Extremadura: Raptors

raptor list:
Griffon Vulture, Eurasian Black Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Black Kite, Red Kite, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Golden Eagle, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Black-winged Kite, Lesser Kestrel, Montagu's Harrier, Marsh Harrier.

Extremadura is a raptor haven. Whether you're hiking in the mountains, on the steppes, exploring the dehesas or simply driving along the roads or motorways, you'll see raptors. Extremadura boasts a variety of raptor species - vultures and eagles patrol the cliffs whilst harriers and kestrels scour the steppes. With such a high density of raptors, it was hard not to see a lot of the species on offer.

The species we saw in the greatest number was the Griffon Vulture, by a long way. Monfrague National Park has up to 600 pairs living and nesting within the park. So it wasn't surprising that it was here that we saw Griffon Vultures in their largest numbers. 

Monfrague Castle offered fantastic views of vultures who glided lazily past us, very close - especially on the walk up the path, where vultures often fly just above your head. The Pe├▒afalcon, near the castle, is also a great spot for Griffon Vultures as well as other raptors and Black Storks. Other than in Monfrague, Griffon Vultures can also be seen circling across much of the landscape in their search for carrion.

The Griffon Vultures are sometimes joined in the skies by the larger, but less common, Cinerous or Eurasian Black Vulture. Monfrague has around 200 breeding pairs of these impressive birds. With wingspans of almost 3 metres, these birds are the world's largest birds of prey aside from the condors of the Americas. 

Eurasian Black Vulture

Our sightings mainly came in and around Monfrague National Park - again with some great views at the castle. They were often in amongst the Griffons, but were evidently larger when flying side by side. These birds again feed on carrion, circling above before dropping down for a meal.

The third vulture species was the smaller Egyptian Vulture, which we didn't see in Monfrague but in the river valleys and hills nearby. These birds are fairly spread out across the region, with isolated pairs nesting all over Extremadura. For this reason they aren't as easy to see as they don't appear in the numbers and density that other birds of prey like the Griffon Vultures do.

Egyptian Vulture

Extremadura is, on the whole, perfect for vultures. Because of its variety of habitats, it has everything the vultures need - plains for scavenging and mountains and rock ledges for nesting.

Vultures weren't the only scavengers we saw though. The most frequently seen bird of prey was certainly the Black Kite, mainly because they sit and fly very close to the roads and motorways looking for roadkill. Black Kites are most numerous in Extremadura from March when they arrive in their thousands, replacing the winter populations of Red Kites - a species we only saw once or twice throughout our week's stay.

Black Kite

Extremadura is home to 5 species of eagle: the Booted, Bonelli's, Golden, Short-toed and Spanish Imperial Eagle. Of these 5, we saw 4 during our time in the region - the Bonelli's Eagle evaded us. And of these 4, the most exciting for me was the Spanish Imperial Eagle, endemic to central and southwest Spain. Our chance to see this enigmatic bird of prey came on our second visit to Monfrague National Park. After a drive through the national park, we came to the Portilla del Tietar: another rocky outcrop similar to the Pe├▒afalcon. We had come hear to see the Eagle Owl, but ended up getting great views of a Spanish Imperial Eagle, identified by the white flashes on the front of its wings, as it flew around the cliffs. A real treat!

Spanish Imperial Eagle
Spanish Imperial Eagle

Our first Booted Eagle came whilst driving back to our accommodation. After a shout of 'eagle' and a complete circle at a roundabout, we found somewhere to park nearby and headed to have a look. On the floor off the side of the road was a Booted Eagle eating a rabbit. The eagle stayed where it was for quite a while, happily feasting away on its catch. This gave us a great opportunity to see this amazing raptor up close. Later on in the week, we saw a second flying above us on the steppes near Trujillo, this time a lighter individual, searching for its meal.

Booted Eagle
Booted Eagle (lighter)

The Short-toed Eagle and Golden Eagle sightings both came in the Sierra de Gredos mountain range in the north of Extremadura. After leaving the small mountain village of Guijo de Santa Barbara, we followed a trail that headed into a valley in the Sierra de Gredos. It was in this valley that we saw a Short-toed Eagle hovering over a nearby ridge, and a beautiful Golden Eagle soaring overhead.

Golden Eagle

Possibly my personal favourite raptor from the trip is the Black-winged Kite. We came across this amazing bird of prey again on our way back to our accommodation. After seeing what looked like a very light kestrel, we parked in a lane running off the side of the road and had a closer look. It wasn't a kestrel, but a Black-winged Kite. We watched it for a while as it hovered; its bright red eyes scouring the fields for its next meal. These raptors eat a variety of food, from crickets and large insects to rodents and lizards. Eventually, the kite flew away further down the road. But as we drove past it, it took to the air again and amazingly flew alongside our car for a short while, before turning away across the fields.

As the Collins Bird Guide describes it:
hovers like a kestrel, glides like a harrier, hunts like an owl.

Black-winged Kite

Extremadura also has a host of small towns and cities, which are home to colonies of another species of raptor - the Lesser Kestrel. We saw a pair of these birds around the Arrocampo Resevoir, and in the city of Caceres, where there is a healthy colony of birds - as well as in Trujillo. The towns seem to be the best places to see the Lesser Kestrel in Extremadura, where they nest and breed.

Lesser Kestrel

And now onto the harriers. We saw the first species, the Marsh Harrier, at the Arrocampo Resevoir, hunting over the far side of the water, over the reeds. The second species, the Montagu's Harrier, was a species we saw numerous times on the steppes and plains around Trujillo, where they often are seen hunting around the roads and trails. We were lucky to have one hunt right alongside us by the road, getting very close, even crossing the road in front of us before resuming its hunting on the opposite side. In total, we saw 5 or 6 individuals over our short time on the plains - but unfortunately no Hen Harriers, which would have been a welcome sight, given how difficult it is to find one alive in England nowadays (http://bit.ly/1Q1yBnB)

Montagu's Harrier
Montagu's Harrier

So, as you can see, if it's raptors you're after, Extremadura is the place to go. The fact that you can see all these species of bird of prey in one area is amazing, and shows what a rich ecosystem Extremadura has on show. It just goes to show that with the right management and care for the natural world, wildlife can thrive.


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