Autonomous Region of the Azores

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea ©Giuliano Gerra & Silvio Sommazzi Website
Birding the Azores

The Azores are a group of nine islands that form a semi-autonomous part of Portugal. They are situated in the northern Atlantic west of Portugal, roughly one third of the distance to North America. The islands are in three groups – Flores and Corvo in the west, a central group consisting of Faial, Sao Jorge, Graciosa, Terceira and Pico, and Sao Miguel and Santa Maria in the east. The most developed islands are Sao Miguel and Terceira, and to a lesser extent Faial.

Transport between the islands is straightforward except in the winter months when schedules are frequently disrupted by the weather. All the islands have airfields, with flights to Lisbon and a few other international sites departing from Terceira and Sao Miguel. Inter-island flights are operated by TAP and SATA. Ferries operate within the central group year-round and more extensively in the summer season. There are direct flights to The Azores from Scandinavia but mostly flights involve changing in Lisbon, sometimes involving an overnight stay. During the main tourist season at least it is possible to fly between The Azores and Madeira.

The islands attract birders for four main reasons. Firstly, being so much nearer America than continental Europe, and Britain of course, the islands have an excellent record for attracting trans-Atlantic vagrants, especially water birds. One site, a disused coastal quarry at Cabo da Praia on Terceira, has an unrivalled reputation as the best western Palaearctic site for American waders, and birds have been found at many other sites. American birds tend to be found throughout the autumn and often stay for the winter. Secondly, the islands host healthy numbers of breeding seabirds such as Cory’s Shearwater and Roseate Tern, and the colonies have recently been found to harbour individuals of highly sought after species such as Sooty Tern, Red-billed Tropicbird and even Bermuda Petrel. Thirdly, large numbers of migrating sea-birds can be seen, especially in late August and September. And fourthly, there is one Azorean endemic, the Azores Bullfinch, which is found in one area of forest at the eastern end of Sao Miguel; there are also endemic subspecies of several species such as Goldcrest, Grey Wagtail and Chaffinch, amongst others.

Being at the junction of three continental plates the islands are subjected to volcanic activity and earthquakes. The resulting landscape is often spectacular, and the site of the fairly recent eruption at Capelhinos, the western tip of Faial, is particularly memorable, as is the area of caldeiras and crater lakes in central Flores.

Prices on the islands are comparable with mainland Portugal. Roads are generally good, and there is a wide variety of accommodation available. The main tourist season finishes in September, when the weather becomes less settled.

Contributors
  • Steve Lister

    | stevelister@surfbirder.com

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 380

    (But most are rarities and vagrants - there are just 64 common or regularly occurring species)
Checklist

  • iGoTerra Checklist

    iGoTerra Checklist
    Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
Useful Reading

  • A Birdwatchers' Guide to Portugal, the Azores & Madeira Archipelagos

    By Colm Moore, Gonçalo Elias & Helder Costa | Prion | 2014 | Paperback | 212 pages, b/w illustrations, b/w maps | ISBN: 9781871104134 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Birds of the Atlantic Islands

    by Tony Clarke, Chris Orgill & Tony Disley | Christopher Helm | 2006 | Paperback | 368 pages, 56 colour plates, b/w photos, b/w maps | ISBN: 0713660236 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia

    (Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Cape Verde) | By Eduardo Garcia-del-Rey | Lynx Edicions | 2011 | Hardback | 341 pages, 150 col plates, 230 dist maps | ISBN: 9788496553712 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Fieldguides

    See the Fatbirder Portugal page for fieldguides etc. to Portugal or the Iberian peninsular as a whole. ISBN: Buy this book from NHBS.com
Organisations
  • African Bird Club

    Webpage
    The archipelago of nine islands in the north Atlantic is well-known for its seabird colonies and holds large populations of Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea, Little Shearwater Puffinis assimilis, Madeiran Storm-petrel Oceanodroma castro and Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii.
  • Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA) - BirdLife Partner

    Webpage
    The Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA) is a nonprofit scientific association that promotes the study and conservation of birds in Portugal. It was founded on November 25 of 1993 and corresponds to a desire expressed by a large number of professionals and amateurs that developed activities in the field of ornithology and conservation of Nature. Currently SPEA has about 3500 members and develops projects of nature conservation in national territory and also some in partnership abroad (Cape Verde, Sao Tome, Greece, Spain and Malta).
Guides & Tour Operators


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  • Gerbybirding

    Tour Operator
    Gerbybirding is the first company is the Azores specialized in birdwatching. We are a small company, offering a personalized service to small groups, and we are as comfortable working with a curious observer as well as accompanying experienced ornithologists. Your personal “birdguide” will be Gerbrand Michielsen, better known as Gerby, which will take you to the best spots in São Miguel island, by car, on foot or by kayak – an unforgettable experience!
Trip Reports


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  • 2015 [06 June] - Peter Alfrey & Chris Townend

    PDF Report
    ... We then took an early afternoonflight to Graciosa and checked into our hotel before a brief trip out to sea where wesaw our first Cory’s Shearwaters and Roseate Terns.
  • 2015 [09 September] - Ed Drewitt - Whales & Dolphins

    PDF Report
    ...Towards the end of our trip we saw not one but four separate Loggerhead Turtles! The first was a small, young animal being released by the skipper of another boat after becoming entangled in some plastic and rope and unable to dive. Some showed briefly at the surface, were of varying sizes, and all juveniles heading west from where they hatched in southern Central America. The fourth turtle was bigger and being pecked by a Cory's Shearwater. The turtle appeared fine and was probably allowing the shearwater to pick off any skin parasites.
  • 2015 [12 December] - Nick Watmough - São Miguel

    PDF Report
    ...The lake margins held 2 Eurasian Wigeon, 7 Eurasian Teal and a drake Green-winged Teal. After a couple of hours I headed further east and about 5km beyond Povoação I saw my first Azores Bullfinch flying along the roadside; inevitably there was nowhere to pull in. Turning off onto the unsurfaced road to Nordeste I parked after about 3km and birded up and down the road with no success....
  • 2015 [12 December] - Santi Guallar - São Miguel

    PDF Report
    ...Azores is an emerald island with high land bird densities: buzzards, chaffinches, canaries, robins,goldcrests, blackbirds and starlings are ubiquitous and tame. Woodpigeons, on the other hand, areshy, probably as a result of hunting pressure. Native vegetation have been largely cleared for cowpastures or supplanted by cryptomeria forests, which explains why Azores Bullfinch, the priolo, isendangered but also tells about the adaptivity of the other native passerines....
  • 2015 [12 December] - Santi Guallar - São Miguel

    Report
    ...We booked our trip 2 months in advance, but we strongly recommend you plan your trip to Azores on a much shorter term and take into account the weather forecast. We faced very unfavourable weather conditions: rained almost all day long and winds were moderate even with strong gusts until the 27th, especially at high elevations were fog was also present....
  • 2016 [10 October] - Tim & Carol Inskipp

    PDF Report
    Illustrated list
  • 2017 [05 May] - Cathy Harlow

    PDF Report
    ...We continued the journey north, getting used to the movement of the boat as we scanned the horizon for fins and blows. Hundreds of Cory’s Shearwaters and a smattering of Barolo Shearwaters passed by effortlessly, gliding above the surface of the waves. Several times we passed Portuguese Man O’War and Atlantic Flying Fish were also observed...
  • 2017 [05 May] - Mark Graham - Cruise

    Report
Other Links
  • Azores Bulfinch

    Website
    Species account of this endemic
  • Azores to have Ornithological Guides

    Article
    The Regional Secretary for Agriculture and the Environment stressed in Horta the importance of the ROA Project - Azores Birdwatching Network. It provides the establishment of a Code of Good Practice and an Ornithological Guide as well as the development of interpretive itineraries by species or habitats for all the islands.
  • Birds of the Azores

    Website
    Nine islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Of volcanic origin, with a subtropical climate and shaped by ocean winds. Where the flora and fauna are affected by elements from East and West and man's eagerness to control and set in the wild.
  • Pelagics

    Website
    Lying well out in the Atlantic, this scattered group of volcanic islands constitutes one of the remotest corners of the Western Palearctic and as such has gained some notoriety in recent times as an excellent place to see Nearctic vagrants

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