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Birding on Madeira, March 2004

      Madeiran Chaffinch. Photo, 13K Jpeg

The endemic Madeiran race of Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs madeirensis.
Larger photo


Madeira is located in the Atlantic Ocean off the Moroccan coast. The main purpose of the trip was enjoying the magnificent nature of Madeira by driving and hiking. Birding was only of second priority.

As one would expect from an isolated island, the number of land-bird species is small, and some of the birds found are endemic or near-endemic. Many of the non-endemic species are represented by endemic races, but of those only the Madeiran Chaffinch (more bluish) is clearly different from the nominate form.

Among birders, Madeira is probably best known for sea-birds. However, March isn't the right time of the year to watch sea-birds, still I saw many Cory's Shearwaters from the north coast.

Madeira is famous for the "levadas" - irrigation canals found virtually everywhere. Exploring the beautiful nature of the island - and the birds - is easy and convenient by walking along the levadas.

The nature of Madeira can be divided into three zones:


15/3: Arrival, Funchal
As soon as we opened the balcony door at the hotel, we had Canary (our first near-endemic species), Blackbird, Kestrel, and Domestic Pigeons. Except for hundreds of Western Yellow-legged Gulls in the harbour we saw only few birds while walking around the centre of Funchal. When we returned to the hotel, a Kestrel was flying with a Lizard.
16/3: Funchal, Ribeiro Frio, Balcões, Funchal
In the morning we saw 2 Plain Swifts around the hotel (our second near-endemic species). A Blackcap was heard singing. We drove to Ribeiro Frio in the mountains north of Funchal and walked to Balcões. Many Firecrests (our first endemic species) and Chaffinches, 2 Grey Wagtails at Ribeiro Frio. The Ribeiro Frio - Balcões area should be a hotspot for the endemic Long-toed Pigeon but we didn't see it.
17/3: Funchal, Eira do Serrado, Cabo Girão, Prazeres
We had the usual Canaries, Blackbirds, Kestrel, and Domestic Pigeons around the hotel in the morning. A trip to Eira do Serrado gave very few birds. Cabo Girão - the second highest sea cliff in the world - was more rewarding: Buzzard, Kestrel, Plain Swift, and a surprise: Red-rumped Swallow! In Prazeres: 2 Kestrels and 2 Plain Swifts.
18/3: Prazeres, Ponta do Pargo, Rabaçal, Risco, 25 Fontes, Prazeres
Walking along the levadas from Rabaçal to the Risco waterfall and from Rabaçal to the 25 Fontes take you through very beautiful scenery and is highly recommended. It should also be possible to see the endemic pigeon in this area but we didn't. All the "usual" birds for the forest zone.
19/3: Prazeres, Paúl da Serra, Encumeada, Ponta do Sol, Prazeres
On the Paúl da Serra plateau I saw a Berthelot's Pipit (the third near-endemic species), 4 Blackbirds, and a Linnet. A Chaffinch was heard. The road from Paúl da Serra to Encumeada is spectacular. Ponta do Sol: 15 Moorhens in a pond between the main road and the coast. Back in Prazeres: 4 Kestrels.
20/3: Prazeres, Paúl da Serra, Encumeada, São Vicente, Ponta Delgada
In the morning at Prazeres we saw 5-10 Plain Swifts together with at least 2 House Martins. By comparing with the House Martins it was easy to see that the Plain Swift is smaller than the Common Swift. A little later a Barn Swallow was seen. I don't know how common Western Yellow-legged Gulls are at 1400 m elevation, but we saw 1 at Paúl da Serra.
We've had nice and sunny wheather on the southern coast of Madeira, but on the northern coast the wheather was different. It was cloudy and the temperature was lower. In the evening I saw many Cory's Shearwaters flying eastwards along the coast at Ponta Delgada.
21/3: Ponta Delgada, Santana, Achado do Teixeira, Pico Ruivo, Ponta Delgada
At Santana: 2 Grey Wagtails. We decided to escape the clouds so we drove to Achado do Teixeira and walked to Pico Ruivo - the highest peak on Madeira. A Berthelot's Pipit was heard and seen at Achado do Teixeira and another one at the Pico Ruivo lodge. On our way back we finally saw the endemic Long-toed Pigeon: 2 birds in a short glimpse, but it was adequate to exclude all other regular Madeiran species. 2 Buzzards were seen too.
Back in Ponta Delgada the Cory's Shearwaters were again flying along the coast. Most flying eastwards, a few flying westwards. I also saw some smaller, darker sea-birds, but they were too far from the coast to be identified.
22/3: Departure

Systematic list

English name, Scientific name, Danish name ...

  1. Cory's Shearwater, Calonectris borealis, Atlantisk (Kuhls) Skråpe
    20/3 and 21/3: abundant close to the coast at Ponta Delgada. Most flying eastwards, a few flying westwards
  2. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor, Knopsvane
    15/3: 3 Jardim Municipal Funchal. Probably domesticated birds
  3. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos, Gråand
    18/3: 1 female in a pond close to road ER110 north of road ER210
  4. Buzzard, Buteo buteo, Musvåge
    Seen everywhere
  5. Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus, Tårnfalk
    Common in the lowlands
  6. Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus, Grønbenet Rørhøne
    19/3: 15 Ponta do Sol in a pond between the main road and the coast
  7. Yellow-legged Gull, Larus michahellis, Middelhavssølvmåge
    Common along the coast, abundant in Funchal harbour, 20/3: 1 Paúl da Serra (!)
  8. Domestic Pigeon (Rock Dove), Columba livia, Tamdue (Klippedue)
    Abundant in the lowlands
  9. Long-toed (Trocaz) Pigeon, Columba trocaz, Madeiradue - endemic to Madeira
    21/3: 2 Achado do Teixeira - Pico Ruivo. The birds flew up just a few meters from the trail and disappeared down the hillside
  10. Plain Swift, Apus unicolor, Ensfarvet Sejler - endemic to Madeira and the Canary Islands
    16/3: 2 Funchal, 17/3: 1 Cabo Girão and 2 Prazeres, 20/3: 5-10 Prazeres
  11. (Barn) Swallow, Hirundo rustica, Landsvale
    20/3: 1 Prazeres
  12. Red-rumped Swallow, Hirundo daurica, Rødrygget Svale
    17/3: 1 Cabo Girão flying westwards
  13. House Martin, Delichon urbicum, Bysvale
    20/3: at least 2 Prazeres together with Plain Swifts
  14. Berthelot's Pipit, Anthus berthelotii, Kanarisk Piber - endemic to Madeira, the Selvagens, and the Canary Islands
    19/3: 1 Paúl da Serra, 21/3: 1 Achado do Teixeira and 1 Pico Ruivo
  15. Grey Wagtail, Motacilla cinerea, Bjergvipstjert
    16/3: 2 Ribeiro Frio, 18/3: 1 Rabaçal - 25 Fontes, 19/3: 1 Encumeada, 21/3: 2 Santana
  16. Robin, Erithacus rubecula, Rødhals
    Commonly heard in the lowlands and in the forest zone, seen only once: 18/3: Rabaçal - 25 Fontes bathing in the levada
  17. Blackbird, Turdus merula, Solsort
    Common in the lowlands and in the forest zone, 19/3: 4 Paúl da Serra
  18. Blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla, Munk
    Often heard in the lowlands, 16/3: 1 male Ribeiro Frio, 20/3: 1 male São Vicente
  19. Madeira Firecrest, Regulus madeirensis, Madeirafuglekonge - endemic to Madeira
    Common in the forest zone
  20. Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs, Bogfinke
    Common in the forest zone, abundant and tame at Balcões and Rabaçal, 19/3: heard Paúl da Serra
  21. Canary, Serinus canaria, Kanariefugl - endemic to Madeira, the Azores, and the Canary Islands
    Abundant in the lowlands
  22. Linnet, Carduelis cannabina, Tornirisk
    19/3: 1 Paúl da Serra


Text and photo: Stig Linander, created: 2004-03-28, last revised: 2018-09-28