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Autumn Sees 30 Million Birds Migrate Across the Straits of Gibraltar

Rosario Pérez | Photos: ©Fran Montes, ReachExtra

The Straits of Gibraltar: the link between Europe and Africa, where the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean meet. As happens around the same time every year, when the leaves begin to fall, temperatures drop, and the first rains break out, the Straits become the backdrop for one of the greatest natural spectacles in the region with the migration of millions of birds.

bird migration straits of Gibraltar 2020 Africa

Ornithologists have estimated that, twice a year, around 30 million birds move between Europe and Africa; once in spring (known as the ‘prenuptial migration’) as they travel from the African continent to their European breeding grounds, and in autumn (the ‘postnuptial migration’) as they return to the warmer climes in the south, for the winter.

Not many people know, but seabirds also migrate across the Strait of Gibraltar, with particularly large movements between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

“This particular land and seabird migrations only occur in the Strait of Gibraltar, which makes it a must visit location internationally for bird-lovers,” says‘Ornitour’, the Environmental Consultancy.

Coinciding with “World Bird Day” this October, Ornitour announced that an updated issue of “Guide to the Birds of the Strait, Los Alcornocales Natural Park and La Janda Region”, which was originally published in 2002, is going to be released. The guide is considered to be a benchmark for ornithological study, research and tourism, with 18,000 copies and a digital version which has now been downloaded 7,000 times from over 50 countries.

bird migration straits of Gibraltar 2020 Africa

The Manager of Orintur, David Barros, a biologist and co-author of the guide together with David Ríos, a technician in Environmental Management, has announced the release of this must-read updated guidebook on the birds of the Straits. It is expected to be released in mid-2021 and will continue to be an English and Spanish publication, which will include 440 species and subspecies – 60 more than the previous version.

“In the almost 20 years since its original release, many new species have been seen in this location, so all observation dates, migration charts and distribution maps will be updated with illustrations from prestigious cartoonist, Juan Varela”, Barros explained.

bird migration straits of Gibraltar 2020 Africa

The guide has been funded by the Torsa Renovables tech company and considerably expands on the previous chapters on ornithological tourism, with an “exhaustive” development in areas of interest and spaces where tourism conferences can be held, “all thanks to the use of QR codes, which will load detailed information online about the most interesting enclaves and routes.”

This updated version has also been supported by public and private entities such as the Tourism and Environmental Councils of the Junta de Andalucía, the Ceuta Ministry of Environment, the Gibraltar Department of Environment and the Cepsa Foundation.

Bringing Thousands of Tourists to the Straits

Every year, the bird migration through the Straits of Gibraltar attracts thousands of tourists interested in ornithology.

Routes, workshops, conferences and other activities are usually organised around this, but this year most had to be cancelled or modified due to the Covid19 restrictions and safety measured put in place. Among the activities carried out last year was the “Farewell of the Migratory Birds” event organised by Birding Tarifa, last September. The event featured book presentations, screenings, workshops for schoolchildren and excursions to prime observation points, like Tarifa and the well-known ‘Cazalla’ observatory.

You can catch the migration up until December

bird migration straits of Gibraltar 2020 Africa

Migratory birds have completed yet another year of their eternal ritual, which begins in the summer and continues into the late afternoons of autumn, up until December. According to Manuel Morales from Birding Tarifa, among these late migrations are young griffon vultures, which are born in Spain and other Southerly European countries like France or Portugal, and which are now travelling to Africa. According to his blog, they fly south to feed in the North African “Sahel”, and are accompanied by black vultures, which have become increasingly rare, and the occasional griffon vulture.

Those species which were travelling south of the Sahara have ended their journey, but autumn is a good time to observe the so-called “pre-Saharan migration” in the Straits, whereby the common thrushes and alirrojos are abundant. You can also see the white wagtails and common pipits.

bird migration straits of Gibraltar 2020 Africa

Morales continues: “as the autumn progresses, the presence of wintering birds become more and more noticeable, and birds such as the merlin, the harrier, the field owl, the European lapwing or the ubiquitous redstart appear. And it is at this time, when ‘one of the most spectacular birds in our region’s sky appears’: the cranes, which are arriving at the old lagoon of La Janda from faraway countries like Finland, Poland, Estonia and Sweden.

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