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Extremadura - principal habitats


Pseudosteppe is steppe habitat (treeless open grasslands here forming a mosaic with agricultural fields) which developed after the natural tree and scrub cover which once dominated had been cleared by man, and is maintained through grazing and / or agricultural practices (it would return to scrub and trees if left untouched). The rather low rainfall combined with long summer drought and fierce summer temperatures (<40°C) characterise these areas where the main growing period is through the winter, starting after the first autumn Birds of Extremadura, Spain - Hoopoe © John Muddeman Hoopoe Upupa epops © John Muddeman rains (usually October).


One of the dominant habitats of the whole area is formed by huge extensions of dehesa. These are typically rather open tracts of holm oak (Quercus rotundifolia ssp. ballota) woodland (rarely cork oak Q. suber or even narrow-leaved ash Fraxinus angustifolia), with an appearance rather like open parkland, and sometimes Birding in Extremadura, Spain - Crested Lark © John Muddeman Crested Lark Galerida cristata © John Muddeman referred to as the "Spanish savannah" given its visual similarity. All the main trees are periodically pruned to remove 'excess' wood for making charcoal or for burning and the regrowth stimulates the production of acorns, on which the famous Iberian or 'pata negra' pigs forage to acquire their special taste. While the majority of these areas have grazed pasture underneath, it is actually a mosaic of different structures and habitats, with management often carried out in loose rotation. Plots are occasionally ploughed and poor crops of wheat or barley harvested from underneath. This is then left fallow and grazed by sheep and foraged by pigs, finally returning to a short-sward of grass and wild flowers grazed by sheep, and locally, fighting bulls. If left with no management, swathes of flowers appear, followed quickly by scrub, the holm oak saplings take root and eventually the area ends up as thick scrub.

The dehesa is also a vitally important habitat for wildlife, having formed over centuries and managed in a sustainable way. Large tracts are inaccessible, especially where used for rearing bulls, and given the very low levels of disturbance and high livestock numbers are of vital importance for large populations of breeding and hunting raptors in particular.

Other Habitats

Birds of Extremadura, Spain - Short-toed Eagle © John Muddeman Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus © John Muddeman

There are numerous other habitats too, e.g. from vast reservoirs and ever increasing numbers of rice fields along the main rivers to natural riverine scrub and valley side woodland along the remaining stretches of un-dammed rivers (sadly, very few of the latter now). The sunny and shady flanks of the steep hill and valley-sides support rather different plant communities, while the large altitudinal variation, especially in the N mountains supports a suite of habitats characteristic of the different heights, culminating in exposed rocky tops studded with ground-hugging plants.

Extremadura - birds and birding
[Extremadura - principal habitats]
Extremadura - location and geography
Related information…
List of birds of Extremadura
Birdwatching trips to Extremadura
Birds and birdwatching in Madrid
Birds and birdwatching in La Mancha and Castilla y Leon
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