The famous Rock of Gibraltar is a limestone promontory, some five km long and one km wide. The summit ridge, rising to 426m, offers superb if vertiginous views over the westernmost Mediterranean, the Costa del Sol and, especially, the Strait of Gibraltar itself. The Moroccan shore is only 20 km away and views often extend to the Rif Mountains beyond.
The Rock of Gibraltar rises to more than 420 m with sheer cliffs on the north and east and gentler slopes on the western sides. Much of the area is covered with dense maquis and garigue consisting of many species of berry-bearing plants that provide food for the large numbers of passerine migrants. This dense cover is interspersed with open grassy areas where more open-country birds can be seen.
Although the lower parts of the Rock are now largely developed, the whole of the Upper Rock is now a nature reserve.
The strategic position of Gibraltar is the root of its ornithological fame. Migration of soaring birds, i.e. storks and raptors, occurs year-round in some form and numbers can be spectacular in the peak seasons of March-May and August-October, almost invariably during periods of westerly winds. The principal species are Honey Buzzard and Black Kite, which both produce daily counts of thousands at peak times. Significant but lesser concentrations occur of Egyptian Vulture and Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier and Montagu's Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Booted Eagle and Osprey, among others, as well as White Stork and Black Stork.
Migration of seabirds is also an all-year phenomenon and features important numbers of Cory's Shearwater and Balearic Shearwater, Northern Gannet, Great Skua; Mediterranean Gull, Little Gull, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Audouin's Gull and Sandwich Tern. Many other seabirds occur regularly, including Lesser Crested Tern (October to mid November).
One of the top migration sites in the Western Palearctic region, Gibraltar is most famous for raptors and more than 250,000 birds of up to 17 species cross the Mediterranean here, where the North African coast is only 25km away. Black Kite and European Honey Buzzard are the most numerous species but Short-toed Eagle and Booted Eagle, Egyptian Vulture, Accipiters and harriers are also common.
In addition to raptors many other species use this route including both storks, Common Crane, Hoopoe and cuckoos as well as numerous migratory passerines, e.g. thirty species of warbler have been recorded.
Over the sea shearwaters, petrels and Northern Gannet can be seen with various gulls, terns and skuas. Breeding birds of Gibraltar are few but include the Barbary Partridge at its only mainland European site, Peregrine Falcon, Blue Rock Thrush, the rare and localised Mediterranean race of Shag and a dark, short-winged form of Blackcap.
The local list, of some 310 species, grows annually. Recent additions have included Indigo Bunting (April 2004) and Purple Gallinule (August 2004). The list includes a particularly comprehensive contingent of passerines, most of them migrants grounded on the Rock by inclement weather, often during the frequent bouts of strong easterly winds which produce the famous levanter cloud over the summit.
A diversity of vagrant species enlivens the birding scene; recent examples have included Lammergeier, Greater Spotted Eagle and Lesser Spotted Eagle, Pallid Harrier, Allen's Gallinule, Mountain Chiffchaff, Yellow-browed Warbler, Pallas's Warbler, Seebohm's Wheatear, House Crow, African Chaffinch, Dark-eyed Junco and White-throated Sparrow.
With increasing numbers of birders visiting Gibraltar, rarities are now frequently recorded and in recent years have included several transatlantic vagrants and also seabirds extremely rare in Europe such as Grey-headed Gull and Pintado Petrel.
Birds you can see here include:
Cory's Shearwater, Balearic Shearwater, Yelkouan Shearwater, European Storm Petrel, Leach's Storm Petrel, Northern Gannet, European Shag, Black Stork, White Stork, Greater Flamingo, Common Scoter, European Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Red Kite, Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Northern Goshawk, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Osprey, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Merlin, Northern Hobby, Eleonora's Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Barbary Partridge, Common Quail, Great Skua, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua, Mediterranean Gull, Little Gull, Black-headed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Black Tern, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, European Turtle Dove, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Eurasian Scops Owl, Little Owl, European Nightjar, Red-necked Nightjar, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Alpine Swift, Common Kingfisher, European Bee-eater, European Roller, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Wryneck, Greater Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Eurasian Skylark, Sand Martin, Eurasian Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Northern House Martin, Tawny Pipit, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Blue-headed Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Common Wren, Alpine Accentor, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin/Rufous Bush Robin, Eurasian Robin, Common Nightingale, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Whinchat, European Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Western Black-eared Wheatear, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Blue Rock Thrush, Ring Ouzel, Eurasian Blackbird, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Zitting Cisticola, Common Grasshopper Warbler, Common Reed Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Western Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Orphean Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Wood Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common Firecrest, Spotted Flycatcher, European Pied Flycatcher, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Iberian Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Spotless Starling, Chaffinch, Brambling, European Serin, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Siskin, Eurasian Linnet, Rock Bunting, Ortolan Bunting
More famous than perhaps the birds are the "apes" of Gibraltar, in reality they are Barbary Apes, a long-established introduction from North Africa. Botanically the Rock is of great interest with a huge diversity of flowering plants on the limestone rock with Gibraltar Candytuft one of the specialities.
The best times to visit are March-May and August-October although there is some passage across the straits at other times. March is the peak time for Black Kite and Short-toed Eagle with the greatest variety of species in April, Western Honey Buzzard peak in early May. Autumn passage begins in August when Black Kite are at their peak with most other raptors in September-early October.
Passerine migration is more prolonged, generally February-May and late July-November and seabirds can be seen passing offshore at virtually any time. Periods of westerly winds are undoubtedly the best for watching raptor migration as easterlies tend to displace them westwards.
Areas of Interest
The Summit Ridge, Botanic Garden, North Front Cemetery and Europa Point. Gibraltar is within day-trip distance of the Eastern bank of the Guadalquivir river (Brazo del Este, Bonanza salt pans, Algaida pine woods); the Serrania de Ronda, the Guadalhorce estuary at Malaga, the cork forests of the Cadiz sierras (Parque Natural de los Alcornocales) and the Costa de la Luz.
One of the best areas for raptors in spring is Jew's Gate just past the entrance to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, where there is a bird observatory and information centre.
In autumn the Upper Galleries and Princess Caroline's Battery to the north are more productive but the smaller passerine migrants can appear in any well-vegetated area on the Rock. Barbary Partridge can usually be seen from the Mediterranean steps, a footpath on the eastern side of the Rock.
The Botanic Gardens at Alameda often attract passage and wintering passerines, especially warblers and also Hoopoe, as does the cemetery in the north of Gibraltar. Europa Point on the southern tip is an excellent seawatching site at any season. Yellow-legged Gull breed on the cliffs and in the city where both Common Swift and Pallid Swift breed.
Access and Facilities
Hotel accommodation is plentiful on Gibraltar and there are numerous campsites just over the border in Spain.
- Where to watch birds in southern and western Spain; Andalucia, Extremadura and Gibraltar, Ernest Garcia and Andrew Paterson, 2nd edition 2001, Helm/A&C Black, ISBN 0713653019
- Key places to visit in Gibraltar are the bird observatory and ringing station at Jews'Gate (run by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society - see their web-site  which also gives details of low-cost accommodation at the Observatory and at Bruce's Farm Field Centre)
- Official Gibraltar Tourist Site
Content and images originally posted by ErnestGarcia Content originally posted by Steve