Algarve’s hotspots for birdwatching

The Algarve is rich in hotspots for birdwatching. The region features unusual and significant advantages (geographical location, climate, diversity of habitats) that provide the presence of a wide range of wild birds.

In this region alone, which represents just over 5% of the total area of the country, it is possible to observe about 395 bird species, which means approximately 95% of all bird wildlife in Portugal.

These numbers clearly illustrate the richness of the Algarve region at birdlife. And to this, 4 sub-regions contribute significantly:

  • Sagres Peninsula, in the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park;
  • Western Algarve, where Ria de Alvor and Salgados lagoon are the highlights;
  • Ria Formosa Natural Park, mainly the Ludo area near Faro’s airport, Quinta de Marim in Olhão, and the Tavira saltpans and;
  • Eastern Algarve, generally the salt marshes of the Sapal de Castro and Vila Real de Santo António Nature Reserve. 

Logically, given the geographical location of the region, when it comes to birds’ wildlife, the most important focus goes to the aquatic species, especially the groups of ducks, gulls, herons and waders. To observe birds from these groups, visits to the Western and Eastern wetlands, as well as, the Ria Formosa Natural Park are crucial.

Yet, the Algarve also has an important diversity of species in other groups, namely the Passerines and Raptors. For the first group, the whole region offers good conditions for several different species, while in the latter case, Sagres area is worldwide known as one of the best places for observing autumnal migration of birds of prey.

flock of birds

Sagres Peninsula

Throughout the surroundings of Sagres, you can find several hotspots relevant for different groups of birds, including Cape S. Vicente for sea birdwatching, Martinhal’s beach for shorebirds, or Cabranosa for birds of prey, making this place a perfect hotspot for birdwatching.

All year round, it is possible to observe a large variety of species in this area, although, the ideal time to visit Sagres is during the autumn months. This is because, since Sagres is the western end of Europe, many birds, during their migration to Africa, where they spend the winter, lose the ideal Mediterranean Sea crossing routes, and while following the coast for the best place to make the passage, eventually they end up in the Sagres peninsula.

Arriving in Sagres, they find themselves surrounded by sea, which may gather considerable numbers of individuals, fundamentally young because they are less experienced in migration. Some of the prominent species of raptors in those conditions are:

  • Griffon Vulture
  • Cinereous Vulture
  • Egyptian Vulture
  • Black Stork
  • Short-toed and Booted Eagles
  • Honey Buzzard

On the other hand, a spot in Cape S. Vicente, naturally depending on the time of the year and the extra help of a telescope, will offer you the possibility to see some seabirds, among others, Northern Gannet, Cory’s and Balearic Shearwaters, Common Scoter, Great Skua, Mediterranean and Little Gull.

An additional visit to the wetlands, such as Martinhal’s beach, can enlarge your daily list with some waders, like Black-winged Stilt, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Ringed, Grey and Kentish Plover and Common Sandpiper.

Finally, if you extend your visit to the bushy areas along the peninsula, particularly during Autumn migration, you may be able to see some interesting passerine migrant visitors, including:

  • Northern Wheatear
  • Short-toed Lark
  • Yellow Wagtail (up to 3 races)
  • Pied and Spotted Flycatcher
  • Whinchat
  • Common Redstart
  • Subalpine
  • Spectacled and Willow Warbler
  • Iberian Chiffchaff
  • Tree and Tawny Pipit
eagle flying birdwatching alentejo

Western Algarve

Starting from Sagres and ending in Albufeira, the Western side of the Algarve is mainly rich in wetlands. Among the several options you can find, Ria de Alvor, near Portimão, and Salgados lagoon in Silves, are definitely must to go places. These two places are the first two hotspots in the Algarve with the highest number of species seen, according to E-bird data.

Ria de Alvor, also known as, “Alvor Estuary”, is a RAMSAR site and Nature 2000 network, which make it doubtless the most important wetland in the Western Algarve for migratory and wintering waders.

Some of the striking waders are Golden Plover, Red Knot, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits and Green Sandpiper.

Additionally, as breeding species, Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover and Little Tern. Other interesting species regularly find here are: Caspian Tern, Audouin’s Gull, Osprey, Black-winged Kite, Bluethroat, Water Pipit and Kingfisher.

Regarding Salgados lagoon, in Pera, near Silves, an extensive coastal lagoon that is protected from the ocean by an adjacent dune system of Praia Grande beach, is named as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International.

Here, you will find one of the few breeding places in Portugal for the considerably endangered Ferruginous Duck. Besides that, some of the species regularly seen are:

  • (Western) Purple Swamphen
  • Purple Heron
  • Little Bittern
  • Greater Flamingo
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Marsh Harrier

Finally, it is an important place for the European species of Swallows and Swifts.

flamingos algarve

Ria Formosa Natural Park

The Ria Formosa Natural Park is a protected area in the Southern coast of Portugal that covers over than 18,000 hectares and is extended by 60 km in a sand-dune island system, creating unique conditions for wildlife, especially for waterbirds. 

This hotspot for birdwatching is a protected area is included in the RAMSAR Convention, Nature 2000 network, and has been declared an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. Besides, the more than 200 bird species regularly found, this area is crucial for hundreds of species of molluscs, and dozens of amphibians and reptiles, including the endangered and most wanted Chameleon.

Considering the location, Ria Formosa holds a wide variety of waterbirds considering that both freshwater and saline habitats occur, which produces an exceptional and supreme density of birdlife. To begin with, some of the breeding species are:

  • Common Shelduck
  • Black-winged Stilt
  • Avocet
  • Kentish Plover
  • Little Tern
  • Collared Pratincole

Then, during winter, the bird’s density can utterly increase thanks to species like Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Greater Flamingo, Cormorant and Lesser Black-bakced Gull. Apart from all these species, regular visitors include Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Little Ringed Plover, Wood and Curlew Sandpiper, Audouin’s Gull, Caspian and Sandwich Tern and Glossy Ibis.

Regarding passerines, the whole area can provide habitat for a widespread species such as:

  • Bee-eater
  • Eurasian Hoopoe
  • Kingfisher
  • Eurasian Wryneck
  • Iberian Green Woodpecker
  • Azure-winged Magpie
  • Red-rumped Swallow
  • Reed and Cetti’s Warbler
  • Common Waxbill  (introduced species)
  • Black-headed Weaver (introduced species)

Among the several options possible throughout this area, Ludo, Quinta de Marim and Tavira are definitely places you should not miss.

wetlands of Ria Formosa Natural Park

Eastern Algarve

Although a considerably important part of the Eastern Algarve sub-region includes the Ria Formosa Natural Park, there is still a remarkable place for the birdlife that should be mentioned, the salt marshes of the Sapal de Castro and Vila Real de Santo António Nature Reserve.

This area is protected by RAMSAR Convention and by the Portuguese Institute for Biodiversity and Forest Conservation. The Nature Reserve is flanked by the Guadiana River bordering Spain in the extreme southeast of the Algarve, and it consists, basically, of saltmarshes, which an important part of them are still active saltpans.

Some of the breeding species are:

  • Common Shelduck
  • Black-winged Stilt
  • Avocet
  • Kentish Plover
  • Little Tern
  • Lesser Short-toed Lark (exclusively for the whole country)

Among the migrant and winter visitors, here you can see, Slender-billed Gull, Black Tern, Ruff, Curlew sandpiper, Whimbrel, Greater Flamingo, Little and Black-necked Grebe.

Besides all those species, in this area, other interesting species are: Stone Curlew, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Montagu’s and Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Hoopoe, Azure-winged Magpie, Iberian Grey Shrike, Red-rumped Swallow, Crag Martin, Water Pipit and Corn Bunting.

stilt algarve's wildlife

Article written by: António Cotão – Birdwatching Guided of Sustainable Travels


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