Dr Duncan James > Nature Travel Guide > Where > Planet Earth > Europe > Spain

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Nature Travel Guide

Wildlife of Spain (Europe)

"Flowers in the spring, very hot in the summer, mammals in the autumn and a wide variety of wildlife in the winter."

I recommend the Wildlife Bingo (premium link) activity.

Spain is a large European country full of good rural areas for wildlife watching. The Coto Donana has year-round wildlife watching, including lynx in February. The Pyrenees Occidentales has mountain views and good wildlife in June/July. In August/September Riano and Somiedo have active, visible mammals such as Wildcat, wolf and bear.

Spain is on the south-western corner of Europe, sharing the land south of the Pyrenees with Portugal. Spain is very close to Morocco with the Mediterranean Sea being very narrow here.

Flamingo, Hoopoe and Azure-winged Magpie help to make the birdwatching in Spain colourful. There are also many less-colourful species of lark and warbler.

Many European birds migrate south to Africa in the winter. Some migrants stop in Spain during the winter, perhaps because it stays quite warm. For the same reason, butterflies are present in southern Spain all year round.

The north of Spain has the Cantabrian and Pyrenees mountains. These have delayed summer peaks of wildlife in June and July (compared to April and May at lower elevations) and good mammals that are often more easily seen in autumn. Central Spain has various areas of steppe and high hills which are often very dry from the middle of summer onwards. The south of Spain includes the Coto Donana and is famously a good place to go wildlife watching all year round including the European winter. Much of the east coast of Spain is heavily built up which makes it harder to see good wildlife.

Hunting in Spain has local laws (and licences are issued locally) meaning the rules vary. Typically, the hunting season runs from early October to the first week in February. There are many protected areas where hunting is not allowed.

There are online hiking-scale maps http://www.ign.es/iberpix2/visor/ for all of Spain. If you are driving then I have found that Spain offers many easy chances to stop by the side of the road to look for wildlife. The buses in Spain http://www.alsa.es include many routes that reach the more remote wildlife-watching areas.

  • Parc Natural Els Ports (location 1) is an area of rocky hills and forest. Animals found in this protected park include vulture and ibex.
  • The Belchite Steppes (location 2) have wildlife such as larks, sandgrouse, grasshoppers. It can be hot and wildlife can be difficult to see so I would mainly recommend it to keen naturalists who want to see this special habitat.
  • The Ebro Delta (location 3) is a wetland with flamingoes, ibis and terns. There are also special species of birds for keen birdwatchers.
  • Almeria (location 4) is a very dry area on the east coast of Spain. In particular, "Las Salinas" are desert-like, salt-mining areas. Other habitats include steppe and coastline meaning birds such as sandgrouse, larks and Stone Curlew. Many birdwatchers come to see Trumpeter Finch, a local speciality bird found here because of the desert-like conditions.
  • Sierra Nevada (location 5) is perhaps the most famous and popular of the many mountainous areas in Spain. The birdwatching is said to be good but I have not visited myself.
  • Coto Donana (location 6) is a large area of wetland with flamingoes, ibis, waders (shorebirds in American English) and other colourful birds. Iberian Lynx is possible with February my recommended time to visit.
  • The Sierra Morena (location 7) hills have cliffs and wooded valleys. It is far enough south to have flowers and butterflies all year round. Birds range from small warblers in the valleys to vultures on the cliffs. Survey data suggests there is a growing lynx population in the east.
  • Merida (location 8) is a well-protected area of steppe that is home to specialist birds such as bustards, sandgrouse and larks.
  • The Picos de Europa (location 9) are high mountains with specialist wildlife including izard, vultures, flowers and butterflies.
  • Gibraltar (location 10) is an island off the south coast of Spain. Birds migrate over Gibraltar http://www.gonhs.org/SpeciesPassagePeriods.htm because it is one of the shortest distances across the Mediterranean; Flying across water can be tiring so generally birds will minimise their amount of time flying over sea. It is also possible to watch the migration from the coast of Spain although if it is very hot the raptors may be high and difficult to see. Eagles, hawks, buzzards and kites circle in the thermals to gain height and then depart across the Mediterranean. Birds will wait for a sunny day so the largest numbers are often reported after periods of bad weather.
  • Monfrague (location 11) has cliffs and gorges with vultures, eagles and other birds of prey.
  • Irun (location 12) has mudflats and lakes with wetland wildlife all year round and migrating waders/shorebirds particularly in autumn.
  • Villafalila (location 13) is a wide landscape of plains and lakes with Great Bustard and other birds. In winter it is home to large numbers of geese and ducks that breed in the Arctic.
  • Sierra de la Culebra (location 14) has a wide variety of wildlife, although in the early 21st century hunting is still a problem. I have visited two wolf watchpoints where I always found myself in a group with other wildlife watchers.
  • The mountains at Somiedo (location 15) have a variety of wildlife including vultures, eagles, chough, flowers and butterflies. There is a famously reliable bear-watching viewpoint where distant views of Brown Bear are common.
  • The foothills of the Picos de Europa mountains at Riano (location 16) have a wide variety of wildlife including wolves and Wildcat. A good time to look for Wildcat is late August after the haymeadows have been cut.
  • Irati (location 17) is a large beech forest which also spreads north into France. It is a good place to look for forest birds with the bonus of vultures and eagles over the nearby hills. The White-backed Woodpecker has an isolated population in the wet areas of the forest.
  • The Pyrenees Occidentales (location 18) have typical mountain wildlife including izard, vultures, Citril Finch, flowers and butterflies.
  • The High Pyrenees (location 19) reach over 3,000m and are home to izard, marmots, eagles, vultures and other mountain wildlife. June and July are particularly good for flowers and butterflies.
  • Riglos (location 20) is a famous, isolated cliff of red rock with a vulture colony and other wildlife.
  • Birdwatching in Spain (premium link) offers a variety of estuary, steppe and mountain species.
  • Popular birdwatching and mammal-watching itineraries in Spain (premium link) include the south-west near the Coto Donana and the Pyrenees and Cantabrian mountains in the north.

White Storks migrate to Spain for the winter after nesting in northern Europe.

This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on December 10th 2017.

Larger-scale information relating to this page include the Planet Earth and Europe articles.

Even more articles including detailed site descriptions, illustrated wildlife-watching activities, self-guided walks, itinerary recommendations, birdwatching overviews and mammal-watching overviews are available in the premium eBooks.

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