Libya is a country located in North Africa. Bordering the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. With an area of almost 1.8 million square kilometres (700,000 sq mi), 90% of which is desert, Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa by area, and the 17th largest in the world. The capital, Tripoli, is home to 1.7 million of Libya's 5.7 million people. The three traditional parts of the country are Tripolitania, the Fezzan and Cyrenaica.
The climate is mostly dry and desert like in nature. However, the northern regions enjoy a milder Mediterranean climate.
Libya can be conveniently divided into five zones for the purpose of characterising its birds and their habitats:
Western coastal zone (part of Tripolitania)
This is centred around Tripoli. It is Mediterranean in climate with hot dry summers and warm wet winters. It is home to many breeding birds but is particularly interesting as a winter destination for many and varied European migrants. Rainfall is between 100 mm and 400 mm. Tripoli itself receives 271 mm.
There is a wide variety of habitat. The most common is a mixture of garrigue and planted exotic species such as eucalyptus which unfortunately impoverish the landscape. This grades to semi desert as you go inland. But there are greener areas with wadis, cultivated land and grasslands. These are particularly found between Tripoli and Misratah. And in the far west near Tunisia and also south east of Misratah there are coastal salt marshes and lagoons. The salt marshes south east of Misratah can be very large.
The low rise, low density nature of Tripoli gives it a feel of a collection of country towns. The birds think so too. Normally rural birds such as Kestrals, Barn Owls, Hoopoes and Spanish Sparrows are quite common sights alongside Pigeons and Laughing Doves.
While this coastal zone and that around Benghazi are climatically the most similar to southern European countries, the make up of breeding birds is significantly different from them. There are more types of Wheatears and Larks. However, there is only one breeding bunting (House Bunting), less breeding finch species (only Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Trumpeter Finch and Serin) and fewer non Sylvia Warblers. Most obviously there is only one member of the crow family present- the Common Raven. On the other hand, there are some exotic breeders including Scrub Warbler scotocerca inquieta and Pallid Swifts. Little Owls, Barn Owls and Eagle Owls are also relatively common. There is no shortage of rodent food.
The western Libyan coast is the last tract of land with food and shelter north of the Sahara for many birds. Some stop over for a day or two before or after flying over the Sahara. Many stay the winter. Hugh numbers of birds such as European Bee-eaters and Honey Buzzards can be seen migrating. In the winter huge flocks of Common Starlings and Skylarks roam the coast. Chiffchaffs, Stonechats and White Wagtails are three of the most commonly seen winterers.
The wetlands are wintering places for Flamingo and in some places Glossy Ibis and occasionally Common Cranes. Tens or even hundreds of Curlew visit Farwa near the border with Tunisia.
Jebel Nafusa (the other part of Tripolitania)
The hill range south of Tripoli is called Jebel Nefusa. The north facing side and eastern plateau has rainfall which may also reach 400 mm. The southern facing side and western plateau are drier with their own distinct character.
The north east side is centred on Ghayan (380 mm rain per annum). There are three man made dams and reservoirs in this area which add to the habitat variety. These are especially interesting for waders and water birds such as Herons, Egrets and in winter some ducks especially Shovelers. Winter waders include Black Winged Stilts. Away from the dams, Barbary Partridge, Fulvous Babblers, Black Wheatears and Red Rumped Wheatears, Crested and Thekla Larks as well as Trumpeter Finches all breed. House Buntings are very common in all the towns and villages.
In the drier south and east, Crested and Thekla larks are less common but the lark density is probably just as high because Hoopoe larks, Desert Larks and Bar Tailed Larks breed. White Crowded Wheatears are relatively more common and Mourning Wheatears can be seen in winter. Groups of Brown Necked Ravens are easily seen.
As in much of Libya many migratory flocks go unnoticed. However Harriers in particular are seen.
Eastern Libyan coast and islands (part of Cyrenaica)
The coast from Ajdabiya (annual rainfall is 140 mm) through Benghazi east to the Egyptian border like that of Tripoli has a Mediterranean climate. It has a similar mix of habitats but its bird population is sufficiently different from the western coast for it to be considered separately. The island of Geziret Garah in the Gulf of Surt which is very important for birds is included here.
This coast is slightly greener than around Tripoli. The breeding birds reflect the subtle change. For example most Larks are the same but there are no Desert Larks but there are Calandra Larks. There is also one breeding colony of White Storks.
Geiret Garah is internationally significant because 90% of the Mediterranean’s Little Crested Terns breed there.
Jebel Akhdar (the other part of Cyrenaica)
This is the name of the highland area north and east of Benghazi. Here the maximum rainfall is over 600 mm. Much of this is a protected area. It has some natural woodland as well as Maquis and agricultural land. Like the area around Tripoli it is home to many breeding birds and is interesting as a winter destination for a different mix of European migrants. Common residents include Chaffinchs, Linnets and Serins. There are Blue Tits which are found no where else in Libya. Other breeders include Lesser Kestrals and Golden Eagles.
The Sahara (also called Fezzan)
This makes up most of the rest of the country which is more than 90% of the land mass. The Libyan Desert is one of the most arid places on earth. In places, decades may pass without rain, and even in the highlands rainfall happens erratically, once every 5–10 years. “The beach at Surt stretches all the way to Chad”.
Natural hazards come in the form of hot, dry, dust-laden sirocco (known in Libya as the gibli). This is a southern wind blowing from one to four days in spring and autumn this creates dust storms and sandstorms. It not only effects desert areas but reaches the coastal areas too.
There are massive aquifers underneath much of the country. The water in this aquifer pre-dates the last ice ages and the Sahara desert itself.
There are a few places where this water table reaches the surface and produces oases or even lakes. Around the oases settlements invariably exist. The biggest are at Sebha (central Libya), Ghat (south west Libya) and Kufra (eastern Libya).
The three largest lake concentrations are at Waw Al Namus, the Germa lakes and the Zallaf. Many migrants use these lakes as stop overs and there are a surprising large number of breeding water birds as well as resident desert species. There are also a few large man-made highly irrigated green projects in the middle of the desert.
There are several types of birds which tolerate the Sahara provide they have some access to water. The ‘truest’ desert birds are White-crowned Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Desert Lark, Bar-tailed lark, Hoopoe Lark, Spotted Sandgrouse, Crowned Sandgrouse, Trumpeter Finch and Brown-necked Ravens.
Many millions of migrants fly over the desert. The ones most commonly seen at the lakes and oases are Barn Swallows and Yellow Wagtails as they are active in the day.
One very interesting phenomenon is the green crop circles produced by massive irrigation as part of the Government’s ‘greening the desert’ programme. Many of the circles are fodder like clover as well as hay. There are also palm plantations and citrus and olive groves. The two biggest concentrations of these circles are south of Kufra (eastern Libya) and south of the Germa Lakes (south western Libya). Recent research has shown the green oases attract very large numbers of wintering Storks, Egrets, Herons and Raptors which might have previously been expected to winter south of the Sahara.
Graham Bundy [Country recorder for African Bird Club]
5 Voesgarth Crescent, Baltasound, Unst, Shetland, ZE2 9DT, United Kingdom
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 313
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2008 [01 January] - Mark Easterbrook
…A visit to the Arch of Marcus Aurelius in Tripoli started the day followed by visits to the museum and the souk. Southern Grey Shrike was a surprisingly common bird in the centre of Tripoli and later a walk along the harbour road produced a Common Sandpiper, Kingfisher, several Baltic Gulls, 2 Audouin's Gulls and a Pallid Swift drifted over the city.
African Bird Club
With direct flights from many European capitals and an improving political situation, Libya may offer opportunities for the enterprising birder. The most recent review of the birds of Libya is that of Bundy (1976) - see reference (i). He listed 317 species of which 92 were known to breed…
No species of restricted range are known but there are a number of species which are restricted to two particular biomes. The Mediterranean North Africa biome extends in a narrow strip along the Libyan coast and holds 12 of 17 species restricted to this biome. The Sahara-Sindian biome covers the rest of the country and holds 14 of the 22 species of this biome. Important breeding colonies of terns are found along the coast and a number of oases in the southern desert are important for migrants…
North Africa Birds
Birding for a Lark
An amateur bird watcher spending his weekends out in the field in Libya finds the books are often more wrong than you would imagine. An English teacher who travels with his berber guide, driver and friend, Ibrahim across Libya birding…