynx. And birding tours to this part of Spain can be combined with coastal locations and the chance to witness the annual avian migration.

3. The Special Species of Spain’s Plains and Steppes

The centre of Spain is a birdwatching heaven. The open grasslands of Extremadura are home to Great and Little Bustards, Scop’s Owls, Crested and Tekla Larks, Sardinian Warblers and Iberian Grey Shrike, to name but a few of the many desirable birds there. Also to look out for are Montagu’s Harriers, Black-winged Kites, Bonelli’s Eagles and Lesser Kestrels – in fact, 23 species of raptors can be found in and around the plains. The crags of Monfragüe National Park rise above the river valley and the castle ruins that top one of them is the spot for excellent views of Griffon Vultures in flight. One part of La Mancha is known as the Spanish Serengeti and this is where the second largest European colony of endangered Cinereous Vultures can be found.

Oretani Wildlife - Griffon Vulture

Photo Credit: Griffon Vulture, Oretani Wildlife

Because this area of central Spain has quite a low human population density and mostly traditional land use, nature has space to thrive. Spring is a good time to visit for pleasant temperatures and the sight of natural wildflower meadows. Oak and olive groves shelter breeding birds and clear skies offer good views of soaring raptors. There’s also the chance to see displaying bustards, which has to be top of anyone’s Spanish birdwatching wish list!

4. Migration Marvels at the Straits of Gibraltar

Head to southern Spain for a birding tour full of thrills in spring and autumn. At these times millions of birds, including around 250,000 raptor species, make the passage between Europe and Africa, choosing the shortest distance to cross the Mediterranean at the 14km wide pinchpoint that is the Straits of Gibraltar. Honey Buzzards, Black Kites, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, all stream by overhead, joining large flocks of White and Black Storks and smaller birds such as European Bee-eaters.

Simon Tonkin - Inglorious Bustards - White Storks

Photo Credit: Simon Tonkin – Inglorious Bustards – White Storks

Birdwatching all along the southern Spanish coast can be rewarding and especially around the town of Tarifa from where you can also enjoy a boat trip for seabirds and cetaceans. Common, Bottlenose and Striped Dolphins and Long-finned Pilot Whale are possible, along with Cory´s, Scopoli´s and Balearic Shearwaters and Northern Gannets, to name but a few.

5. Alternative Ways to Go Spanish Birdwatching

Naturally you’ll want your birding exploration of Spain to be done on foot, taking your time and pausing every now and then for some careful scanning. But to vary the pace and open new birding possibilities, a birdwatching day in Spain can also be enjoyed by bicycle, on horseback, in a 4×4 vehicle and by boat. All of these modes of transport have their own attractions. Travelling around Doñana National Park by horse, for instance, can take you into areas that are not so accessible on foot. A 4×4 can negotiate a coastal dune system or a mountain track where walking would be arduous and driving an ordinary car impossible. And a boat trip will get you much closer to water birds and ocean-going species than you could ever accomplish on land.

Ebro Delta Birding - Goldcrest

Photo Credit: Goldcrest, Ebro Delta Birding

6. Day Trips for Spanish Birdwatching

You may want to visit Spain with family and friends, not all of whom are keen birders. Or you may be interested in a short weekend break from another part of Europe and want to maximise your chance to see some good birds. There are many local Spanish tour operators who can arrange an enjoyable and productive day trip, and even half a day’s birding tour in Spain is possible. Key to this is arranging your day with a knowledgeable guide who is going to take you straight to the best spots for the species you most want to see.

Martin Kelsey - Spring - Great Spotted Cuckoo-2

Photo Credit: Martin Kelsey, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Birding Extremadura

7. Spanish Birdwatching Photography Tours

Spain’s position in southern Europe makes a wildlife photography trip to the country a very attractive proposition. Warm days and good light extend the opportunities to capture some prize-winning bird images. The obvious thing to do is to book a birding photography trip to Spain with an experienced local guide. That way you are bound to be in the right place at the right time for the best shot and no time wasted. You also need the guarantee that you are not going to be hurried along just when you have lined up your subject nicely, or disturbed by having to share your space with a large group. And, if you do have a good photo guide, you will also have the chance to pick up some Spanish birdwatching tips that will help your photography.

Wild Doñana - Eurasian Spoonbill

Photo Credit: Eurasian Spoonbill, Wild Doñana

8. Iberian Endemics

If you need only one reason to arrange a birdwatching trip to Spain then it has to be to add some endemic bird species to your list. Spain shares many of its special birds with Portugal but can also offer some of the best views of birds that are restricted to the south of Europe and Africa. In the north of the country go searching for Iberian Woodpecker and Iberian Chiffchaff. In the south the target birds are Imperial Eagle and Iberian Magpie. And at the coast and on the Balearic Islands you are looking for Balearic Shearwater and Balearic Warbler.

Aside from those very particular birds, Spain offers the delights of Dupont’s Lark, Little Swift, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Marbled and Wite-headed Duck, among many others.

Photo Logistics - mountains_Cogulers, Gypaetus barbatus

Photo Credit: Photo Logistics – Mountains Cogulers, Gypaetus barbatus

9. Helping Spanish Bird Conservation

Many Spanish birdwatching tour operators work in their own time on conservation projects to preserve crucial habitats and protect vulnerable species. Organising a trip with one of these companies can open up a different dimension to your birding as you learn what their work entails.

Menorca Walking Birds - Purple Swamphen

Photo Credit: Purple Swamphen, Menorca Walking Birds

Education is also an important element of running a birdwatching business as far as many local guides are concerned. They work with people living and working in their areas to ensure that the environment is bring protected and that there is an appreciation of the richness of nature and the advantages protecting it can bring to the local population. Your visit to go birding in Spain can involve you in these important aspects of safeguarding the countryside if you feel you want to make a contribution.

10. Spain’s Urban Birding

Although the countryside is all-important in the birding tour in Spain experience, the interesting species that inhabit the towns should not be ignored. There are many birds that exploit the opportunities for roosting, nesting and feeding that human constructions afford. In southern Spain, Black and White Storks choose just about every prominent building in a town centre to build their large twiggy nests, returning year after year to the same spot to partner up and raise their young. Lesser Kestrels also find ledges and towers inviting places to rest a while and breed.

Birding Tarifa - Falcon

Photo Credit: Falcon, Birding Tarifa

It’s possible to find urban Little Owls in towns such as Tarifa in southern Spain as well as Common Bulbuls and, of course, no Spanish town would be complete without its complement of Spanish Sparrows.

One of the other enticing reasons for indulging in a bit of urban Spanish birding is that you can do so while sitting at an outdoor café table enjoying some excellent Iberian food and wine!

Want to See the Full Range of Spain’s Birdwatching Tours?

Have a look at the Blue Sky Wildlife expert local tour companies and use the Search facility to find your ideal location and habitat.

Originally Published: May 2022

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