Republic of Croatia

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros ©Peter Jones

Birding CroatiaHistorically part of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy and later Tito’s Yugoslavia, Croatia only won its independence in 1990, and now undoubtedly one of the pearls of European birding. Before the dramatic war between 1991 and 1995 Croatia was among Europe’s premier holiday destination, and now begins to be again, not least because it is the country’s major source of income. Croatia is divided into two main parts: 1. Istria peninsula and the Adriatic seacoast (Dalmatia) 2. Eastern landlocked wing, which is located on the soutwestern edge of the Carpathian-basin (incl. Zagorje, Zumberak, Podravina, Turopolje and Slavonia).

Geographically (which determines the bird life) Croatia is unique in many ways. The great diversity of bird life and habitats, the remote, high and sometimes very rough mountain ridges, the huge forests, the steep karst terrains, the huge alluvial forests, and the very under watched bird life combines with the fantastic sea-coast, the most translucent sea of the World, the extremely friendly people, the cultural and architectural heritage, such unparalleled cities like the world-famous Dubrovnik or Koper, and last but not least the excellent foods (especially sea-foods) make it one of the best birding destinations in the continent for every keen European birdwatcher. Statistics show that 78 endangered (on a European level) species breed in Croatia and this is more, than any other small or medium-sized European country. In fact, Croatia is an ornithological oasis in Europe. I would say Croatia is simply the best!

The Istria peninsula and the Adriatic coastline includes dramatic stretches of almost 2000km of shoreline and over 1000 dry islands with endless possibility for birding explorations. On the seacoast there are many great estuaries of big rivers from the inland, and the giant watershed in the mountain chains along the whole coastline that instantly rises from sea level to 2500 m. The result of that watershed is karst – almost naked bushy hillsides on the seaside, and densely covered forests on the inland sides. The area gives one of the most diverse bird communities of Europe, especially with its extremely rich Passerine fauna.

Spring resounds to the songs of many warblers, buntings and wheatears. Sardinian-, Orphean- and Subalpine Warblers are very common, as well the Olivaceous too. Olive-tree warbler is more typical for the Southern coastline, while Melodious warblers are especially widespread in the North. Cetti’s Warbler also lives along the coast, while Zitting Cisticola is possible only at the lagoons of the Istria peninsula, where they are even noisy in the autumn too. This is the only area for Bonelli’s warbler too, but the latter lives in a different, very special habitat on the warm hillsides. Black-eared Wheatear is much more common than the Common! You can also find Blue Rock Thrush everywhere. Common Rockthrush widespread, but much more rare and shy.

The rocky walls attract many other interesting birds, like the Rock Dove, Crag Martin and the lovely Rock Nuthatch. Alpine Swift scream through the deep gorges, and with luck, especially at the southern part you can find the differently flying view of the Pallid Swift too. The high ridges hold the main population of the lovely and very friendly Alpine Choughs, which visits the lower settlements in the wintertime. This part is also the home of one of the most spectacular Croatian bird, the Rock Partridge, and the extremely lovely Alpine Accentor, probably the friendliest bird of the European avifauna.

Among other specialties worth a mention are the huge populations of the very common Cirl and Black-headed Buntings. Ortolan Bunting is frequent, while Rock Bunting lives usually on the northern coastline, however I suspect it is more common than the records suggest. Sombre Tits and Red-rumped Swallows live in the south up to the Velebit range, the latter is in territorial expansion now, and it is even possible to see on the Istria peninsula. Calandra Lark, Short-toed Lark, Kentish Plover, Tawny Pipit and Stone Curlew mainly inhabit the dry islands along the coast. Some very nice and rich sweet-water habitat adorns the area too. Vrana Lake, Plitvice and Krka National Parks with hundreds of waterfalls are among the most beautiful places of Croatia. Krka is a breeding place for Bonelli’s Eagle, while Lake Vrana is important wintering ground for water birds with sometimes more than 20,000 birds. There is a list over 240 species, and you can find some really interesting birds, like Spanish Sparrow, Yellow Wagtail (race feldegg); Moustached Warbler, Pygmy Cormorant, many herons and waterfowl, and last but not least Eagle Owls. Red-backed Shrike and Woodchat Shrike are very common here, Lesser Grey Shrike, Nightjar, Scops and Little Owl are very widespread too.

Among the most unique birds you can find are the enormous Griffon Vulture, which used to be very common, but is now restricted to the northern archipelago, including Cres, where there is a rehabilitation center for the species, and the natural population is still over 70 pairs. The species is unfortunately extinct from the famous Paklenica National Park of the Velebit Mts. together with the former breeder Egyptian Vultures. Lanner Falcon is rare, some pairs live at the very southern edge of the country, as it is the same for Bonelli’s Eagle too. The most beautiful raptor of the country is probably the Eleonora’s Falcon which inhabit many small islands, especially around Vis and Korcula Islands. These islands gives the newly discovered breeding places of the internationally endangered Audouin’s Gull too.

Inland part of Dalmatia (east of the watershed ridge of the coastal mountains) is covered with huge, completely untouched forests, which is among the greatest intact woodland heritage of all of Europe. In the wet valleys (poljes) we find rich wetland habitats, grassy plains and gallery forests. The area is good for some raptors, including Short-toed Eagle, Golden Eagle and such Passerines as the beautiful Red-breasted Flycatcher. The pine forest holds a significant population of Three-toed Woodpecker, and some difficult to find birds, such as Hazel Grouse and Capercaillie. White-backed Woodpecker are also definitely rare; they live only at the northern edge of the big forest area, while others, including Middle-Spotted Woodpecker and Black Woodpecker are relatively common. Ural and Tengmalm’s Owls are there but rare and difficult to find. Nutcracker is common in the pine forests together with many other Pine-tree loving bird species (Coal Tit, Firecrest and Goldcrest, etc.). The high grassy plains and the nearby rocky walls are ideal habitat for Shore Lark, Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit and for some Wallcreeper and vagrant Egyptian Vultures from Macedonia. It would be nice to find some breeding Dotterel here.

North-eastern Croatia, which belongs to the Carpathian-basin, has a landscape that is totally different. On the left side of the river Sava downstream from Zagreb, several large field-depressions have been formed. They are Crnec polje, Lonjsko polje, Mokro polje, Crnac polje and Jelas polje. In the course of millennia, life in these depressions has developed under the influence of water. Most of the year the fields were periodically flooded, depending on the Sava water level. The great river plains of the Sava, Drava and Danube rivers have the greatest wetland gallery forests with extensive areas of broadleaved alluvial-forests in of all Europe. This is mixed with other natural water bodies, fishpond systems and arable lands. Lonjsko Polje area at the Sava river hold a very big population of Lesser Spotted Eagle and Pygmy Cormorants, while Kopacki-rit (Kopacevo-marshes) National Park in the north-eastern corner is truly worthy of its designation as a World Heritage Site with its unique landscape. Probably the last truly ancient gallery forest of the Old Continent with oak and willow trees that are hundred of years old. It is full with White-tailed Eagles, Black Kites, Corncrakes, Ferruginous Ducks and Black Storks.

The site holds more than 20,000 water birds in the wintertime, and also some Greater Spotted Eagles. All these rivers are full of reed beds (Marsh Terns, Penduline- and Bearded Tits); and also with heronries (Bittern, Little Bittern, Night, Squacco, Grey, Purple Herons); and there are many Egrets, Spoonbills, Greylag Geese and some Glossy Ibis too. Unfortunately some typical plain raptor species are on the verge of extinction. Only a very few Red-footed Falcons, Saker and Imperial Eagles breed in the area, while Levant Sparrowhawk and Lesser Kestrel are probably already extinct. The area is full of Golden Orioles, Kingfishers, Bee-eaters, and Hoopoes, and there are still some Rollers to adorn our list too. To complete our journey in Croatia it is well worth a visit to the Drava River area, where we can find breeding colonies of Little Terns, Little Ringed Plovers, and Common Sandpipers.

Croatia gives an opportunity for some pelagic- and sea-birding too. Cory’s Shearwater, Mediterranean Shearwater, Storm-petrel breed on small islands, as well the Shag, but on ferry or boat trips you can even see other species like Eleonora’s Falcon, Swifts, or accidentally such mega-rarities like Great Northern or Yellow-billed Loons in the wintertime.

Target (breeding) birds are: Cory’s Shearwater, Mediterranean Shearwater, Shag, Pygmy Cormorant, Herons (Bittern, Little Bittern, Night, Squacco, Grey, Purple); White and Black Storks, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Greylag Goose, Ferruginous Duck, Griffon Vultures, Eagles (White-tailed, Golden, Lesser Spotted, Booted, Bonelli’s); Red and Black Kite, Levant Sparrowhawk, Lesser Kestrel, Eleonora’s Falcon, Peregrine, Lanner, Rock Partridge, Hazel Grouse, Capercaillie, Corncrake, Woodcock, Audouin’s Gull, Marsh Terns (3); Rock Dove, Owls (Eagle, Ural, Tengmalm’s, Barn, Little, Scops); Swifts (Alpine, Common, Pallid); Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Roller, all European Woodpecker, Larks (Short-toed, Calandra, Horned); Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Tawny and Water Pipit, Yellow Wagtail (feldegg); Alpine Accentor, Black-eared Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Thrush, Ring Ouzel, numerous Warblers (Barred, Orphean, Sardinian, Subalpine, Icterine, Melodious, Olive-tree, Olivaceous, Bonelli’s, Cetti’s); Zitting Cisticola, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Sombre Tit, Penduline Tit, Bearded Tit, Rock Nuthatch, Wallcreeper, Woodchat Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Lesser Grey Shrike, Nutcracker, Alpine Chough, Golden Oriole, Spanish Sparrow, numerous Buntings (Rock, Ortolan, Cirl, Black-headed, Corn)Suggested Itineraries:If you start your visit from Budapest (Hungary); you can get many more species on your list, and in this case it’s well worth going on to the eastern part of Croatia, and concentrating on the seacoast, as Hungary will give you more opportunity to see the plains birds. From Budapest you can easily reach the Börzsöny Hills (Imperial Eagles, Saker, Ural Owls, White-backed Woodpeckers); the northern edge of the Kiskunsag National Park (an excellent place with more than 150 Great Bustards, numerous Red-Footed Falcons, Montagu’s Harrier, Roller paradise, Saker, Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plover, Collared Pratincole, Stone Curlew, -here was the last sighting of Slender-billed Curlew in 2001- Bluethroat, Moustached Warbler); the Vertes Mts. (Imperial Eagles, Saker, Baillon’s Crake); the Mts. Bakony (White-backed Woodpeckers, Red-breasted Flycatcher); and finally Lake Balaton and Kis-Balaton area with hundreds of wildfowl, Bluethroat, Moustached Warbler, Marsh Terns, many White-tailed Eagles and Black Storks (the only area in Hungary to see more than 110 species/day). The Principal Canal area of West Hungary is one of the best raptor migration spot of all Hungary. Furthermore in the wintertime Hungary is absolutely the best and most easy to see place for Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentors and Greater Spotted Eagles. At the border crossing, at the Drava River is the only reliable place to see the Common Rosefinches, however it is a real challenge to find them, (it doesn’t compare to the easy Slovakian or Transylvanian sites). This place is also excellent for Little Terns.On your way to Croatia, you will go across the Savinja Alps and Julian Alps in Slovenia, which will also add some very good high mountain specialties for your list, which are absent or very rare in Croatia. Capercaillie, Black Grouse and Hazel Grouse are widespread and sometimes common in both ranges, as well the Three-toed Woodpecker, Ural, Tengmalm’s and Pygmy Owls. Lesser Redpoll are frequent, while Snow Finch, Ptarmigan and Wallcreeper inhabit the highest peaks, and it is sometimes difficult to find them because the rough terrain. If you are lucky, you can see Alpine Marmot, Chamois and Alpine Ibex around the peaks, and Mountain Hare at the lower region too. Alpine Chough is common in the area. The very rare Citril Finch and the scarce, but at some times common, Bonelli’s Warbler are available in the most NW corner of Slovenia, near the Italian border. Rock Partridge also lives in the Julian Alps around Bohinj Lake, and more to the south at the Mt. Nanos area too.

Other WildlifeCroatia is most famous among herpetologist, but lovers of mammals, butterflies and dragonflies are also able to find a great variety of species.

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 369

    (As at July 2018)
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Useful Information
  • Useful Facts

    Country area: 56.540 km2Population: 4.726.000 (density: 83.5/km2)Species number: 378 confirmed (1997)Number of IBA areas: 23 (754.533 ha, 13% of the country)Ramsar sites: complete: 0; partial: 3; still lacking: 8
  • Association BIOM

    We are a voluntary, non-governmental organization, one of the leading nature conservation NGOs in Croatia and proud BirdLife partner. We aim to study and protect the living world and to raise public awareness of biodiversity, endangered species and habitats, sustainable development and environmental protection

Abbreviations Key

  • NP Brijuni

    InformationSatellite View
    The autochthonous birds are quite well represented. Some of the smaller islands are excellent habitats where gulls and sea swallows nest, as well as some rare genera of cormorants. The Brionian islands are also important seasonal habitats of northern bird species and the most interesting is the locality of Saline. That is a very damp area with three marshy lakes of 8 acres (32,000 m2) of fenced area with the aim of forming an ornithology reservation. The biggest lake is overgrown with reed and is a good nestling ground for numerous types of birds.
  • NP Kornati

    InformationSatellite View
    In 1980, the eighty-nine southernmost of the 140-odd islands, islets and reefs of the Kornati archipelago were declared a national park, Nacionalni Park Kornati, protecting the islands and their marine surroundings. The area covered by the National Park mostly coincides with the Donji Kornati, which includes the island of Kornat and the surrounding islets, separated with a channel from the island of Piškera and the surrounding islets. Apart from sea-gulls, which are the most numerous animals, there are some lizards and ring-snakes, and 69 varieties of butterfly, some amphibians and rodents.
  • NP Krka

    WebsiteSatellite View
    The number of species (222); the structure of the bird community and the great importance that Krka has for the spring and autumn migrations mean that it is ornithologically one of the most important regions in Europe.
  • NP Mljet

    InformationSatellite View
    The National Park includes the western part of the island, Veliko jezero, Malo jezero, Soline Bay and a sea belt 500 m wide from the most prominent cape of Mljet covering an area of 54 km2...
  • NP Northern Velebit

    InformationSatellite View
  • NP Paklenica

    InformationSatellite View
    Birds are the most numerous group of vertebrates, with 230 species recorded to date. The world of birds is represented by 102 species of nesting birds found in the broader park area. The nesting bird group includes a community of birds inhabiting rocks and cliffs in the canyons of Velika Paklenica and Mala Paklenica, with 24 bird species. A special value is added to the park by the endangered and rare bird species such as the golden eagle, peregrine falcon, short-toed eagle and goshawk. Forest areas are rich with woodpeckers, the rarest among them being the white-backed woodpecker and middle-spotted woodpecker.
  • NP Plitvička Jezera (Plitvice Lakes)

    WebsiteSatellite View
    The area is faunistically rich, including European brown bear Ursus arctos, wolf Canis lupus, eagle owl Bubo bubo, and capercaillie Tetra urogallus. There are records of 126 species of birds, of which 70 breed…
  • NP Risnjak

    InformationSatellite View
    The park is home to mammals such as the brown bear, red deer, roe deer, chamois, wild boar, wolf, pine marten, stone marten, badger, weasel, squirrel and dormouse. The most important animal used to be the lynx, after which Risnjak got its name. The lynx was exterminated during the 19th century but returned to Risnjak three decades ago, after a successful reintroduction project in neighboring Slovenia. There are also numerous bird species living in Risnjak: capercaillie, hazel grouse, goshawk, eagle owl and several woodpecker species, amongst others
  • NPa Kopaèki Rit

    InformationSatellite View
    Kopaèki Rit, a nature park not far from the confluence of the Drava and the Danube, situated at the very border and it is one of the most important, largest and most attractive preserved intact wetlands in Europe. Around 260 various bird species nest here (wild geese and ducks, great white egret, white stork, black stork, white-tailed eagle, crows, coots, gulls, terns, kingfishers, European green woodpecker, etc.), and there are many other species using this area as a temporary shelter on migration from the northern, cooler regions to the southern, warmer areas and vice versa.
  • NPa Lonjsko Polje

    InformationSatellite View
    LonjskoPolje Nature Park is one of the greatest protected wetland area not only in Croatia but in the whole of the Danube drainage area. It occupies the alluvial plain of the central course of the Sava River between Sisak and Stara Gradiška. It covers Lonjsko, Poganovo and Mokro Polje with the string of villages along the left bank of the Sava River. The northern borders of the Park stretch along the Zagreb-Slavonski Brod motorway, i.e., the northern dyke of the retention area, while the southern border of the park is composed of the Sava itself. The basic characteristics of this protected area with a total area of 51,218 ha are the floods, most common in spring and autumn, brought about by the increased inputs of the left tributaries of the Sava – the Lonja, the Pakra, Veliki Strug and Mali Strug and the Una.
  • Wetlands

    WebsiteSatellite View
    Croatia presently has 4 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance, with a surface area of 80,455 hectares
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Green Eye Ecotours

    Tour Operator
    Today we provide outdoor-oriented tours, adventures, expeditions…
  • Honeyguide - Istria

    Tour Operator
    At the crossroads of the Balkans, Central Europe and the Mediterranean, Istria has a fascinating history, geology, flora and fauna. In a relatively small area (about 4000 km2) one passes from a rocky coastline and a strip of Mediterranean scrub and woodland through areas of low-intensity agriculture rich in wild flowers and farmland birds
  • VDM - Birdwatching in Croatia

    Tour Operator
    Croatia .. a country of a thousand islands, surrounded by the beautiful Adriatic Sea, home to one of the last remaining European populations of free wolves, bears, lynx and other endangered wildlife species…also, a country where west and east met in order to create a unique mixture of culture, tradition, architecture and lifestyle… but, what about Croatia as a birdwatching destination? Interested?
Trip Reports
  • 2014 [05 May] - Bob Shiret

    This was our first trip to the Istrian Peninsular in Croatia for forty five years, back then it was Yugoslavia with a dour, suppressed feel. Things have changed completely now and it can be recommended for a wide range of different types of holiday.
  • 2015 [05 May] - Paul Tout - Istria

    PDF Report
    ...“The meadows further on were host, once again, to what seem to be three of the commonest birds in Istria, Corn Buntings, Red-backed Shrikes and Melodious Warblers, while the plants included Bog, Monkey and Lady Orchids together with a spectacular plant of the rather rare, here at least, Siberian Iris.
  • 2015 [06 June] - Joachim Bertrands

    PDF Report
    ... This was very rocky but not all too steepterrain, littered with razor sharp rocks. It looked very ideal for the birds, but I didn’t succeed infinding them here. I did however find multiple breeding Tawny Pipits, Eastern Black-earedWheatears and several Hoopoes.
  • 2016 [03 March] - Paul Tout - Istria

    PDF Report
    ...Still in winter plumage and hopping languidly across the rockface, the wallcreeper occasionally paused, immobile for a minute or two before setting off again, making the occasional short flight, showing off white-spotted vermillion wing feathers to perfection. On one occasion it flushed a fairly sizeable insect from the rockface and it proceeded to fly-catch, butterfly-like in the sunshine...
  • 2016 [09 September] - David Karr - Cavtat (south of Dubrovnik) - Paklenica National Park

    PDF Report
    ...During a short family vacation in Croatia, I spent two productive mornings birding in search of three target SE Europe specialties: Rock Partridge, Sombre Tit and (Western) Rock Nuthatch. All of these were eventually found, in addition to some other autumnal migrants....
  • 2016 [10 October] - Geoff Upton - Southern Croatia

    PDF Report
    ...Our apartment was in a modern block on a hillside a short distance above the old town, overlooking Plat Bay,where Roman Abramavich’s impressive yacht was anchored throughout our stay. In scrubby land around theapartment were firecrests, Sardinian warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps and a stonechat. There was somevisible migration in the mornings, with small numbers of finches heading south east....
  • 2017 [06 June] - Mike Neale (Part 1)

    PDF Report
    A two-part trip to Croatia with family and friends. Wonderful habitats and scenery. Roads and infrastructure was excellent. People very friendly and excellent knowledge of English. The National Parks can be very full of tourists, yet the surrounding areas were empty with excellent habitats for Birds and Butterflies. The bird focus was the Rock Partridge but Butterfly watching in wonderful meadows played an important part of the trip. A few days also spent in Montenegro.Temperatures were high (upto35°C) –early morning and late evening visits recommended
  • 2017 [06 June] - Mike Neale (Part 2)

    PDF Report
  • 2018 [08 August] - Graham Hogan

    PDF Report
    We have wanted to visit Croatia for some years, including seeing the wonderful historic city of Dubrovnik (a Unesco World Heritage Site) and as a keen birder, it gave me the obvious opportunity to see Rock Partridge, allegedly one of Europe...
  • 2019 [06 June] - Phil Dargue - Birds and Orchids of Central Dalmatia

    PDF Report
    This is a short report of a birding day trip in the Split region of Central Dalmatia, Croatia on the 4th June 2019. The trip was organised from the UK through Sunshine Tours in Croatia as a single day bird trip whilst on a family holiday staying near Omis to the south of Split. O
  • 2019 [09 September] - Bill Simpson

    PDF Report
    Migration was hardly noticeable and common birds worryingly sparse. Photography was also difficult as the birds were incredibly wary. Maybe spring is a better time to visit Croatia ?
Other Links
  • Croatia Birding

    Croatia as a tourist destination is well known for its coastal summer holiday resorts, with many popular attractions such as visits to...

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