Autumn bird migration at the Strait of Gibraltar by Migres Foundation

By MaghrebOrnitho | 3 November 2018

The autumn migration through the Strait of Gibraltar is over for the majority of soaring birds. The Griffon Vulture is an exception, because its southward migration starts much later – from mid-October and peaking in November. Some rare birds can also migrate late. Read this: “4 Cinereous Vultures, 2700 Griffon Vultures and a Spanish Imperial Eagle crossing the Strait of Gibraltar” on 10 November 2017

Below are the main highlights – and some little known facts – from this autumn bird migration through the Strait as counted by Migres Foundation.

From 5 July until 15 October 2018, ornithologists from Migres Foundation with the help of 45 volunteers have monitored bird migration through the Straits of Gibraltar (the counts were carried out daily during that period). The ornithologists were based at the bird observatories of Cazalla and Algarrobo, located near Tarifa on the northern shore of the Strait.

Soaring birds

During this period, 473.000 soaring birds, including 138.000 storks (2 species) and 335.000 raptors (33 species), were counted. The following five species were the most numerous:

  • Black Kite (Milvus migrans): 170.000 individuals
  • White Stork (Ciconia ciconia): 134.000
  • Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus): 91.000
  • Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus): 37.000
  • Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus): 24.000

There were also good numbers of some endangered species, such as:

  • Black Stork (Ciconia nigra): 4.000 birds, and
  • Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus): 3.500
Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain, autumn 2018 (José Antonio Lapeña Sarrias).

Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain, autumn 2018 (José Antonio Lapeña Sarrias).

Non-soaring birds

Among non-soaring bird species, there were some tens of herons, Eurasian Spoonbills…etc. Also, more than 87.000 small birds (passerines and allies) belonging to 61 species have been recorded. The latter group includes 27.000 European Bee-eaters, 13.000 swifts (5 species) and 41.000 swallows and martins (5 species). Yes, you read that correct! Among the swift species, there were Little Swifts (Apus affinis) as well. Although this species is generally assumed non-migratory and presented in ‘bird guides’ as such, some birds do migrate.

Sparrow migration through the Strait of Gibraltar

Like the Little Swift, sparrows – especially House Sparrow – are also generally considered resident. However, in some years thousands of birds migrate through the Strait of Gibraltar to winter in northern Africa. Alejandro Onrubia from the Migres Fundation shared this with the photo below:

“During the last days of October, we have counted more than 16.000 House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) and a few thousands of Spanish Sparrows (Passer hispaniolensis) crossing the Strait in the direction of Africa. Likely, this is one of the most unknown migrations of our birds…”.

Thousands of sparrows – chiefly House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) and some Spanish Sparrows (P. hispaniolensis) cross the Strait of the Gibraltar to winter in northern Africa (Alejandro Onrubia / Migres Fundation).

Thousands of sparrows – chiefly House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) and some Spanish Sparrows (P. hispaniolensis) cross the Strait of the Gibraltar to winter in northern Africa (Alejandro Onrubia / Migres Fundation).

Migres Foundation thanks all the people involved in the counts, especially the volunteers.

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