Madeira, as an island with temperate climate and dense vegetation is an ideal habitat for birds. Moreover, when it was discovered, in 1419, the only animals found here were birds and the endemic wall lizard Lacerta dugesii. As an island habitat, species which live here have adapted themselves to the geographical conditions; over time this causes endemism; 21% of Madeira bird species and sub-species can only be seen in the Madeira Archipelago whilst 33% are species and sub-species endemic to the Macaronesia region (this is the geographical region which comprises the archipelagos of Madeira, Azores, Canary islands and Cape Verde and also part of Northwest of Africa).
So, for those of you who thought that Madeira was only a trekking and beach holiday destination, be aware that there is birdlife here that makes the island worth a visit. Zino’s Petrels Pterodroma Madeira Trocaz Pigeon Columba trocaz and Madeira Firecrest Regullus madeirensis are the exclusively Madeiran species but there are also some interesting sub-species such as the Madeira Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs madeirensis, a race of Berthelot’s Pipit Anthus bertheloti madeirensis, and Madeira Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia madeirensis among others. As part of Macaronesia, Madeira has Fea’s Petrel Pterodrom fea, Plain Swift Apus unicolor and Canary Serinus canaria canaria as well as 13 sub-species including Little Shearwater Puffinus assimilis baroli, White-face Storm Petrel Pelagodroma marina hypoleuca, Kestrel Falco tinnunculus canariensis, Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus granti and Yellow-legged Gulls Larus cachinans atlantis to name but a few.
In general the Madeira Archipelago has 43 breeding species but beyond that it has some regular visitants like Little and Cattle Egrets, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Turnstone and sometimes very interesting accidental vagrants like Laughing Gulls, Spoonbills etc.
If you want some birdwatching hot spots in Madeira then there is nothing like going to its IBAs (Important Bird Areas). In Madeira Island there are 4 IBAs all being situated in areas where human occupation is reduced or in difficult to access sites. Three of these are integrated into Madeira’s Natural Park, so are protected areas. This is the case for the Laurel Forest, the Central Mountainous Massif and Ponta de São Lourenço. The other IBA is in Ponta do Pargo – see these hotspots described below.
Central Mountainous Massif
This is a Mountainous area with deep escarpments and valleys, situated on the easter/central region of Madeira. Here, where the highest of Madeira’s peaks are, is one of the most visited areas during summer that is why it is not permitted to go there [without a special permit from the Natural Park] between sunset and sunrise, to protect Zino’s Petrel. Beyond the high-altitude vegetation one can find transitional areas of forest and some spots of Laurel forest in lower altitudes. Bird species include: Zino’s Petrel Pterodroma madeira, Trocaz Pigeon, Madeira Firecrest, Manx Shearwater, Sparrowhawk, Berthelot’s Pipit, Plain Swift, and Madeira Rock Sparrow.
Laurel Forest is a vast forest area, with its origin in the Tertiary, which comprises about 25% of Madeira Island. It is situated in the north mountainsides with the majority of its vegetation made up of indigenous flora species, especially from the Laurus family. Deep water streams, steep valleys and abrupt cliffs distributed all around the area and associated with the dense vegetation, makes most places inaccessible. Bird species that may be observed here are: Trocaz Pigeon, Madeira Firecrest, Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus puffinus, Sparrowhawk, Woodcock Scolopax rusticola, Cory Shearwater Calonectris diomedea borealis, Plain Swift, Canary, Madeira Chaffinch, Robin Erithacus rubecula microrynchus, etc.
Ponta de São Lourenço
This is a rocky peninsula with a set of cliffs and small islets which form the most eastern point of the Island. All the area is mainly covered by shrubs and herbaceous vegetation.
Ponta do Pargo
It is the extreme west of Madeira Island which congregates a series of habitats different, being its diversity what confers it the importance in terms of avifauna. The coast is rocky with steep cliffs and terraces created by landfalls. In the higher areas there are small agricultural plots and areas where herbaceous vegetation exists. There are also some Pine trees, Eucalyptus and pastures. Although it is not on Madeira Island it belongs to the Archipelago, one should not miss the opportunity to make a sea trip to the Desertas Islands, which are another IBA. These are three islands of volcanic origin that are very barren and inhospitable, with great escarpments. During this trip it is possible to observe: Madeira Storm Petrel Oceanodroma castro, Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, Little Shearwater Puffinus assimilis baroli, Fea’s Petrel, Common Tern Sterna hirundo, Cory Shearwater etc.
Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
Birds of the Atlantic Islands
by Tony Clarke Illustrated by Chris Orgill & Tony Disley Helm Field Guides 2006 ?29.99 See Fatbirder Review
ISBN: 0713660236Buy this book from NHBS.com
Books, CDs etc
See the Fatbirder Portugal page for fieldguies etc. to Portugal or the Iberian penninsular as a whole…
Where to Watch Birds in the Madeira Archipelago
Claudia Delgado Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves 2006
ISBN: 164962Buy this book from NHBS.com
Guides & Tour Operators
Birds & Company
Birds & Company is a company that offers you the best guided wildlife holidays in Madeira's Archipelago. Our tours are intended for small groups that want to get to know about the wildlife and learn more about the island's natural history. With our tours you will have the opportunity to observe most birds of Madeira, walk in Madeira's Laurel Forest and see native flowers and butterflies. The highlight of our tours is a visit to the breeding ground of Europe’s most endangered seabird - the Zino's Petrel Pterodroma madeira, where you may hear its calls…
Madeira Birdwatching Experience
On Madeira Birdwatching Experience packages, you may choose the program that better suits your needs or motivations. As for hotels, you may choose a rotating week, where you will divide your stay between the three hotels or if you prefer you can choose just one of the partner hotels. The programmes, which go from 3 to 5 days with the option for an extra day on summer, ally the best walks and the most beautiful landscapes of the island with the observation of birds, flora and geology…
Madeira Wind Birds
Despite Madeira not having a great variety of breeding species and lying off the main migration route for passerines, this group of islands offers excellent conditions to birdwatchers, not only in terms of breeding birds but also vagrants… They also run regular pelagics…
Madeira is a truly spectacular island with some very special seabirds. This tour involves three pelagic trips searching for the specialities such as Fea’s, Zino’s and Bulwer’s Petrel….
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
2007 [02 February] - Nick Crouch
…In the afternoon we took the teleferico up to Monte Tropical Gardens, which produced the first Madeira Firecrests of the trip, along with several Chaffinches, a Robin, and lots of Blackbirds. A Grey Heron was flapping about in the trees next to the lake, and to the west of the garden, 10 Plain Swifts were feeding over the eucalyptus woodland…
2007 [05 May] - Ashley Beolens
…Another morning searching the gardens, this time in the sunshine, gave us exquisite views of the stunning Madeira Firecrest, and allowed me the opportunity to get some fantastic photos of this energetic sprite. We also had our first meeting with the island’s only lizard Lacerta Dugesii the Madeira Wall Lizard, whose colour ranges from a striped brown in the youngsters to a deep green/blue in full adults, and contrary to its name was first seen by us on a tree! We also had a brief view of the Three-toed or Trocaz Pigeon - well the underside of one sat in the top of a tree! The other new trip bird was a distant circling Sparrowhawk. As well as some Clouded Yellow butterflies…
2008 [02 February] - Honeyguide
Madeira’s scenic contrast between sea and mountains, tropical gardens and equable year-round temperatures – around 17ºC in winter – make it a tempting holiday destination, especially in the British winter. For naturalists, the isolation of this Portuguese archipelago, some 500 kilometres west of the African coast, brings special wildlife including many species found only here…
2008 [03 March] - Honeyguide
This holiday, as for every Honeyguide holiday, also put something into conservation in our host country by way of a contribution to the wildlife that we enjoyed. The conservation contribution this year of £30 per person towards the Freira Conservation Project (FCP) was supplemented by gift aid through the Honeyguide Wildlife Charitable Trust, leading to our first donation to FCP of a total of £500, from this holiday and Honeyguide’s February 2008 holiday in Madeira combined.
2009 [02 February] - Honeyguide
2009 [08 August] - Vincent van der Spek
2010 [02 February] - Catarina Fagundes
…The endemic Zino's Petrel, Pterodroma madeira, also known as Madeira freira or just freira, is no exception and by the middle of the last century was considered extinct, but a relict population was rediscovered in 1969 by Alec Zino with the help of a shepherd called Lucas who was able to distinguish its call. After much investigation the breeding colonies were found….
2010 [07 July] - Chris Lansdell
…After a swift check-in at our hotel in Porto Moniz we then wandered the hundred yards or so to the seafront promenade for an evening seawatch. Despite being the best seawatching spot on the island and optimum calm conditions it was rather disappointing with 300+ Cory’s Shearwaters and 2 Manx Shearwaters being the only seabirds of note. Around the helipad area we did have 4 Atlantic Canaries for company (a pair and 2 juveniles)…
2011 [11 November] - Honeyguide
…we walked along the riverside to observe vagrant birds which was very successful, including white wagtails, common sandpipers and a kingfisher. The highlight was a white-rumped sandpiper, Madeira’s fourth, which fed in the river alongside a greenshank…
2012 [08 August] - E.J. Alblas
…I only saw Berthelot's Pipits, Kestrels and Red-legged Partridges and waited till around 10 pm when it was all dark and searched the area by slowly driving around, checking all poles and wires, listening carefully and sometimes playing the sound of Barn Owl…
2012 [11 November] – Catarina Fagundes
"We headed to Caniçal… here we had an amazing sighting of a black butterfly with three white spots in each wing. There were at least three specimens of this butterfly: male diadems Hypolimnas missipus – a scarce vagrant to Madeira. …good views of trocaz pigeon, Madeira firecrest and many blackcaps in addition to red admiral, blue emperor dragonfly, island darter, lizards and various other species."
2015 [08 August] - Andreas Ranner
... But the spectacle was still to come: When the night broke on Deserta Grande, the air was literally filled with the calls of Cory’s Shearwater, Bulwer’s Petrels and (later on) Band-rumped Storm Petrels, all returning to their colony next to our camp. Sometimes we even collided with the birds!
Parque Natural da Madeira
Nos nossos dias as ilhas constituem, regra geral, verdadeiros santuários para a manutenção da biodiversidade mundial. O isolamento a que estiveram devotadas desde sempre, favoreceu a evolução de plantas e animais únicos. Únicos nas suas características e na sua fragilidade! É exactamente com o objectivo de proteger o extraordinário Património Natural das ilhas do Arquipélago da Madeira que se criou o Serviço do Parque Natural da Madeira. Este serviço hoje em dia tem a jurisdição de…
Aves at Ilha da Madeira
The numbers of European birdwatchers that visit the Madeira archipelago have increased dramaticly in recent years. The reasons for this are many and varied. The main reason to visit Madeira has always been the endemic bird species and races. The second reason, and probably the most important one, is the excellent opportunity to seawatch from the mainland or boat crossings between the nearby islands. The hot spot Porto Moniz, which is the number one site for seawatching, is certainly the good reason for many birders to visit Madeira. However, Madeira offers easy birding and is a perfect destination for a combined holiday. Every birding site or boat trip has something for everyone!
Madeira has the reputation of having the best pelalgic birding in the Western Palearctic. The island boasts a couple of endemic species and plenty of endemic subspecies. Although I visited the island on a family holiday I did do the three day pelalgic trip run by Madeira Wind Birds - a trip for hard-core birders if there ever was one. The remainder of the time I did virtually no birding at all…
Both the gallery and the website will continue to grow and new photographs are always welcome. The criteria for any photo we publish on this site is that it has to be photographed in the Madeiran archipelago (Madeira, Porto Santo and Desertas). If you have any suitable photographs that would warrant publication then please don't hesitate to contact me for further details or e-mail me at Birding Madeira.