To the visiting naturalist and birder, Spain is the whole package: great food and wine, rich culture, cordial people, and vast, unspoiled landscapes that hold the most interesting of birds. In the Pyrenees mountain range, which separates Spain and France in the far north, a lucky few may see the enigmatic and hard to find Wallcreeper and Lammergeier. Travelling south, through lower mountain ranges, the lowland steppe habitat is home to species such as the Great and Little Bustards, European Roller, and the Eurasian Eagle-Owl. In the large forest tracts, species such as Black Woodpecker, Bonelli’s and Subalpine Warblers can be found while Orphean Warbler is likely spotted in open woodlands or the forest fringe. In the east, one may scan los llanos (the plains) for DuPont’s Lark in the morning, then continue shorebirding in the afternoon at Ebro Delta, one of the most important wetlands in the Mediterranean Coast. Further south, the provinces of Extremadura and Andalucia reign supreme. Monfragüe Natural Park in Extremadura is a magnificent hotspot for raptors and various breeding birds such as Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture, Black Stork, and of course Spanish Imperial Eagle. Huge numbers of Common Crane spend the winter here, away from their frozen breeding grounds to the north. Andalucia, on Spain’s rocky, sun-baked southern coast, is an entry and departure point for birds migrating between Europe and Africa. Raptor and stork migration here is the best in Western Europe. Many sought after birds both winter and summer here, including Bonelli’s Eagle, White-headed and Marbled Duck. The watery delta of Coto Doñana is a winter stopover for ducks and spring stopover for hundreds of breeding birds. The sheer limestone cliffs of Gibraltar offer stunning views of Egyptian, Griffon and Black Vultures; Golden, Imperial, Booted, and Bonelli's Eagles, Honey Buzzard and Pallid Harrier. Andalucia is also a good place to see the rarest cat in the world, the Iberian lynx. Credit: Peter Jones/Spanish Nature.
A rich avifauna have settled here, more than 250 species are present throughout the year. You would be extremely hard pressed to find another area within the whole of Europe as good as Andalucia for birding. Its great diversity of habitats translate into such an array of birds, not to mention other wildlife, that frequent visitors are often surprised how, on each visit, they are able to record more and more species. Perhaps the most famous aspect for which birding is renowned in Andalucia is the spectacle of migration. The Strait of Gibraltar provides the perfect short sea crossing for migrants to and from Africa. It is a route used from the early ages and the sheer numbers of raptors, storks and smaller passerines make it an attraction for birders from across the world. It is one of those natural wonders that all should make an effort to witness at least once in their lifetime. A great bonus, in recent times, has been the regular recording of the African species Rüppell's Vulture, seen annually and by many observers in the southern parts of the province. The mountain and steppe areas hold the usual and much sought after birds, whilst wetland areas such as the Odiel Marshes provide variety of shorebirds. Inland lagoons are plenty and perhaps the most famous is Fuente de Piedra which holds the largest Greater Flamingo colony in Europe.
The high valleys as Ordesa, Hecho or Benasque, holds difficult alpine specialities such as Alpine Accentor, Snow Finch & Wallcreeper.
Sierra de Guara, Riglos, or San Juan de la Peña are wild and sparsely populated with humans. They are however densely populated with birds of prey and Mediterranean birds such as wheatears, thrushes, buntings, warblers, bee-eaters and many more. The famous Sierra de Guara is a real Lammergeier sanctuary holding the highest known density of this superb bird. Here, too alpine birds such as Wallcreeper or Alpine Accentor are easy to observe at close range from late autumn to early spring.
Inland the steppes of the Monegros and Belchite dotted here and there with saltlakes, here is probably the best place to observe Dupont’s Lark.
Catalonia's Mediterranean coastline has 3 very interesting wetland areas, the most important of which is undoubtedly the Ebro Delta. This must be the star attraction for any visiting birder wanting to see gulls and terns, including the rare Slender-billed and Audouin's Gulls, Gull-billed and Caspian Terns, along with a wide variety of herons, ducks and waders such as Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Great White Egret, Red-crested Pochard, Collared Pratincole, Kentish Plover, migrating Marsh Sandpipers and Temminck's Stints and a few miscellaneous items such as Purple Gallinule, Greater Flamingo and Savi's Warbler. The impressive list of wintering and migratory birds means that it is a great birding area at any time of the year.
Castilla La Manche
Among the species that can be found here include many of the most sought-after in Europe including: Black Stork, Spoonbill, Squacco Heron, Marbled Duck, White-Headed Duck, Black Vulture, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Black-Shouldered Kite, Lesser Kestrel, Purple Swamphen, Collared Pratincole, Common Crane, Great & Little Bustard, Pin-Tailed & Black-Belied Sandgrouse, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Iberian Woodpecker, White-Rumped Swift, Roller, Black Wheatear, Azure-Winged Magpie and Hawfinch, to mention but a few. This region is the main stronghold for the endangered Imperial Spanish Eagle (150 breeding pairs, 38% of the total in Spain), the White-Headed Duck, Stone Curlew (33% of Spain), Little Bustard and Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse (22% of the total in Spain only in the Ciudad Real province), or Black Vulture, with the densest colony in Spain settled in Cabañeros National Park with 200 breeding pairs in just 12.000 Hectares.
Castilla y Leon
The Lagunas of Sanabria and Villafafila, important winter wetlands for migrating and wintering wildfowl, and moreover the Villafafila National Reserve also contains the steppes that are an important world site for Great Bustard. To the north are the Cantabrian Mountains and the Picos de Europa whose stunning rugged scenery attracts many walkers, including those who follow the pilgrimage route toward Santiago de Compostello. The Picos, with their stunning rugged scenery form a part of one of Spain nine National Parks, Montana de Covadonga, with the largest chamois population in Europe, and home to Black Woodpecker, Wallcreeper, and Capercaillie.
Extremadura has almost all the ecosystems represented in the Iberian Peninsula, except for coastline and seashores. Thousands of Common Cranes come back every year to over-winter. La Serena Steppes sustain the most important breeding populations of Little and Great Bustards in Europe, also Lesser Kestrels and hundreds of Collared Pratincoles, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse make a visit worthwhile. Monfragüe Natural Park, includes two distinct landscapes, precipitous ridges and an extensive area of plains. The two areas are quite distinct, and offer quite different types of birds. It is remarkable for the presence of birds of prey and is considered one of the best areas to see Black Vulture (225 pairs - these birds may be seen at almost any point in the park); Black-winged Kite, Black Kite (abundant); Egyptian Vulture (10 pairs); Griffon Vulture (400 pairs); Short-toed Eagle, Golden Eagle (4 pairs); and Imperial Eagle (12 pairs). One can also see White Stork (with a high population density); and Black Stork (at 10 pairs it is the best area in Spain).
The largest of the Canary Islands is famed for its popular beachside resorts and is home to millions of holidaymakers every year. But thanks to its subtropical location off the west coast of Africa, and its diverse volcanic landscape, you’ll find it’s home to a wide selection of birdlife too with over 70 known specimens.
Teide National Park – Central Tenerife
The Island Canary (Serinus canaria) is unsurprisingly common to Tenerife given that the bird is actually named after the Canary Islands archipelago. Head to the pretty pine forests at the foot of Mount Teide for a good glimpse of this beauty. Don’t be looking for the bright yellow UK variety though, this little fella has a more subtle look with a mix of pale yellow and brown feathers, and you’ll often find it as part of a pair.
The Blue Chaffinch (Fringilla teydea) is another endemic bird synonymous with the island. Look up to the treetops May to July, for this small bird characterised by its blue-grey plumage, and you’re likely to spot it nesting during this important breeding period.
Unlike the Chaffinch, look to the ground for nests belonging to the Berthelot’s Pipits (Anthus berthelotii). Keep your eye out for a small brown passerine, similar to a UK sparrow. The Las Lajas picnic site is a picturesque spot where you might end up sharing your lunch with this local legend.
Coastal cliffs and waters – Various locations
The gull-like Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) is very common March through to November but for a rare seabird spot, the sleek black and white Barolo Shearwater is what you should be looking for along the headlands off the Los Gigantes coast in the north
The Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) is an endangered wader to be found in the south’s Montaña Roja nature reserve, near the quaint town of El Medano. It can be easily identified by its small frame with long spindly legs, seemingly disproportionate to its brown and white body
There are plenty of native ducks and waders on the island too. However, during the migratory winter months, plenty of American breeds flock here including the Ring-necked Teal (Callonetta leucophrys) with its distinctive large black crown and bright yellow eyes.
Originating from South America, the tropical looking lime green Monk Parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) have colonized Tenerife so look out for their neon feathers and cheeky choirs of bird song. If you’re lucky, you might even see the Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulate) with its black and white ruff around the neck, on the Los Rodeos planes in the north-east. This bird is of North African origin and more commonly seen in Fuerteventura.
You’ll see many of the native birds casually hanging around the palms of the densely populated tourist south but to see them in the wild, the north of the island is the best place to stay. Los Gigantes, Golf del Sur, Puerto de la Cruz and the capital of Santa Cruz, are all good options to easily access the best vantage points. Tenerife’s unique terrain makes it a great pace to explore by bike too.