Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Colourful Quartet

Our recent visit to the Castro Verde area produced most but not all of the regular species that visitors ask to see.  We didn’t miss many but unfortunately, as the season progresses some species become more difficult to find.  Birds that only a few weeks ago were singing and displaying, defending a territory or trying to attract a mate are now feeding young and trying hard not to draw attention to themselves or their offspring.  At the same time, the grass and other vegetation has grown taller and there are plenty of places to hide away.  It makes our task much harder!

Fortunately, in the same area where those uncooperative Little Bustards are lurking and where the Black-winged Kites have taken their young out of sight, there are four much more easily seen, brightly coloured species that will, at least for a few minutes, brighten anyone’s day.

Our experience is that Hoopoe, European Roller, European Bee-eater and Common Kingfisher are among the most popular birds that we find for our visitors.  Maybe it’s because of their flashy plumage or perhaps simply because they’re all instantly recognisable!

Each of these four species is the only representative of its family to occur in Western Europe other than as a vagrant but they are clearly related to each other and have much in common.  Have you noticed how they always appear bunched together in your checklist between the swifts and the woodpeckers?  And it’s not unusual to see them sharing a page in a field guide!

A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe (Peterson, Mountfort & Hollom) 1954

All four of them nest in cavities; Hoopoes and Rollers like to nest in holes in trees but most of the Rollers we see nest in artificially provided sites and Hoopoes also will occasionally take to nest boxes; Bee-eaters and Kingfishers on the other hand usually excavate a hole in a vertical bank and Bee-eaters will also use a hole in sloping or even flat ground.

We tend to think of Rollers and Bee-eaters as migrants and Hoopoes and Kingfishers as resident species but that really isn’t the whole story.  It’s true that Rollers and Bee-eaters do spend only the few months of the breeding season in Portugal before heading south to winter in Africa but Hoopoes and Kingfishers also make seasonal movements.  Of course, these movements are less obvious as they don’t involve the whole population; many Hoopoes do leave us during the winter but always some remain.  On the other hand, the number of Kingfishers in the Algarve increases in the autumn as birds arrive from further north and they are commonly seen from September through to February.  

If you would like to see all four of these birds during one visit to the Algarve, make sure to plan your trip between late April and August.  Also bear in mind that although Rollers can sometimes be seen as migrants in the Algarve, mainly in the west and in August, they do not breed here and a trip to the Alentejo will usually be necessary to be sure of finding them.

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