The best routes for birdwatching in Spain

by Lorraine Williamson
birdwatching

MADRID – For many people, birdwatching is a great hobby to which they can also link their holiday. It creates a connection with nature that translates into mental health and emotional well-being. According to Antonio Sandoval Rey. 

He is an environmental educator and author of the book ‘De pajareo, rutas ornitológicas por España’ (Birding, ornithological routes through Spain), which was recently presented in Madrid. The timing chosen for the launch of his book is good as birdwatching is becoming increasingly popular. Furthermore, Spain offers a wide range of areas with a great diversity of species. 

Spain has 152 natural parks and 16 national parks. This puts it at the top of Europe when it comes to protecting and preserving biodiversity. This includes a great diversity of bird species. 

The protected areas are essential for the long-term preservation of the natural heritage. However, they also provide employment and thus income for the surrounding municipalities. They are also a source of health and well-being for millions of visitors. They are essential to combating climate change and are home to unique historical and cultural riches. 

Birdwatching in Spain 

“Science has shown that something as simple and accessible as birdwatching creates a connection with nature. That translates into mental health and emotional well-being,” said Antonio Sandoval Rey during the presentation of his book. 

Birdwatching exploded after the American scientific journal Global Change Biology published an article about the size of the worldwide bird population. Since 1980, in certain parts of Europe and North America, some species have declined by 90%. This is due to the use of pesticides, microplastics and the hunting of songbirds. In Spain, 21% of the birds in the high mountains have disappeared. 

One-third of the birds are endangered 

The Pan-European Plan for the Monitoring of Common Birds (PCBMS) warns that a third of all bird species are threatened. The Spanish Society of Ornithology (SEO Birdlife) already reported in 2016 that 400 million migratory birds have been lost in Europe over the past 30 years. In 2021, this organisation compiled a list of bird species that have been observed at least once in Spain since 1800. Moreover, with 622 species left, Spain is the country with the second-largest diversity of bird species in Europe. 

The role of ecotourism 

Despite these alarming figures, experts believe that we are not too late to turn the tide with very simple measures. Think of keeping cats inside and sticking stickers on windows to prevent birds from flying into them. Placing feeders in areas where food is scarce and stopping the use of plastic packaging and chemical pesticides also contributes. 

Related post: Spain third-best wildlife holiday destination in Europa 

The role of citizen science, such as bird counting, is also of great importance. “Knowing how many species of birds there are in an area has always been an indicator of the area’s biodiversity,” confirms Asunción Ruiz, director of SEO Birdlife. 

The most beautiful areas in Spain for bird watchers 

Spain is one of the most important destinations for bird watchers in Europe, thanks to its great bird diversity. In his book, Sandoval has described 40 routes that take you around the most important and accessible birdwatching points. Below we choose the most interesting areas for you. 

From La Coruña to Costa da Morte in Galicia 

From steep coasts to wide estuaries, islands and lagoons, the coast of Galicia is the most varied in Spain. This area contains one national park, six nature reserves, 16 protected bird areas and seven biosphere reserves. 

“This enormous variety of habitats, together with the natural wealth of the estuaries, the ocean and the fact that this area is in the middle of the migratory path of a large number of sea and water birds, make this a unique destination,” said Sandoval. 

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He mentions places such as Estaca de Bares where an extraordinary number of seabirds can be seen in summer, autumn and winter. The Costa da Morte for the intertidal complex of Umia-O Grove and the National Park of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia. 

From the Picos de Europa to the east coast of Cantabria 

The Picos de Europa is located in Asturias, one of the most spectacular mountain regions in Europe. The area is home to hundreds of bird species, including the capercaillie. The protected bird sanctuary that you will find here is never boring. And, furthermore, it is the most described area in the Iberian ornithological weekly. 

Directly on the border with Asturias is the protected bird sanctuary of Cantabria. It has the largest wetland on the Spanish north coast and some of the main peaks of the Cantabrian Mountains. “In a very short time you can bird watch along the banks of the estuary, penetrate the immense deciduous forests, hike through ancient landscapes and climb mountain peaks in search of mountain birds,” says Sandoval. 

Basque Country and Navarra 

Bordered by the Cantabrian Sea, the Cantabrian mountain range and the extreme west of the Pyrenees, the Basque Country has 7 protected bird reserves. More than 60% of the different bird species of the Iberian Peninsula live in these reserves. For many of them, it is a temporary place to rest and forage for food during their migration. You can admire them at one of the many unique bird viewing points, such as Urdaibai Bird Centre and Ataria. 

In neighbouring Navarre, deep valleys with deserted steppes, meadows, swamps and narrow ravines are situated between high mountain peaks. It is one of the richest habitats of the peninsula with more than 300 bird species. Many of them cross this area during their trek. For others, such as the woodpecker, it is a permanent residence and is home to some of Spain’s most prosperous woodpecker populations. This makes Navarre one of the most attractive destinations for bird watchers. 

From the western valleys to the grassy plains of Lleida 

Gallocante, Ordesa, Belchite, Los Monegros and the Gallic Juslibol are some of the most famous destinations in Aragon. 370 species of birds live here, spread over 48 reserves. The most characteristic is the bearded vulture, the black woodpecker and the great bustard. 

Also along the northern coast of Catalonia to the grasslands of Lleida, you will find an extraordinary natural patchwork of ecosystems in the middle of one of the busiest bird migration routes, where some 230 species breed regularly. 

The Spanish interior 

The interior of Spain also has plenty to offer bird lovers, such as the Extremadura region. Its mountain ranges, meadows, swamps, steppes and rice fields, but also its urban heritage offer space for special bird species. For the Iberian emperor eagle, the black stork, the black eagle, the Egyptian vulture, the hawk-eagle, the Montagu’s harrier and the great bustard it is a great place to stay. 

Many residents of the capital Madrid are unaware of it, but the Madrid region is home to seven protected bird sanctuaries full of mountain peaks, reservoirs, pastures and swamps along the Manzanares and Jarama rivers. 

Close to this area, in neighbouring Castilla-La Mancha, you will find two must-see destinations for bird watchers: Las Tablas de Daimiel and Cabañeros National Parks. 

From Albufeira to Mar Menor 

“With the greatest density of swamps in Spain, including those in the Doñana National Park and with several mountain ranges covered with Mediterranean vegetation, it is not surprising that Andalusia is one of the most visited autonomous regions by bird watchers,” said Sandoval. 

The Natural Parks of Albufeira near Valencia, El Fondo and El Marjal dels Moros are full of birds at any time of the year. Near Mar Menor, the largest salt lagoon in Europe, you will find a coast with steep rocky slopes such as at Calblanque and swamps such as that of Salinas de San Pedro del Pinatar, pre-eminent areas where many bird species are attracted. 

So far a short impression of several birdwatching areas is not to be missed. We wish everyone who goes a lot of viewing pleasure, but please note: enjoy all the beautiful things, but also let all the birds enjoy undisturbed in their living environment. 

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