3 European Bird Watching Hotspots

For that coveted chance to spot a rare bird or study an unknown species, it’s well worth a visit to sunnier climes. Exploring another ecosystem will reveal a whole new world of biodiversity to discover. Southern Europe has some great places for birding and with sun, sand and sea on the doorstep, you can make a holiday of it too. Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned birder, take a look at our guide to 4 of southern Europe’s top destinations for birdwatching.

The Algarve

This southern part of Portugal where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, culminates in a unique natural habitat for more than 300 types of birds. Not only that, but a perennially pleasant climate makes the Algarve appealing for birds and watchers alike, at any time of the year.

Purple Swamphen

What will I see?

Ria Formosa National Park – Eastern Algarve

This Ramsar Convention protected park is a coastal wetland that lies between land and sea, south of Faro. Green-blue lagoons surround grassy banks and sandy inlets which house an array of native, wintering and migrating birds.

It’s here you’ll find the likes of the resident purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), an endangered bird with a distinctive indigo-coloured plumage and rosy-red bill. This is this bird’s chief breeding ground so it’s no wonder it’s the emblem for the park and definitely one for any twitcher’s checklist. Another notable resident is the azure-winged magpie (Cyanopica cooki). You won’t find this bird in the UK so if you’re lucky, you’ll get a glance of its signature blue tail, soft brown body and glossy black crown.

Over 20,000 birds winter here, including a whole host of ducks and waders. You’re sure to see some greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) wading through the salt marshes throughout these months. Head to the Forte do Rato at high tide for the greatest number of birds to observe.

Where should I stay?

The traditional towns of Olhão, Tavira and Monte Gordo are all good bases to explore this captivating conservation zone.

Sagres Peninsula – Western Algarve

The Sagres Biogenetic Reserve is one of the main migration corridors for the raptors of Portugal. Consisting of Mediterranean scrub forest, grassland and rocky coastal cliffs, it’s no wonder it’s a popular pit stop for birds migrating to Africa. September to November is when all the action happens. You could see all manner or eagles, buzzards and vultures on their way to warmer climes, resting on the rocks.

A year-round inhabitant you’re bound to see nesting on the cliffside is the blue rock-thrush (Monticola solitarius) – listen out for the male’s melodious mating call.

Where should I stay?

The laid-back cobbled town of Lagos is your best bet for a base to explore this peninsula. Boat trips are also a good way to see these fascinating creatures and are readily available along the coast.

Serra mountain ranges – Northern Algarve 

Prone to more rain, the northern mountain region is covered in lush vegetation and dense forests. The golden oriole (Oriolus oriolus) is a common migrant over the breeding season between April and September, before it returns to Africa for the winter. Serra do Caldeirão and Serra de Monchique are the best places to catch this striking black and yellow passerine.


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.

Island Canary

What will I see?

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.

And the rest…

Originating from South America, the tropical looking lime green monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) have colonised 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.

Where should I stay?

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.


This magnificent Mediterranean island has an enormous ecological diversity across its sand-swept coastlines, azure coloured waters and verdant, forested peaks. Thanks to its location, Cyprus also forms part of the flight path for many migratory birds moving between northern Europe, Africa and Asia. Springtime is an exciting time to visit and see an abundance of fascinating species.

Griffon Vulture

What will I see?

Kensington Cliffs – Western Cyprus

This coastal stretch is one of the few remaining places in Cyprus where you can come across the ever-depleting griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus). This imposing Old World bird can have wings spanning up to 10ft so it’s a breathtaking sight to watch it take flight.

Paphos Forests – Western Cyprus

To the west of the Troodos mountain range, this densely forested area is full of pleasant walking trails and interesting flora and fauna. It’s also where the endangered raptor, the Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata), calls home.

Cape Greco – Eastern Cyprus

With over 385 hectares of stunning natural beauty, this is an enchanting conservation area on Cyprus’ rocky east coast. It’s here where you can get close up and personal with the resident Cyprus warbler (Sylvia melanothorax) when it flies in for the breeding season between April and June. You’ll find this passerine perching in the low vegetation and twittering away with its quirky fast-paced song. The males are particularly interesting with their fluffy black crowns and white ‘moustaches’.

Where should I stay?

These sites are all easily accessible from the Paphos and Larnaca beach resorts on the south coast. Car hire is popular as like the UK, Cypriot’s drive on the left-side of the road so it’s even easier to get around.

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