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Birdwatching in the Algarve: All You Need to Know

Greater Flamingo in Ria Formosa
Greater Flamingo in Ria Formosa

 

The Algarve is one of the best bird watching areas in Europe, and everyone here at Lands would love to help people learn more about the incredible birdlife found here. The Algarve stretches along the southern coast of Portugal, so it’s a reasonably large area, with a rich array of different roosting opportunities and bird habitats. With today’s guide, we’d like to discuss some of the most important bird watching locations in the Algarve, and some of the incredible species of birds you can look forward to meeting. If anything here inspires you to visit our little corner of the Algarve (Ria Formosa), please take a look at our Excursions en Bateau sur la Ria Formosa près de Faro et à nos Activités et Excursions à Faro.

 

Why is the Algarve so Great for Birding?

Put as simply as possible, the Algarve is one of the greatest spots in Europe for bird watching because it contains two of the most important wetlands in the entire country: Ria Formosa and the Castro Marim Wetlands. The Algarve also contains the main corridor of migration for Portugal’s raptor population, so it provides bird watchers with the greatest opportunities to see some of Europe’s largest and most impressive birds of prey. With this guide today, we’ll look at Ria Formosa, the Castro Marim Wetlands, and then we’ll list several of the bird species you can look forward to seeing in the Algarve. 

 

Ria Formosa – The Birdwatching Capital of the Algarve

Ria Formosa lagoon in the Algarve
Ria Formosa lagoon in the Algarve

While the Algarve as a whole is incredible for birdwatching, the Ria Formosa Nature Park is arguably the best birding spot of all — and this is the reason why we set Lands up here! As we previously wrote the The Ultimate Bird-watching Guide to Faro & Ria Formosa, we won’t go over everything in as much detail as we did previously, and if you’d like to learn even more about Ria Formosa, we encourage you to read that specific guide. That said, we’d still like to offer an introductory guide to birdwatching in Ria Formosa here. 

As one of the most important wetlands in Portugal, this lagoon offers a rich variety of habitats for various birdlife, including dunes and sandbanks, saltmarshes, saltpans, watercourses, reedbeds, woodland, farmland, and both fresh- and brackish-water lagoons. This diverse range of habitats supports over 300 species of birds throughout the year, some living here permanently, some visiting for part of the year. 

These habitats combined with Ria Formosa’s placement in the Algarve makes it one of the most important places in Western Europe for birds migrating from Africa and colder parts of Europe. We offer both a Excursion en Bateau d’Observation des Oiseaux sur la Ria Formosa and a Walking Birdwatching Tour Ria Formosa. Both experiences have been designed by experts to ensure guests see the best birdlife the area has to offer while also having zero impact on the environment. 

 

The Castro Marim Wetlands

Castro-Marim-Wetlands-Algarve
Castro Marim Wetlands

 

The Castro Marim Wetlands is found close to the Spanish border to the far east of the Algarve and is the first nature reserve established in Portugal. The saltpans, mudflats, and brackish water provide the perfect habitats for a rich variety of birds, making the Castro Marim Wetlands one of the most popular birding spots in Europe. Blackwing Stilts, Spoonbills, Greater Flamingo, and various duck species are all usual suspects in the Castro Marim Wetlands, but you can also look forward to seeing storks, various species of terns in the winter, and other species like Common Shelduck, Red-crested Pochard, Osprey, Little Bustard, Red-legged Partridge, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Little Tern, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Lesser Short-toed Lark and Southern Grey Shrike, just to name a few… 

This whole area is rich with birdlife, providing a small but special nature reserve to explore with your camera and your binoculars. While Ria Formosa is considerably larger, we still highly recommend visiting the Castro Marim Wetlands as well. If you’ve come to the Algarve for a healthy dose of the great outdoors and to see our birdlife, both nature reserves deserve to be on your itinerary!

The Best Birds to See in the Algarve

Red-crested Pochard in Ria Formosa
Red-crested Pochard in Ria Formosa

It’s probably wise to say first of all that the idea of the ‘best’ birds is clearly subjective as not all birdwatchers are impressed by the same species. That said, something all of us are usually equally impressed and excited by is rare species we don’t usually see very often. Below, we’ll put a small, admittedly incomplete list of some of the bird species that tend to impress people who come on our tours:

  • Little Bittern
  • Glossy Ibis 
  • Greater Flamingo
  • Purple Swamphen
  • Red-crested Pochard
  • Common Shelduck
  • Black-shouldered Kite
  • Booted Eagle
  • Black Kite
  • Osprey
  • Bar-tailed Godwit
  • Curlew
  • Common Greenshank
  • Caspian Tern
  • Little Tern
  • Audouin’s Gull
  • Mediterranean Gull
  • European Bee-eater
Black-necked Grebe in Ria Formosa

There are, of course, many more species of birds in the Algarve — over 300 in Ria Formosa alone — but very long lists are boring and we’d instead encourage you to stop merely dreaming of your birdwatching trip to Ria Formosa and to start planning it instead. We hope this guide has inspired you, but we also hope it’s taught you a little about the area. We love our little slice of paradise and we’re excited to show you around. If you have any questions about anything we’ve said in this guide, please feel free to nous contacter. Otherwise, start planning your big birdwatching trip to the Algarve!

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