Birds of Barcelona
This is list of birds commonly seen in Barcelona’s streets, parks and gardens. It does not cover Collserolla or the Delta del Llobregat
Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) Barcelona zoo is home to a secret. Above the compounds and cages is the largest single heronry in Catalonia, and biggest urban heronry in Europe, with some 100 nesting pairs. A single heron escaped from his cage in the 1970’s and decided to stay. It was joined by a wild to-be mate, and so the colony was born, from which the then beleagered Catalan population has expanded and grown. Cast your eyes upwards down Aragon , Parallel or Diagonal in the early evening and you’ve a chance of spotting a heron flying home to its zoo roost. They feed in the lagoons of the Delta de Llobregat and along the Llobregat and Besos rivers. Increased agricultural activity gives them permanent all-year food supplies. Little Egret ( Egretta garzetta) with 6 nests are also present along with cattle egret and glossay ibis (up to 10 nests, depending on the year)
Yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) This large gull colonised Barcelona in the late 20th century. Abundant on the cliffs of Montjuïc and breeds in the Cathedral, Santa Maria del Mar, Santa Maria del Pi and on roof terraces in the Barcelona Eixample. Will take pigeons. Will take anything.
Black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus) This small gull is common in parks and on and near seafront and harbour. Mediterranean gull is also present.
Peregrine falcon ( Falco peregrinus ) Sedentary species, though in winter individuals arrive in Barcelona in winter from Central and Northern Europe . Persecution drove the peregrine to extinction in the city in 1973, but a reintroduction programme has successfully brought the bird back using hacking, and there are now four pairs of peregrines in Barcelona (Montjuic cliffs, Mouth of River Besós, Santa Maria del Mar and Sagrada Familia). They can take a pigeon a day, a pinprick on the city’s immense pigeon population. Peregrines are the fastest creature on the surface of the planet and in a dive can reach speeds, for a split second, of 300kph. A couple of interesting facts about peregrine in Barcelona:
- During the hacking work in 1999 in the Church of Santa Maria del Pi, a pair of kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) nesting in the same bell tower brought food both to their chicks and the peregrine chicks inside the nest box. They almost always brought swifts (Apus apus) and house sparrows (Passer domesticus ). When the young peregrines left the nest box, they lived together with the young kestrels and could often be seen perched together. The person in charge of the programme had looked for suitable sites in the year in question, but hadn’t realised this one had kestrels nesting “next door”. When their own chicks had fledged – which was early, before the peregrines- the adult kestrels heard the peregrines and started to feed them – but they couldn’t see them as they were in a box. They dropped headless swifts and sparrows through the letterbox. They also continued to feed their young, now-flying birds. When the peregrines emerged both species seem to have got on fine, and were frequently seen perching together. The next year they repeated the hacking in the same site, but on this occasion the kestrels hatched and fledged later than the peregrines, and the adult kestrels did not feed the young peregrines. This phenomenon is somewhat surprising if we consider that both kestrels and peregrines are highly territorial species which zealously and aggressively protect their offspring. Moreover, peregrines will occasionally capture and eat kestrels.
- Of particular interest in the diet of Barcelona ‘s peregrines is the presence of many migratory species, some as difficult to see as Baillon’s Crake (Porzana pusilla), revealing the importance of the city as a point along the migratory routes of many species. Other species include scops owl, snipe, bar-tailed godwit and teal. A total of 29 different species of prey have been recorded since 1999, although pigeons make up 52% of their diet. Clearly, however Barcelona’s four pairs of peregrine make no dent on the city’s 180,000-strong army of doves. (Photos by Roger Sanmartí )
Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) The kestrel colony on Montjüic was estimated several years ago at 20 pairs, possibly the largest single concentration in Europe, not bad for something right next to the hunk of concrete that is Barcelona. By last year, this had fallen to 12 pairs and this looks like continuing. The colony which survived, and even thrived, with the construction of the ring road which rubbles its way past the cliff, is now beset by three threats:
- the building work across nearby the Llobregat plain which has reduced its hunting area
- the massive increase in the yellow-legged gull population now up to some 70 odd pairs and rising. While they don’t dare touch adult kestrels they will harry juveniles and these no doubt prefer to disperse to more tranquil sites.
- the reintroduction of the Peregrine Falcon to the cliffs, which are highly territorial will harry young and mature alike if it feels like it.
They also nest in buildings such as the Church of Santa Maria del Pi and Camp Nou. Barcelona’s kestrels have a perchant for caged birds on terraces and balconies. Bemused owners frequently come home to find feathers on the floor of their cage where before they was a canary.
Note: buzzards are regular visitors to Montjüic
Excellent and complete webpage (translated by me) on the reintroduction of peregrine falcons in Barcelona here.
Monk parakeet ( Myiopsitta monachus) Most notable among non-native species. It bred in the city for the first time in 1974 from a group of escapees. They now reign over the whole city. Although they add a streak of colour and fun to the city’s dull litany of pigeons, sparrows and seagulls, they can cause serious problems as they expand out into the country. The monk parakeet has already crossed the second urban ring and is poised to take on the surrounding farmland. Monks are making forays into the fields of El Prat, where farmers claim they are causing considerable damage, before returning to the safety of their city nests. Worldwide the bird is said to be responsible for millions of euros of damage, particularly in the US, and the report warns that something should be done before their population explodes. Evidence of crop depredation by monk parakeets dates as far back as the Incas, and Charles Darwin was even aware of the problem in Uruguay in 1833, though the amount of real damage is probably exaggerated because of their raucous and rather noticeable presence. The current population is estimated at between 1,200 and 1,700 individuals. Monks are colonial birds and build huge nests, divided into different chambers, both for breeding and non-breeding pairs. They weight could potentially represent a danger for the passer-by. See Quaker (monk) parrots invade Barcelona (BBC)
Another Six species de Psittacines currently nest in Barcelona: the rose-ringed (or ring-necked) parakeet ( Psittacula krameri ), the monk parakeet ( Myiopsitta monachus ), the blue-crowned conure ( Aratinga acuticaudata ), the mitred parrot ( Aratinga mitrata ), the red-masked parrot ( Aratinga erythrogenys ) and the Senegal parrot ( Poicephalus senegalus ). All are South-American in origin, bar the ring-necked parakeet which is African and Asian, and the Senegal parrot which is, evidently African.
Alpine swift (Apus melba) Summer species, arriving at the end of March and leaving by end of October for Africa to spend winter. The nest of saliva and plant material built in cliffs and high buildings. Barcelona has the largest number of swifts in Catalonia, with an estimated 6,000 -10,000 pairs in the metropolitan area, (60% of the Catalan population). Montjuïc Castle and FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou are two of its largest breeding sites. The restoration of buildings is thought to be one of the main negative impacts on the species.
Common swift (Apus apus ) Summer species, arriving in April and leaving in August. Breeds in holes in walls and under old roof tiles. In June and July swift fledglings are frequently found on the city’s streets, having fallen out of their nests, and incapable of lifting their wings to fly. Their scream is a common sound of Barcelona summer. Preyed upon by kestrels.
Feral pigeon (Columba livia var.domestica) Extremely abundant in Barcelona with a population of around 180,000 individuals. Preyed upon by peregrines and yellow-legged gulls.
Collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto) Colonised Europe from Turkey in the late 19th century from southern Asia, and has nested in Catalonia since the early 1980s. Common in the city’s park’s and gardens.
Wood pigeon is increasingly seen in Montjüic.
Hoopoe ( Upupa epops). Present in more open areas of parks on Collserola edges (Oreneta, Hueres, Labarint) and on Montjüic. A well liked bird due to the service it renders eating insects and its appearance, thought its nest, often near human habitation gives off a foul stench, giving rise to the Catalan expression ; “Fas més pudor que un niu de puputs” You stink more than a hoopoe’s nest. Hoopoes arrive here at the end of winter (see note for 2007) from Africa, and begin reproduction in spring.
Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris). Common throughout the city. Large flocks can be seen over Plaça Catalunya and Parque de la Ciutadella on winter evenings. Finds much of its food in farmland outside the city, moving out in the early morning. Spotless starling is also present but in smaller numbers.
Magpie (Pica pica ) Currently expanding in Barcelona
Jackdaw ( Corvus monedula) One of the species of birds to have declined most in Catalonia over last 20 years, having disappeared from almost half its old expanse. Despite this, a significant population still exists in Barcelona , where it nests primarily in old churches. Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral has a roost several dozen jackdaws which fly to the nearby zoo to feed.
Tits There are four species of Parus tits in Barcelona: the blue tit (Parus caeruleus ), the great tit ( Parus major ), the crested tit ( Parus cristatus ) and the coal tit ( Parus ater ) + the long-tailed tit in larger parks. (Aegithalos caudatus). The great tit can be seen in more heavily urbanised areas, as one of its few requirements are holes in trees. Catalan has the expression “Xerres més que una mallerenga” – You chatter more than a great tit”
House martin (Delichon urbica) Barcelona city council runs a programme in favour of martins and swallows.
Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) More a farmland and village bird than city resident, but small colonies remain in edges. Considered endangered in the city due to lack of nest sites and mud.
- Little owl (Athene noctua) Important colony on Montjüic with 20 pairs nesting just in cemetery
- Scops owl (Otus scops) also present.
- Tawny owl
- Green woodpecker Montjuic/ Palau Reial
- Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactilya). Common and unseen in many parks
- Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) A very small number nest in Barcelona, but most often seen in winter, when Barcelona attracts large numbers from north. Often seen perched on top of walls, balconies and roof terraces.
- Pied wagtail (Motacilla alba) Breeds here but seen most in winter, fleeing from the cold. Very common
- Grey wagtails are also present in association with water (eg La Foixada on Montjüic)
- Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
- Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
- Blackcap. Breeds for instance on Montjüic. Very common.
- Chiffchaff. Parks and gardens
- Goldcrest (Regulus regulus). Parks and gardens
- Robin. Nests in larger parks.
- House sparrow (Passer domesticus) Resident in the city throughout the year, but many of larger colonies have disappeared due to lack of holes in which to make their nests and the reduction in roof tiles to the benefit of flat roof terraces.
Geography of Barcelona