The Ultimate Algarve Bird-watching Guide to Faro & Ria Formosa.
Ria Formosa bird watching season starts in September. This is Lands’ guide to birding in the Algarve magnificent Ria Formosa Nature Park for beginners & amateurs bird watchers.
Chosen by the Portuguese people as one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal, the Ria Formosa has had a protected status as a Natural Park since 1987 and should find its way onto any nature lover’s bucket list. Ria Formosa’s bird watching season kicks off in Autumn when the migration starts. The Ria Formosa protected lagoon is one of the most popular spots for birdwatching. This is Lands’ guide to birding in Faro and Ria Formosa, designed for beginners and amateur bird watchers. If anything here inspires you to explore this incredible bird paradise with us, take a look at our Ria Formosa Birdwatching Boat Trip and our Walking Birdwatching Tour in Ria Formosa.
For twitchers or birders, Algarve’s Ria Formosa is one of the most popular spots for birdwatching in Portugal.
Ria Formosa, a protected lagoon located in the Easternmost coast of the Algarve, is one of the most important wetlands in Portugal and has a prime position for migrating birds to rest on their travels each spring and autumn.
This incredible protected area has an astonishing diversity of habitats: dunes and sandbanks, saltmarshes and saltpans, various watercourses, and fresh and brackish water lagoons, reedbeds, woodland and farmland.
One of the things we love most is that Ria Formosa’s birdwatching is just so accessible, and some of the most satisfying spots are the easiest to get to.
Ria Formosa has been a protected Nature Park since 1987. It comprises 18,400 hectares easily accessed from the town of Faro. There are fantastic spots through the nature park which you can walk, cycle or explore by boat.
It’s the most significant wetland in the South of Portugal and one of the Algarve’s most significant birdwatching sites.
More than 300 species have been recorded in this protected area, so if you only do birdwatching once, make it Ria Formosa.
Faro & Ria Formosa Birdwatching – Lands’ Beginner’s Guide to Birdwatching in Faro & Ria Formosa
Faro & Ria Formosa Birdwatching – When to Go
Ria Formosa has abundant birdlife all year round, as long as you know where to look and what to look for. This amazing Natural Park is also a Natura 2000 site (Special Protection Area for Birds and Special Area of Conservation), Ramsar Convention site and Important Bird Area (IBA – BirdLife International).
Ria Formosa is packed with birds, including resident birds, birds visiting to breed and more than 30,000 migratory birds, making this wetland among the three most important wetlands in Portugal.
Among Ria Formosa’s best-known resident species that you can see all year round is the Purple Swamphen – the symbol of the Natural Park pictured below.
But if we had to choose one season to promote to prospective guests, it would be Autumn — especially from September to October, as this is by far the best time to visit when migratory birds are on the move.
Faro & Ria Formosa Birdwatching – Where to Go and What Birds to Look For
Ludo & Quinta do Lago
This is a site where you can spend all day if you enjoy walking. The area promises a brilliant day out birding with close contact with birds.
Look out for Purple Swamphen, Little Bittern, Red-crested Pochard, Glossy Ibis and exotic Black-headed Weaver which thrive in the rushes and reeds of Ludo’s freshwater lagoon all year round. The saltpans are excellent areas for close views of Flamingos, Spoonbills, and elegant Black-winged Stilts. Several species of raptors can be seen here, including Booted Eagle, Black Kite, Osprey, Marsh Harrier and also Black-shouldered Kite. This is an area where you can find over 200 species during the year and one of the best places for bird photography in the Algarve.
It is easily accessible on the road to Faro Island. You’ll need to park your car before the bridge over the Ria Formosa and take the path on your right leading to Ludo. At the end of a long straight stretch, there is a signposted road on the right that skirts the Lagoa de São Lourenço before entering Ludo. Further ahead you can rejoin the road back to the starting point. You can visit the area yourself or you can join us on a Birdwatching Tour in Ria Formosa to enjoy this beautiful natural haven for birdlife with an expert local guide.
Faro Beach also known as Faro Island is a place to visit at low tide to see migratory birds in autumn, including Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, and other waders feeding in the tidal flats. Osprey, Audouin’s Gull and the Caspian Tern are also regularly seen here in wintertime and also the fantastic Little Tern in springtime.
Faro Island is easily reached from Faro. Follow the signs to the airport and at the roundabout turn follow the signs to Faro Beach. After crossing the bridge to the island, turn left. After the end of the paved road, walk along the wooden walkway that runs east parallel to the Ria Formosa lagoon.
You can visit the area on your own and if you’d like a great tour, try our Ria Formosa Birdwatching Boat Trip on our eco-friendly solar-powered boats.
Faro Waterfront Park
This site is the only bird watching trail in an urban area of the Algarve. It’s a really interesting area to see waders on the tidal flats at low tide, though the saltpans are also quite interesting at high tide as you’ll see Flamingos and Black-winged Stilts.
You can get there from the centre of Faro near the harbour, or at the entrance to the city coming from the EN 125 from the northwest, near the municipal theatre. The path runs along the waterfront of the city of Faro, starting near the theatre. If you enjoyed birdwatching here, you might also like to check out our Ria Formosa Boat Trips, all of which use solar-powered electric boats that we take through Ria Formosa and out of Faro.
Ria Formosa is Vitally Important Wetland for Birdlife
Every year more than 30,000 birds use the Ria Formosa during their migrations, making this wetland among the three most important wetlands in Portugal. Some species are of European importance because of their important breeding populations, including the Little Tern, the Pied Avocet and Audouin’s Gull.
The wide diversity of habitats here leads to the occurrence of a great number of species, one of the highest in Portugal — especially waterfowl, including waders and ducks and herons in lesser numbers. The Ria Formosa is also noted for the highest numbers of wintering Eurasian Wigeon and breeding Red-crested Pochard in Portugal. On the land areas, several species of woodland passerines occur, as well as various raptors.
Faro & Ria Formosa Birdwatching – Our recommendations and tips for beginners
Here are some recommendations for birdwatching in Ria Formosa. Everything here is taken from our experience over the years.
After about noon in winter, and as early as 10 am or 11 am in summer, the countryside areas of Ria Formosa appear strangely birdless. But take a stroll in the countryside before breakfast and you will hear Sardinian warblers chirruping in the hedges and the zip-zip call of tiny fan-tailed warblers. You may even glimpse a hoopoe with its striped wings and the resident and unmistakable Azure-winged Magpie.
Keep your eyes peeled
Strolling along the tidal flats or the deserted stretches of sand, you’ll spot many species of waders. During boat rides, look out for spoonbills and graceful little egrets and grey herons.
Even if you’re relaxing in one of Ria Formosa’s brilliant beaches, it’s worth looking up. You’ll probably see Little Terns hovering and diving with their long orange bill with black tips. In countryside areas, open your eye for the graceful flight of the colourful bee-eaters and if you’re having a drink in one of the terraces and cafes in Faro, look up for White Storks on their massive nests on top of roofs when you hear their beaks clacking with their heads thrown back to rest on their backs.
Do a Little Research
A good source of information online is the Birdwatching Guide to the Algarve. You’ll find lots of information including a downloadable handbook, bird list, maps and much more.
Buy a Field Guide
When it comes to field guides, Collins Bird Guide is regarded as the best and most complete guide to the birds of Britain and Europe, and recently you have the new guide from Gonçalo Elias: Birding hotspots in the Algarve – At the heart of Ria Formosa published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform with a good description of the most interesting places for watching birds in the Ria Formosa and in the surrounding areas.
We hope our Faro & Ria Formosa Birdwatching Guide helps you on your exploration of the birdlife of our region and if you’re looking for ways to experience nature in the Algarve while practicing responsible tourism, our eco-tours ensure you don’t have a negative impact on the local environment. You might also like to check out our Ria Formosa Boat Trips all of which use solar-powered electric boats that we take through Ria Formosa and out of Faro or our other Faro Experiences and Trips as well! Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions.