Serin Serinus serinus ©Panos Oikonomou Website
Birding Crete

Crete is the largest Greek island and lies a long way south in the eastern Mediterranean. Spring and Autumn migrants and winter visitors use the island and it has a good range of resident birds, such as Griffon Vulture, Bearded Vulture, Bonelli’s Eagle, Ruppell’s Warbler and Red-billed and Alpine Chough.

This mainly limestone island is about 250 Km long and is almost like a miniature continent with many mountain ranges, gorges, coastal fields, beaches, seasonal rivers and pools and even high mountain deserts. All these habitats mean that birding is very varied with residents like Griffon Vultures, Bearded Vulture, Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Buzzard, Kestrel, Cetti’s Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Rock Thrush, Fan-tailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola). Stonechat and Crested Lark and Italian Sparrow are fairly common.

In the uplands on the plateaux and gorges there are Cirl Bunting, Alpine & Red-billed Chough, Woodlark and Black–eared Wheatear. Winter visitors arrive from November to end of March and Kingfisher, Bluethroat, Starling, Robin and Black Redstart over winter. Spring passage begins in late March to May and Pied, Collared and Semi-collared Flycatchers, Wood Warbler, Northern Wheatear, Golden Oriole, Grey and Purple Heron, Night Heron, Little Egret, and Little Bittern, Little Crake and Bee-eaters pass through. Autumn passage begins in late August through September and October when Whitethroat, Red-backed Shrike, Garganey, Mallard pass through. Eleanora’s Falcon are nesting and Harriers and smaller Eagles follow the east coast south to Africa.

Getting There The main airport is at Heraklion on the north coast. Flights direct to Crete by charter aircraft from April to October and daily on scheduled flights via Athens. Crete offers a huge range of accommodation from self-catering apartments through small hotels to large hotel complexes, which are open all year. Transport systems are a good local and town-to-town bus service at a reasonable price and car and motorbike and bicycle hire are available. Most of the northern coast has tourist development and could be used as a base, but the central mountains, the south and the east coasts are more attractive.

As the island is largely dry due to the geology, then river mouth pools, small wetlands and spring pools from underground water are very important for birds. The largest reservoir is at Bramiana to the NE of Ierapetra, the largest town on the south coast. Here there are good roosts of gulls and ducks in winter, and passage waders, birds of prey like Eleanora’s and Red-footed Falcon and interesting birds like Black-winged Stilt, Glossy Ibis, Garganey and Green and Wood Sandpipers.

The rivers tend to run dry by the end of May but in April and May. They are fed by melt water from the snow in the high mountains.

The Aposelemis river and Gouves lagoons on the north coast off the old coast road east of Iraklion to Hersonissos are a real hot spot for migrants and breeding birds and regularly attract Little Crake, Garganey, Black-winged Stilt, Purple Heron, Greater Flamingo, Short-toed Lark, Stonechat, Woodchat Shrike, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Buzzard, Kestrel, Griffon Vulture, Little Egret, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear in the Gorge behind the site. The bird list is 150+. This cannot be truthfully described as one of Crete’s beautiful spots due to rubbish dumping, the Gouves football pitch and the general air of neglect, but the birds are blind to this and are feeding up frantically before moving on to breed further north. Rarities from Richard’s Pipit to Sociable Plover have turned up here.

The Tavronitis river mouth also attracts similar birds as well as Osprey and lies to the west of Chania and the western side of Maleme. There are other river mouths to check out along the north coast.

Agia Reservoir to the SW of Chania is another small gem. The reservoir is fed by the Great Springs of Ayia, which bring huge amounts of cold underground water to serve the town of Chania. The dam and pumping station are situated on two banks of this reservoir and the other banks are backed by reeds, Marsh Harrier, Reed Warbler, Moustached Warbler, Wood Warbler, Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House and Sand Martin, Swift, Alpine Swift, Little and Baillon’s Crake and Yellow Wagtails.If you explore into the mountain ranges and plateaux you will find a wealth of beautiful spots.

The south coast has a steep descent to the sea as Crete really is the top of a mountain range, but there are good beaches at Plakias and Frangocastello that are also good birding areas.

Other Taxa For botanists the island is a delight and there are wonderful displays of Mediterranean flowers and orchids. There are endemic butterflies such as Cretan Argus and Cretan Festoon, as well as a wide variety of others.

Target Birds: Bearded Vulture: 10-15 pairs sadly with poor breeding rates. Rûppells Warbler, breed in the locally common areas on the south side of the island. They favour slopes with Yellow Spiny Broom- Calicotome villosa. Griffon Vultures are common in small colonies in the gorges. Lanner Falcon may breed in the sea-level gorges and Bonelli’s Eagles also breed in the mountain gorges. Crete has a hundred gorges. Ortolan Bunting breed in the southern mountains on dry slopes and Cirl Buntings prefer the mountain plateaux.

Top Sites
  • Ayia reservoir - near Chania

    Satellite View
    This is a small, artificial lake but mostly very natural looking with reeds and trees along three of its banks. There is a less natural looking dam on the fourth side to watch from; the open edge here is well-known for close views of Baillon's and Little Crakes. Other birds could include Marsh Harrier, Moustached Warbler, Squacco Heron and Little Bittern.
  • Frangocastello

    Satellite View
    The coastal strip by this former garrison is a good place for migrants such as Wryneck and Black-eared Wheatear, though its appearance is marred by dumping.
  • Georgioupolis lake

    Satellite View
    There is a handy viewpoint over this freshwater lake by the bridge over the road. Like all of Crete's wetlands, it can attract herons, terns, waders and passerine migrants. It's a good site for Black-winged Stilt, Common Kingfisher and Great Reed Warbler.
  • Kedros foothills - near Spili

    Satellite View
    Best known for its orchids –some 25 species – this area can turn up Lammergeier, European Griffon Vulture, Woodlark and Common Quail.
  • Kourtaliótiko and Kotsiphos Gorges

    Satellite View
    Approaching Plakias by road from the north brings you through Kourtaliotiko gorge. It has a handy layby and stone steps down to a chapel in the gorge. Griffon Vulture and Crag Martin are fairly reliable. Kotsiphos gorge to the west is less dramatic; Blue Rockthrush, Raven and Chukar are possibles. With only six or seven pairs of lammergeiers on Crete you need luck or patience to see one anywhere, but over these gorges it is a possibility.
  • Lake Kournas

    Satellite View
    Crete's only natural freshwater lake is, frankly, disappointing for birds, but an excellent stop for coffee and yoghurt in the adjacent tavernas. Black-necked Grebe, ducks, warblers in the scrub and passing birds of prey are the best bet.
  • Moní Préveli

    Satellite View
    The trees by the monastery attract migrants, which can include flycatchers, Wood Warbler, Golden Oriole and Turtle Dove. Ruppell's Warbler is occasionally seen here, as elsewhere along the south coast of Crete generally in taller scrub than the ubiquitous Sardinian Warbler. Chukar or Ortolan Bunting may be seen by scanning more open hillsides from the car park.
  • Plakias

    Satellite View
    This quiet south coast resort is often used a base for wildlife holidays, including for Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays. Immediately east of the town is an open area of fields that often holds migrants, such as Whinchats and Woodchat Shrikes. Like anywhere on the south coast in spring, flocks of migrating herons, egrets and ibises can be seen over the sea or flying inland. Flocks of Garganeys settle in Plakias Bay and waders settle briefly on the shore or in the small river as it joins the sea in the centre of the town.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 367

    As at June 2018
Useful Reading

  • A Birdwatching Guide to Crete

    | By Stephanie Coghlan | Arlequin Press | 2001 | paperback | 92 pages, 17 col photos, line illus (by John Busby), 43 maps | ISBN: 9781900159104 Buy this book from
  • Birds and Mammals of Crete

    | By George Sfikas | Efstathiadis Group | 1989 | Paperback | 96 pages, Colour photos | ISBN: 9789602261057 Buy this book from
Useful Information
  • English spellings of Greek place names are reliably inconsistent on Crete

    Phaistos = Phaestos = FestosIraklion = HeraklionHania = ChaniaRethymnon = RethiminonAyia Triada = Agia TriadhaFrangocastello = FrankocastelloAyia reservoir = Agia reservoir
Museums & Universities
  • Natural History Museum of Iraklion -

    The Bearded Vulture is one of the rarest raptors in Europe. It inhabits exclusively mountainous areas (500-4,000m). It can be found usually above the tree line, in rugged areas with steep slopes and in alpine pastures. Its main food source is bones of dead animals (small - or middle - sized), for which it searches alone or in pairs. The Bearded Vulture defends huge areas (territories), in which the pair feeds
  • Greek Birds Committee

    The Hellenic Rarities Committee was established in December of 2004 by the Hellenic Ornithological Society and the Hellenic Bird Ringing Center, but since then it operates independently

Abbreviations Key

  • Important Bird Areas

    WebsiteSatellite View
    The information comes from the book Important Bird Areas of Greece, published in 1994. Since then, the Hellenic Ornithological Society
  • NP Lefka Ori (Samaria)

    WebpageSatellite View
    The National Reserve of Lefka Ori (Samaria) constitutes one of the oldest National Reserves in Greece and was declared a Park in 1962. Its core is the gorge of Samaria, although it also includes the Mount Desert of Lefka Ori and Sfakia shoreline. The main purpose of its protection was to keep the local environment intact, as it hosts many endemic species of fauna and flora. Since 1981m it has been listed in the Global Reserve Network of Biosphere.
  • Natural Parks of Crete

    InformationSatellite View
  • NuP Psiloritis Natural Park

    WebpageSatellite View
    Psiloritis Natural Park consists of the Ida Range, the highest mount of Crete, and the northern coastal zone of central Crete. Within the territory of the Geopark added in 2001 in the list of UNESCO geoparks, the whole nappe pile of Crete, and the majority of the rock types of the island are presented in excellent outcrops and sections. Big faults with excellent and imposing fault surfaces, fossil sites, caves, impressive gorges and plateaus hosting many endemic species of the island,
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Honeyguide

    Tour Operator
    Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays. If you are looking for a quality natural history holiday, this is a great place to start. The Honeyguide programme offers a mix of the very best of birds and other wildlife in fascinating parts of Europe, suitable both for beginners and more experienced naturalists. All holidays contribute to a local conservation project
Trip Reports
  • 2010 - Natural Born Birder - Birding Crete

    As of 2010 I have visited Crete four times, always on a family holiday rather than a birding trip. All my holidays have been in the northern part of the island, three have been in the summer holidays (June/July) and once in autumn (September/October). Invariably there has been a lot of birds (and other wildlife) to see although at times it can be difficult to get good views
  • 2011 [04 April] - Alison Parnell

    Crete is the largest Greek island and is relatively undeveloped. Consequently the road network, though extensive, is often not well surfaced. On the plus side, there is very little traffic…
  • 2011 [04 April] - Honeyguide

    …in the lakeside vegetation, one of our target species was quickly found – two little crakes. Later on we also found two Baillon’s crakes in the same patch of vegetation and our first squacco heron flew past on white wings and then doing its ‘disappearing trick’ when landing…
  • 2012 [04 April] - Bob Shiret - Rethymnon

    …On one walk I marched through a valley full of the plant pictured (Jerusalem Sage) below with Stonechat atop and finished up in a very bad way. Dust disturbed from the plant got into my lungs and for half an hour I was quite ill so beware!…
  • 2012 [04 April] - Chris Gibson

    … so we sat and stared at the stunning view, sipped coffee, and watched as griffons drifted overhead, and a blue rock thrush serenaded us from a roadside pylon….
  • 2012 [05 May] - Leo Tukker

    Report PDF
    …In the mountains and on the Omalos Plateau we saw: Black-eared Wheatear, Chaffinch, Common Sandpiper, Eurasian Jay, European Bee-eater, European Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Griffon Vulture, Linnet, Long-legged Buzzard, Rock Dove, Turtle Dove and Whinchat…
  • 2013 [04 April] - Chris Durdin

    Report PDF
    …No fewer than five and probably seven or eight little crakes were seen. Little bittern, black-winged stilts, little ringed plovers and night herons all appeared. Sedge, reed and great reed warblers sang around the margins…
  • 2014 [04 April] - Tim Strudwick

    PDF Report
    ...Reaching an uncultivated rocky ‘bump’, more orchids were found – four-spotted, Borys, yellow bee, marengo, few-flowered and bishop’s ophrys...
  • 2015 [04 April] - Chris Durdin

    Report PDF
    ...On the lagoon, we had to ignore the pair of garganeys for a moment as six squacco herons flew past and dispersed into the wetland.
  • 2015 [06 June] - Tony Benton

    Brief annotated list
  • 2016 [04 April] - Chris Durdin

    PDF Report
    There was a tight group of four feeding curlew sandpipers and it was almost certainly one of these that was snatched by a peregrine that appeared out of nowhere.
  • 2017 [04 April] – David Collins

    PDF Report
    There seemed to be spotted and pied flycatchers everywhere. Chris had a fleeting view of a flycatcher with a partial white collar and much white on the wing. Happily this confiding male ‘pied’ type came back into view and we also noted a pale rump and bolder than usual white spot over the beak. Could it be the rare semi-collared flycatcher?
Places to Stay
  • Simply Crete

    Griffon Vulture, Bearded Vulture, Golden Eagle, Buzzard, Blue Rock Thrush, Chough, Perigrine and Eleonoras falcon, Booted and Bonellis Eagle. 4 days with experienced local guide for small groups based around 7 day half board accommodation in high quality rooms. Larger groups by arrangement, on request
Other Links
  • Crete Birding

    Birding and wildlife of Crete, Greece. All the pictures in the galleries have been taken by Colin Turvey and Sue Turvey. We are both amateur photographers and would like to share some of the birds, flowers and general wildlife we have encountered and discovered here on the Greek island of Crete
  • Into Crete

    Crete has a fantastic variety of birds, not only its resident bird species which are numerous and include rare and endangered birds but also the migrants who stop over on Crete during their migrations to and from Africa and Europe. The diversity of habitats and the richness of the environment on Crete for bird-life, results in an impressive species list and many unexpected surprises, especially during Spring and Autumn migrations

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