Spain - birdwatching and birding with Iberian Wildlife Tours
    Birds, birding and birdwatching across Spain and Portugal with Iberian Wildlife Tours

Spain: birds and birdwatching - part 1
by John Muddeman

Spain - geography and climate

The birds in Spain are diverse and still relatively abundant. This is due to a combination of factors outlined below, including Spain's geographical location, great variation in the local geography and topography of the Iberian Peninsula, including over short distances, and the correspondingly wide range of microclimates present.

Mainland Spain, with its mainly warm and dry southern Mediterranean coasts, cooler, wetter and wilder northern Atlantic coasts, lower southern and higher northern inland plains and a Spain - birds and birdwatching - Mediterranean habitats in Extremadura © John Muddeman Mediterranean habitats in Extremadura © John Muddeman series of high mountain ranges including the Pyrenees, Cantabrican range, Sistema Central and Sierra Nevada amongst others, supports a massive diversity of habitats, and consequently, birds.

This variety is perhaps best encapsulated in SW Spain, in the region of Andalucía. True semi-desert exists in the Cabo de Gata area in Almería, yet one of the areas of highest rainfall in the peninsula lies not too far way to the west, in the province of Cádiz. Here, weather fronts charged with moisture move in from the Atlantic and drop this load as rain on the first mountains they hit, the Sierra de Grazalema, rich in limestone and botanical delights as a result, and even, overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, harbouring a few relicts from the sub-tropical flora of earlier eras. Add to this the highest mountain in mainland Spain, Pico Mulhacén in Sierra Nevada, where true alpines cling on, many of them unique endemics or more closely related to N African than European species, and one begins to see that Spain is a land of enormous contrasts and variety.

Spain - birds and birdwatching - Manzanares el Real, Sistema Central © John Muddeman Manzanares el Real, Sistema Central © John Muddeman

It is also one of the sunniest and hottest countries in Europe, but inland and in the mountains, with numerous peaks and ridges over 2000m in height, it can also be cold at times. Given the enormous extension of the country, a typically continental climate is seen in many areas, with summer to winter max. / min. contrasts of up to 50°C. The majority of the country is considered to be under the influence of a Mediterranean climate, characterised by long, usually hot and dry summers and the main rainy periods in spring and autumn, though these are notably erratic in character. The Cantabrican mountains (especially the N slopes) and Pyrenees are also in line with many weather systems which roll in off the Atlantic and seem to follow their line (even to Catalonia in the far NE) and receive more regular rain than anywhere else, especially in Galicia (the far NW), with its intricate Spain - birds and birdwatching - Sunset over ricefields, Extremadura © John Muddeman Sunset over ricefields, Extremadura © John Muddeman coastline jutting out between the Bay of Biscay and the 'true' Atlantic.

The climate, combined with relatively low human population (approx. 52 million) and only relatively recent modernisation have left the country with a legacy of currently relatively intact habitats. This includes some of the best agricultural habitats for wildlife in Europe and huge areas of man-modified landscape of numerous types still attractive to a wide range of species. The pressures on these are now intense however, with ever more habitats and sites disappearing or being damaged under the euphemism of 'progress', especially under modern agricultural and building policies.

Despite the popular image of Spain as bull fighting, flamenco dancing and mass tourism on the beaches of Alicante, Málaga, the Balearic Islands (especially Mallorca and Ibiza) or the Canary Islands (e.g. Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Tenerife), just a few kilometres away from many of these sites, wildlife often still abounds for those willing to take a look.

Birds and birdwatching in Spain
[Birds in Spain - north vs. south]
Spanish seabirds and wetland birds
Inland Spain - birds and raptors
Island birds and introduced species
Related information…
Birds and birdwatching in Madrid
Geography, habitats and birds of Extremadura
Birds and birdwatching in La Mancha and Castilla y Leon
List of birds of Spain
Geography and climate of Spain
Read about John Muddeman
Wildlife holidays and tours in Spain and Portugal
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