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Azores - BirdForum Opus

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Europe, Portugal


Although a part of Portugal, the Azores are a self-governing group of Atlantic islands almost 1500km off the coast of Europe. The archipelago of nine major islands is split into three groups; Western Azores, consisting of Corvo and Flores, the Central group made up of Graciosa, Terceira, Sao Jorge, Faial and Pico, and the Eastern group of Sao Miguel and Santa Maria.


Notable Species

The main ornithological interest of this archipelago lies in an endemic, the Azorean Bullfinch, one of the rarest birds in the world. Several more widespread species have distinct races on this remote group. In addition there are important breeding concentrations of certain seabirds and the islands are of great interest to birders as probably the best area in the Western Palearctic for transatlantic vagrants. North American shorebirds are the most frequently recorded rarities but herons, seabirds and passerines are also seen annually.

Apart from the Bullfinch, landbirds are scarce although Island Canary is common and widespread as is Common Quail. Most of the native forest of the Azores was cleared long ago and only a few remnants now survive. Introduced plant species are a continuing threat to these islands and breeding birds are also in decline through predation by alien mammals, particularly ferrets and cats.

The Western Azores have important breeding colonies of Cory's Shearwater and Macaronesian Shearwater, Madeiran Storm-petrel and Roseate Tern and Common Tern on the rocky coasts of Flores with shearwaters and Roseate Tern also on Corvo. The fast-declining Western Palearctic population of Roseate Tern maintains a stronghold here, most between Santa Cruz and Ponta Ruiva on Flores. The world's largest concentration of Cory's Shearwater is found in the Azores and the largest numbers are found on these two islands. Manx Shearwater are known to occur on these islands and may breed.

A similar range of species is found in the Central Azores with important colonies on all the main islands. Islets off the coast of Graciosa have the highest numbers of breeding Madeiran Storm-petrel in the archipelago and curiously they nest at two different times suggesting they are genetically distinct and possibly separate species. This island has also hosted attempted breeding of Red-billed Tropicbird, the only known European site, and Cape Verde Petrel has also been recorded although it is not known to breed. Terceira, the easternmost of the Central Azores, has a good reputation for attracting Nearctic waders and the disused quarry south of the harbour at Praia da Vitoria is especially productive.

Sao Miguel in the eastern group of the Azores is famous as the only home of the critically endangered Azorean Bullfinch, long considered a race of the Common Bullfinch but now given full species status. The one place this species can be found is the Pico da Vara area of eastern Sao Miguel where little more than 100 pairs are thought to survive. The laurel forest here is the most extensive and best preserved in the Azores and covers the Pico da Vara and PicoVerde mountains and the Ribeira do Guilherme valley. Although the area is threatened by commercial forestry plantations the remaining native forests are home to many endemic species of insect and plant as well as the Bullfinch. However, management plans to protect the home of this species, once considered extinct, are currently underway.

To the south-east of Sao Miguel is the island of Santa Maria with breeding shearwaters, Madeiran Storm-petrel and Roseate Tern. The islet of Vila off the south-east of Santa Maria has the same species as well as Bulwer's Petrel at its only Azorean site and Sooty Tern has also bred here in small numbers in recent years.

Visiting the Azores in autumn will undoubtedly give the serious birder the best chance of seeing North American vagrants in the Western Palearctic.

More than a dozen species of wader can be expected, if not guaranteed, and these can include Semipalmated Plover and Killdeer, and Spotted Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper.

Several Nearctic waterfowl species may be seen such as American Black Duck (which apparently breeds) and Blue-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck and Lesser Scaup. In addition there is the chance of Double-crested Cormorant, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron and Little Blue Heron and Belted Kingfisher, in fact virtually any North American bird recorded in the Western Palearctic.

Passerines are recorded less frequently but certainly occur and greater coverage of these islands will undoubtedly produce many more.


Birds you can see here include:

Bulwer's Petrel, Great Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Macaronesian Shearwater, Madeiran Storm-petrel, Northern Gannet, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Common Teal, American Black Duck, Ring-necked Duck, (perhaps now resident), Madeiran Buzzard, Common Quail, Common Moorhen, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Red Knot, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Eurasian Woodcock, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua, Black-headed Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Roseate Tern, Common Tern, Sooty Tern, Little Auk, Atlantic Puffin, Rock Dove, Common Woodpigeon, Long-eared Owl, Grey Wagtail, Eurasian Robin, Eurasian Blackbird, Blackcap, Goldcrest, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Island Canary, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Azorean Bullfinch

Other Wildlife

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Site Information

History and Use

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Areas of Interest

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Access and Facilities

Tourism is increasing in the Azores and there are now regular flights and plentiful accommodation on the islands. It is very likely that birding visitors will also increase, with the possibility of seeing one of the world's rarest birds and some of the most important seabird concentrations in the Atlantic the attractions are many. Being a relatively new birding destination there is much left to discover and in autumn there is every likelihood of adding a species or two to the Western Palearctic List.

Contact Details

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External Links


Content and images originally posted by Steve