Faro & Ria Formosa Birdwatching Guide – The Eastern Algarve Birding Paradise

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 is a must-see on any nature lover’s bucket list. Ria Formosa’s bird-watching season kicks off in autumn when migration begins.

At Lands, we love sharing this beautiful scenic spot with beginner and amateur bird watchers from around the world. That’s why we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to birding in Faro and Ria Formosa to help plan your adventure. For twitchers or birders, Algarve’s Ria Formosa is one of the most popular spots for birdwatching in Portugal. More than 200 species have been recorded in the area’s 18,400 hectares, so if you only do birdwatching once, why not make it Ria Formosa?

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. If you have any particular questions, please feel free to get in touch with our local experts.

About Ria Formosa

Ria Formosa, a protected lagoon located on the Easternmost coast of the Algarve, is one of the most important wetlands in Portugal. It measures 60 kilometres along the Algarve coast, from the Ancão Peninsula (Loulé) to Manta Rota (Vila Real de Santo António). This Southern area in Portugal has an astonishing diversity of habitats: dunes and sandbanks, saltmarshes and saltpans, various watercourses, fresh and brackish water lagoons, reedbeds, woodland, and farmland.

Over 200 species of bird have been recorded here, some of them very rare or endangered. The natural habitats make it a prime position for migrating birds to rest on their travels each spring and autumn. One of the things we love most is that Ria Formosa’s birdwatching is very accessible, and some of the most satisfying spots are the easiest to get to. From the town of Faro, you can explore areas of the park on foot, by bike, or by boat.

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 viewed from above. A series of verdant lank networks in a blue ocean studded with boats.

About the Birds in Ria Formosa

As we mentioned, over 200 species of birds have been recorded in this area. We’ve broken down these figures to give you an insight into this number.

Within the 228 bird species recorded in Ria Formosa:

  • 102 species are breeding species in the area
  • 117 species do not breed here
  • The remaining 9 species have a status of unconfirmed nesting

Regarding the phenology of the bird species in Ria Formosa:

  • 49 bird species are wintering and migratory
  • 45 bird species are resident 
  • 33 bird species are migratory
  • The other bird species have simultaneous status

Some of the most interesting bird species to see on our Faro Boat Trip – Birdwatching in Ria Formosa are detailed below.

Species Season
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) winter
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) all year round
Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) all year round
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) autumn and winter
Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) autumn and winter
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) all year round
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) all year round
Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) autumn and winter
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) autumn and winter
Curlew (Numenius arquata) autumn and winter
Caspian Tern (Sterna caspia) autumn and winter
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons) spring and summer
Audouin’s Gull (Larus audouinii) winter
Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus) spring and summer

Our Ria Formosa Birdwatching Tour from Faro means you will see some slightly different feathered friends, as detailed below.

Species Season
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) all year round
Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) all year round
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) autumn and winter
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) winter
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) winter
Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) all year round
Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope) all year round
Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus) winter
Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) all year round
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) spring
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) winter
Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) all year round
Caspian Tern (Sterna caspia) autumn and winter
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons) spring and summer
Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) spring
Red-necked Nightjar (Caprimulgus ruficollis) spring and summer
Black-headed Weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus) all year round
Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild) all year round
Hoopoe (Upupa epops) spring and summer
Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cooki) all year round

The Ultimate Algarve Bird-watching Guide to Faro & Ria Formosa

When to Visit Ria Formosa for Birdwatching

Ria Formosa has abundant birdlife all year round, as long as you know where to look and what to look for. The park is full of birds, including resident birds, birds visiting to breed, and more than 30,000 migratory birds, which is why this wetland is one of Portugal’s three most important.

If we had to choose one season to promote to prospective guests, it would be autumn — especially from September to October. This is when migratory birds are on the move, meaning you’ll see many more species than at other times throughout the year. Among Ria Formosa’s best-known resident species that you can see year-round is the Purple Swamphen — the symbol of the Natural Park — pictured below.

Purple Swamphen in Ria Formosa, Faro - Algarve

Ria Formosa Natural Park Walks for Birdwatchers

Ludo and Quinta do Lago

If you enjoy walking, you can spend all day in Ludo and Quinta do Lago. 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, Azure-winged Magpie and exotic Black-headed Weaver which thrive in the rushes and reeds of Ludo’s freshwater lagoon all year.

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.

Ludo and Quinta do Lago are 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.

Private Eco Boat Tour in Ria Formosa out of Faro, Algarve

Faro Beach

Faro Beach, also known as Faro Island, is great to visit at low tide to see migratory birds in autumn. At this time, you can expect to see Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, and other waders feeding in the tidal flats.

In winter and springtime, Osprey, Audouin’s Gull, and the Caspian Tern are also regularly seen here.

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.

Ria Formosa Birdwatching Boat Trip

Faro Waterfront Park

This site is the only bird-watching trail in an urban area of the Algarve. It’s an interesting place to see waders on the tidal flats at low tide, while the saltpans are great 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.

The wetlands around Faro are extraordinary places for a birdwatching tour in the Algarve.

Faro & Ria Formosa Birdwatching – Algarve Birding at its Best

Here are some recommendations for birdwatching in Ria Formosa. Everything here is taken from our team’s experience over the years, including perspectives from biologists

Start Early

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 zitting cisticolas. 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.

Look Up

Even if you’re relaxing on 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. You’ll hear their beaks clacking when they throw their heads thrown back.

What makes the Algarve such a popular destination for a birdwatching holiday?

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.

More recently, there is a guide from Gonçalo Elias: Birding hotspots in the Algarve – At the heart of Ria Formosa published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing with a good description of the most interesting places for watching birds in the Ria Formosa and surrounding areas.

Ria Formosa is a Vitally Important Wetland for Birdlife

Every year more than 30,000 birds use the Ria Formosa during migration. These birds either spend the winter here or stop off in Ria Formosa on their way to Africa.

Some species are of European importance because of their breeding populations, including the Little Egrets, the Pied Avocet, and Audouin’s Gull. Other important breeding populations include Kentish plovers and Little Terns whose habitats (dunes and saltpans) have been shrinking worldwide.

Our eco-boat tour around Faro approach many bird species without any disturbance.

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, 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.

Other highlights among the wintering species are the Northern Shoveler, and the Eurasian Teal, and waders such as the Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Eurasian Curlew and the Common Redshank.

Black-necked Grebe in Ria Formosa
Black-necked Grebe in Ria Formosa

We hope this Algarve Birding Guide helps you explore the birdlife of our region. If you’re looking for ways to experience nature in the Algarve while practicing responsible tourism, our eco-tours ensure no 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 to travel through Ria Formosa and out of Faro. We have plenty of other Faro Experiences and Trips, too! Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

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