Category Archives: Birdlife of Spain

Spain is a popular destination for birdwatchers, as the country boasts a rich diversity of birdlife, with over 600 bird species recorded. Some of the most iconic bird species in Spain include the Spanish imperial eagle, the Eurasian griffon vulture, and the common crane. Other notable bird species found in Spain include the flamingo, the hoopoe, and the bee-eater. Spain’s varied landscapes, which range from mountains and forests to wetlands and coastal areas, provide habitats for a wide range of bird species. Additionally, Spain is located on the migratory path for many bird species traveling between Africa and Europe, making it a popular spot for birdwatchers during migration season. Overall, Spain’s birdlife is a reflection of the country’s rich natural heritage and makes it an exciting destination for birdwatchers from around the world.

Black Vultures in Spain. Rewilding Spain, Terra Naturalis and GREFA’s Conservation Odyssey

In the heart of the Iberian Highlands, the resurgence of black vultures in Spain unfolds through dedicated conservation efforts. In Alto Tajo Nature Park and the Sierra de la Demanda, new nests signify a strategic push to reintroduce these majestic raptors. With support from the Regional Government of Castilla-La Mancha, Rewilding Spain, Terra Naturalis, and GREFA, the black vulture’s return becomes a compelling narrative of successful collaboration.

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Bearded Vulture – Gypaetus barbatus – Quebrantahuesos

  • English: Bearded Vulture
  • Spanish: Quebrantahuesos
  • Alternative names / spellings: Lammergeier, Lammergeyer, Lammergeir.
  • Catalan: Trencalòs

The Bearded Vulture – Gypaetus barbatusQuebrantahuesos is one of the largest raptors in Spain and also the rarest. It has a wingspan of 2.8 m and length of around 1.10 m. The dark, narrow wings taper to a point while the tail is long and wedge shaped. The body, legs and head are a dirty white although they deliberately stain this to a dark orange colour using iron oxides contained in calcareous rock where available. They have dark feathers around the eyes and it is the long bristles draped beside the bill which leads to the English common name of Bearded Vulture.

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Griffon Vulture M68: Crossed the Strait, Rescued at Sea, and Returns to Spain

At just one year old, a griffon vulture named “M68” has embarked on an incredible journey filled with perilous twists and turns, ultimately leading it back to its homeland in Spain. This remarkable bird’s odyssey includes being plucked from the high seas by Moroccan fishermen, a pit stop at the Jbel Moussa vulture recovery center, and a recent sighting near Colmenar Viejo in Madrid, thanks to the distinct wing tag “M68” that tell the tale of its epic adventures.

Photographed by a camera trap near Colmenar Viejo in Madrid

The saga of M68 began on July 24 when a photo-trapping camera, situated on a Madrid livestock farm collaborating with GREFA (Group for the Rehabilitation of Native Fauna and its Habitat), captured images of a vulture with distinct black wing bands adorned with the inscription “M68.” Initial inquiries ruled out the possibility that this bird was registered in Spain, prompting investigators to cast their net wider, exploring neighboring countries such as Portugal and France. However, the mystery remained unsolved until they turned their gaze southward to Morocco.

Griffon Vulture M68: Crossed the Strait, Rescued at Sea, and Returns to Spain
Griffon Vulture M68: Crossed the Strait, Rescued at Sea, and Returns to Spain

Mystery of Vulture M68 solved

Their Moroccan counterparts not only demystified the enigmatic wing markings but also unearthed an article on the website of the Moroccan conservation association AMPOVIS, featuring the adventurous young griffon vulture M68. According to the news article, this fledgling had been spotted near the coast of Ceuta on November 9, 2022, after a daring flight across the Strait of Gibraltar, presumably from the Iberian Peninsula. However, strong winds and relentless seagull attacks disrupted its journey, diverting it into the Mediterranean. Just hours later, the AMPOVIS association received a distress call from Moroccan fishermen in the port of Fnideq, who had plucked a stranded griffon vulture from the sea.

Vulture being mobbed by gulls
Vulture M68 before he crashed into the sea to be rescued by fishermen.

A remarkable aspect of this species is its trans-Saharan migration pattern, primarily undertaken by young vultures in their first year of life. In the fall, they embark on a journey across the Strait of Gibraltar to winter in countries like Senegal and Gambia. Most return to the Iberian Peninsula come spring, although some opt to wander the African continent for several years, even establishing breeding colonies, as witnessed in northern Morocco recently.

Rehabilitated and released

M68, the vulture “castaway,” was subsequently transferred to the Vulture Rehabilitation Center (CRV) of Jbel Moussa, located near the Moroccan side of the Strait of Gibraltar. This center, in collaboration with GREFA, has played a pivotal role in the monitoring and marking of various species of scavenging raptors, including the Rüppell’s vulture and the African white-backed vulture. At Jbel Moussa’s CRV, experts confirmed that M68 was indeed the same vulture spotted approaching the coast, thanks to video footage captured by specialist Cristián Marfil, which allowed for a detailed comparison of plumage.

After undergoing a thorough examination and receiving the necessary care to recover from its harrowing ordeal, the griffon vulture was returned to its natural habitat. But not before a set of distinctive wing markings was affixed, which would later enable its identification when it reappeared, months later, near Colmenar Viejo close to Madrid.

See the original article (In French) here: https://www.ampovis-maroc.com/2022/11/09/un-vautour-fauve-attaque-par-des-goelands-a-sebta-sauve-en-pleine-mer-par-des-pecheurs-marocains/

See the article at GREFA (In Spanish) here: https://www.grefa.org/noticias/29-otros-articulos/proyectos/vulturnet/buitre-leonado/4342-buitre-leonado-m68-cruzo-el-estrecho-fue-rescatado-en-alta-mar-y-acaba-visitandonos.html

Ronda Today

Everything you need to know before you visit Ronda “The city of dreams” in Andalucia. https://www.rondatoday.com/

Visit Cádiz

Planning on visiting Cádiz? Tourist information. Monuments. Hotels. Activities. City guides: https://visitingcadiz.com/

The Caminito del Rey

Find tickets for the Caminito del Rey: https://www.caminodelrey.es/

Wildside Holidays – Spain

Take a trip on the Wildside! Discover the wildlife and nature of Spain, its Natural and National Parks and find the top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies.

Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum! https://iberianatureforum.com/

Controversy Surrounding the Release of white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) in Asturias

Controversy has ignited (yet again) over the reintroduction of white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) in the Asturias region, with conflicting views on their impact. Concerns have been raised by ecologists about the potential threat these “superpredator” eagles pose to local wildlife.

A recent incident involving an encounter between a bearded vulture and a released “pigargo”, shared by the Coordinadora Ecoloxista d’Asturies (who are in total opposition to this project) has now sparked further debate with some demanding the prompt capture of the released eagles to prevent any further detrimental interactions. While some viewed it as evidence of potential issues, GREFA (the project coordinators) has maintained that such encounters were a natural part of the ecosystem.

Photo by Orlando Miranda of the interaction between white tailed eagle and bearded vulture in Spain
Photo by Orlando Miranda of the interaction between white tailed eagle and a bearded vulture in Spain (August 2023)

The “Pigargo Project”, initiated with the goal of reintroducing the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) into Spain using individuals from Norway, faced immediate controversy when it was first announced. Biologists and ecologists from the region warned of potential dangers to native species, especially those already threatened.

Environmental associations have argued that these “superpredators”, known for their diet of fish, birds, and mammals, could significantly disrupt the conservation efforts for threatened species in the Asturian fauna. In response, the GREFA association, the driving force behind the Pigargo Project, have contested these claims.

After more than two years of intensive monitoring, GREFA reported that there had been no documented negative interactions between the released pigargos and protected species. They argued that portraying these eagles as catastrophic for local wildlife or livestock was based on incomplete information.

GREFA has also highlighted the positive side of their project, citing the benefits of introducing the eagle (known as a pigargo in Spanish) to the region. Notably, their presence has led to improved safety measures for birds, such as anti-electrocution measures on power line supports in Asturias and Cantabria.

In this video from 2017 it is really easy to see that the interaction between the white tailed eagle and other birds of prey are quite normal. In this case its a visiting white tailed eagle with both Bonelli’s and Imperial eagles. (This video was taken before GREFA started its introduction project in Asturias.)


The controversy raises essential questions about the balance between conservation efforts and the potential risks associated with species reintroduction. As discussions continue, it is crucial to consider the comprehensive data gathered through extensive monitoring and avoid demonizing these eagles without a clear understanding of their impact.

In the absence of conclusive evidence, the fate of the Pigargos in Asturias remains uncertain, leaving stakeholders to navigate the complexities of wildlife conservation and coexistence.

Further reading

The original article in Spanish “Los pigargos liberados en Ribadedeva son un peligro para la fauna salvaje” here: https://coordinadoraecoloxista.org/los-pigargos-liberados-en-ribadedeva-son-un-peligro-para-la-fauna-salvaje/

Read the article arguing that the eagles should be removed from the wild and the project halted here: (in Spanish) at https://revistajaraysedal.es/fotografian-aguila-superdepredadora-liberada-ecologistas-enfrentandose-fauna-autoctona/

Read the press release from GREFA (in Spanish) arguing that the interactions with other wildlife is quite normal here: https://www.grefa.org/noticias/94-notas-de-prensa/4338-nota-de-prensa-los-pigargos-europeos-liberados-en-asturias-no-perjudican-al-quebrantahuesos-ni-a-otras-especies-amenazadas.html

The article here at Wildside Holidays about the pigargo reintroduction project: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/reintroduction-of-the-extinct-in-spain-white-tailed-eagle-haliaeetus-albicilla/

Wikipedia has an extensive article about the white tailed eagle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-tailed_eagle

Ronda Today

Everything you need to know before you visit Ronda “The city of dreams” in Andalucia. https://www.rondatoday.com/

Visit Cádiz

Planning on visiting Cádiz? Tourist information. Monuments. Hotels. Activities. City guides: https://visitingcadiz.com/

The Caminito del Rey

Find tickets for the Caminito del Rey: https://www.caminodelrey.es/

Wildside Holidays – Spain

Take a trip on the Wildside! Discover the wildlife and nature of Spain, its Natural and National Parks and find the top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies.

Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum! https://iberianatureforum.com/