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Extremadura - birds and birding

Birds of Extremadura, Spain - European Roller © John Muddeman European Roller Coracias garrulus © John Muddeman

The combination of the diverse geography and habitats, combined with generally extensive low-intensity management methods, make the Extremadura region one of the best in Europe for wildlife, especially birds. To put it into perspective, 74.1% of the total surface area qualifies under International IBA criteria (Important Bird Areas), the highest for any geo-political area in Europe, while considering just the Province of Cáceres, this rises to >90%! While 44 species of international conservation concern are represented in the area, the real 'stars' in this stage are some of the rarest and most threatened species in Europe: 49 pp. of Spanish Imperial Eagles (of the approx. 250 pp. that exist), concentrated in the MonfragŁe and Sierra de San Pedro areas; 910 pp. of Eurasian Black Vulture breed almost exclusively in MonfragŁe and the Sierra de San Pedro; 97 pp. of Bonelli's Eagle are spread widely across the region (especially the Sierra de San Birds of Extremadura, Spain - Long-eared Owl © John Muddeman Long-eared Owl Asio otus © John Muddeman Pedro and Orellana areas); 195 pp. of Black Stork (c. 60% of the Iberian total are concentrated in the MonfragŁe and Jerez de los Caballeros areas); and an estimated 5500-6500 Great Bustards (of the c. 24 500 in Spain) are found widely across the plains.


Not surprisingly, Extremadura is one of the Spanish strongholds for diurnal raptors, including breeding Honey Buzzard, Black-winged, Black and Red Kites, Egyptian (c. 185 pp.) and Griffon Vultures (c. 1300 pp.), Marsh, Hen and Montagu's Harriers, Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Short-toed, Golden (c. 125 pp.) and Booted Eagles, Lesser (= 3750 pp.) and Common Kestrels, Eurasian Hobby and Peregrine (c. 50 pp. concentrated in Las Villuercas, Sierra de Gredos and Las Hurdes). Winter visitors include a few Osprey and Merlin as well as boosting the number of Red Kite, Marsh and Hen Harriers, Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrels and Peregrines, while a recent news has been the exciting discovery of a small regular wintering population of Egyptian Vultures. Nocturnal raptors are well represented too: Barn, Scops and Little Owl are all relatively common and widespread, with scarcer Eagle and Long-eared Owls also found widely. Tawny Owl is widespread in more humid habitats with very small numbers of Short-eared Owls on passage and winter.

Pseudosteppe Birds and more

Other pseudosteppe birds are also very well represented, though reliable figures on their numbers are difficult to come by. Little Bustard, Stone-curlew, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Roller, Bee-eater, Calandra and Short-toed Larks and Black-eared Wheatear are all present, with Collared Pratincole and Gull-billed Tern locally in evidence near river valleys and reservoirs and Great Spotted Cuckoos along the edges. Sadly, modern farming methods appear to be the main cause of steep Birds of Extremadura, Spain - Common Crane © John Muddeman Common Crane Grus grus © John Muddeman declines in the numbers of nearly all these species - especially Little Bustard which appears to have declined by up to 75% in the region over just 10 years - and given current EC farming policies there appears to be no simple way of reversing the trend away from changes in land use and creeping intensification. Only Spanish Sparrows, feeding in autumn in the rice fields and breeding in small plantations and dehesa in the spring seem to be benefiting noticeably.

The area has far more on offer than just these highlights, however. White Storks are a common sight, with c. 11 500 pp., making this the highest number of any Autonomous Community in Spain, nesting even right in the centre of larger towns and cities. The dehesa and scrub are home to a plethora of species, including showy Iberian Azure-winged Magpies and Hoopoes, to rather dowdier Thekla Lark and Short-toed Treecreeper, with Mediterranean warblers in the form of Zitting Cisticola, Birds of Extremadura, Spain - Short-toed Treecreeper © John Muddeman Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla © John Muddeman Western Orphean, Melodious, Spectacled, Subalpine and Sardinian Warblers all present. The acorns are not just of importance to the famous serrano ham producing pigs however, since 45 - 90 000 Common Cranes come annually to winter in the area (up to 85% of the European population), with Holm Oak acorns being one of their principal food sources of food. Spilt grain in rice and maize fields is now of major importance to these birds too at certain times, and incredible concentrations of over 11 000 birds have been seen at one area in S Cáceres.

Sierras, River Valleys and Wetlands

Rocky outcrops in the sierras and river valleys are also of crucial importance, from breeding raptors and Black Storks, White-rumped Swift, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear and Rock Bunting, through to wintering Alpine Accentor and even a very few Wallcreepers! MonfragŁe National Park is easily the best-known example of this, though many others exist.

Birds of Extremadura, Spain - Eurasian Spoonbill © John Muddeman Eurasian Spoonbill
Platalea leucorodia
© John Muddeman

A few wetlands are also magnets to bird life. Little Bittern, Night and Purple Herons, a few pairs of secretive Spoonbills and Savi's and Great Reed Warblers have found a few corners to their liking alongside two relative newcomers, the delightful Squacco Heron and the almost absurd-looking Purple Swamp-hen. Remarkably as well, a new reservoir, only created in 1996, rapidly became extremely attractive to wintering waterfowl, and hit the birding news in 2002 with the discovery of peaks counts of >100 000 waterbirds, making it the third most important site in Spain after Doñana and the Ebro Delta! Tragically however, this was created in a small valley which used to house the largest Cattle Egret colony in the western Palearctic (c. 8 000 pp.) and now supplies water for a macro-irrigation project which is transforming and destroying a large area of Birds of Extremadura, Spain - Corn Bunting © John Muddeman Corn Bunting
Miliaria calandra
© John Muddeman
agricultural steppe rich in Lesser Kestrels, both bustards and Black-bellied Sandgrouse amongst others.

High altitude areas of the Sistema Central hold a very different suite of species, including breeding Bluethroat, Rock Thrush and Ortolan Bunting, with the distinctive Iberian races of Green Woodpecker and Pied Flycatcher present in the upper woodlands along with Western Bonelli's Warbler, and in pines, abundant Crested Tit and Firecrest.

While this is obviously a brief overview of the area, further information is available on the websites of the main conservation NGOs operating in the area, ADENEX and the regional branch of SEO/BirdLife (especially for details of recent bird sightings and information of interest about the region), plus general information available for Spanish birds on the SEO/BirdLife website. For a complete list of species recorded in the region and their statuses, please see the recently updated list.

Birding in Extremadura

With such an exciting suite of species present in relatively high numbers still surviving in the region, birdwatching in Extremadura is generally very rewarding, though clearly its inland position means that rarities are not commonly encountered. That said, despite good habitat often being found surprisingly close to built-up areas, the huge scale of many of the habitats can also frustrate and potentially disappoint birdwatchers, and local birding knowledge is often crucial for finding many species.

A couple of good books cover the region, including "A Birdwatching Guide to Extremadura", with the second edition due for publication in 2010. Alternatively, our local knowledge will lead you to the best sites and key species of their habitats on our programmed birdwatching and wildlife tours or during tailor-made birding trips, for the best birding in Extremadura.

[Extremadura - birds and birding]
Extremadura - principal habitats
Extremadura - location and geography
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Birdwatching trips to Extremadura
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