We let you into the secret to some of the best places to watch birds in Spain.
While Spain is renowned for possessing some of Europe’s (in fact, the world’s) greatest bird watching opportunities, it also has plenty of hidden gems, to be enjoyed by the less experienced or more casual birdwatcher as well as the hardcore twitcher.
So, if your time in Spain is limited, or if you’d like to combine some of those headline birding sites with somewhere a little bit different, here’s the inside story of the country’s less obvious highlights…
Wetland wonders on the Ebro Delta
In northern Spain, the Picos de Europa and the Pyrenees are the places in Europe to see Wallcreeper, the gloriously colourful ’butterfly bird’. But while you’re there, you could easily take in a couple of days in the Ebro Delta.
Photo credit: Al Henderson, Ebro Delta Birding, Purple Heron
Situated fewer than 100 miles south of Barcelona, it’s remarkable in that it’s largely a manmade habitat, with the delta itself consisting of paddy fields, plus huge saltpans and saltworks along the coast. That makes it a superb haven for wetland birds, with flocks of thousands of Glossy Ibises roaming the fields in search of food such as crustaceans (including invasive non-native crayfish), and Spoonbills, Grey and Purple Herons, Great White, Little and Cattle Egrets, Bitterns, and Black-crowned Night Herons are present, too.
Visit during the main spring and autumn migration periods, and you’ll see a wide range of waders. From Black-winged Stilt to migrants such as Greenshank, Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit. Moustached Warbler, Collared Pratincole, and Purple Swamp-hen are some other delights to add to the list. While raptors can include the likes of Booted Eagle as well as the more common Marsh Harriers and Kestrels.
Important Bird and Biodiversity Area
The Ebro Delta is one of the most important sites in the Mediterranean for breeding, passage and wintering birds, 27,000 pairs of breeding waterbirds gather in the summer and up to 180,000 birds winter. The site holds more than 60% of the world population of Audouin’s Gull.
In late September, there’s also the Ebro Delta Birding Festival, which attracts international speakers and exhibitors and takes place in the heart of the main bird watching area. Meaning that you can wander around the stands while keeping one eye on the birdlife swirling all around you.
Raptors on camera in Aragon
Spain’s vulture population is a huge draw for birders, and there are few better places to see them at close quarters than from close to the hilltop village of Alquezar in Aragon in northern Spain. While a wandering Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture) isn’t out of the question, they’re generally in the foothills of the Pyrenees a little further north. But a feeding station attracts large gatherings of Griffon Vultures and significant numbers of Egyptian Vultures, with excellent bird photography opportunities at relatively close range. Expect other birds of prey such as Red Kite and Golden Eagle, plus Black Kite in spring and summer, too.
Photo credit: Carles Oliver, Barcelona Birding Point, Griffon Vulture
Late spring can be the best time for a bird watching holiday when there’s the added bonus of enjoying the sound of Nightingales all around the village. The beauty of their songs is well known, of course. But here you can also appreciate the sheer volume and intensity, and understand why their name in Spanish – Ruiseñor – literally translates as ”noisy man”.
City break birding in Málaga
Many of Spain’s towns and cities offer good opportunities for urban birding. Lesser Kestrels, for example, often form breeding colonies in the church towers of older towns, or in old buildings.
Photo credit: Inglorious Bustards, White-headed Duck
Málaga is probably best known to most as a flight destination in Spain en route to various beach resorts. but it has some brilliant bird watching opportunities, including Peregrines breeding on the cathedral, Crested Tits in the suburban parks, and the rare White-headed Duck around the mouth of the Guadalhorce river and the nearby pools and lagoons.
It’s also generally easily found at the Fuente de Piedra and Campillos lagoons, an hour or so’s drive from Málaga, where you should also find lots of the commoner birds of southern Spain, such as Hoopoe, Sardinian Warbler, and Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes.
During spring and autumn, Málaga makes a good base for watching migrating birds making their way to and from the Straits of Gibraltar. So you could make a trip along the coast to the renowned Tarifa bird migration hotspot, or might prefer to stay closer to Málaga, with birds of prey such as Honey Buzzards and Short-toed Eagles using the thermals to soar above the mountains just inland.
More than raptors in Extremadura
While most make straight for the Monfrague National Park and its vulture viewpoint (a medieval castle) for bird watching in Extremadura, there’s plenty more to see on a spring visit.
Photo credit: Martin Kelsey, Birding Extremadura, Great Bustard
For a start, the gorge close to the viewpoint is a good route to look for Blue Rock Thrush and Eagle Owl, as well as Alpine Swift and Crag Martin.
Trujillo and the many other small, unspoiled historic towns are home to countless White Storks, their nests adorning chimneys, steeples and telephone masts. While the plains around Caceres are excellent for larks (including everything from the ubiquitous Crested to the unmistakably chunky Calandra), Great Spotted Cuckoo, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, and both Great and Little Bustards. Azure-winged Magpie, an Iberian speciality, is always likely, too.
Wildlife Specialist Tip
Extremadura is a year-round destination, but with distinct seasonal differences. Spring (from March to May) offers a luxuriant diversity of wildlife. But winter visits are extremely popular because of the sheer abundance of birds and superb conditions for photography. Autumn rains bless Extremadura with a second spring, with a resurgence of growth and delightful autumn flowers. The hot dry summer has a charm of its own, combined with a slower pace and the richness of wildlife like dragonflies now at a peak.
Martin Kelsey, Birding Extremadura
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- Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas in Spain
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- National Parks in Spain: Important Wildlife Conservation Areas
Birds and beaches
Spain, of course, has long been a destination of choice for a beach holiday. There are several locations at which it’s possible to combine that sort of traditional family holiday with a serious bird watching holiday.
Photo credit: Javier Méndez Chavero, Menorca Walking Birds, Balearic Shearwater
Of these, Mallorca offers good possibilities. Less than an hour’s drive north of the main beach resorts close to Palma, there are the wetland areas of Albufera Marsh and S’Albuferata, mountain areas such as Boquer Valley for species such as Black Vulture, Blue Rock Thrush and Balearic Warbler, and the rocky Formentor Peninsula, where bird watching in autumn you can see the rare Eleonora’s Falcon, which delays its breeding so that it can take advantage of the waves of passerine migrants passing through.
Menorca offers a different but equally rich bird watching experience, being more unspoiled, and of course smaller. As well as acting as a stopping-off point for many migrants, it has high numbers of raptors – Egyptian Vultures, Booted Eagles, Buzzards, Red Kites and Peregrine among them – in the ‘barrancs’ or hidden ravines which run from the centre of the island towards its southern beaches. Species such as Bee-eater, Blue Rock Thrush and Hoopoe are common, and the extensive woodlands also play host to a wide range of warblers.
On the mainland, though, the Mar Menor is a little-known but always rewarding spot, with the saline lagoons near the resort of San Pedro del Pinatar attracting good numbers of Greater Flamingos, plus passage waders such as Ruff. While the striking Audouin’s Gull is a common sight along the sea-front.
Are you interested in bird watching in Spain?
For more information, contact one of our specialist wildlife tour operators and companies to book directly your next bird watching adventure in Spain available throughout the year.
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