While spring timidly makes its appearance in March, it unfurls in April unashamed: the days are longer, the vegetation awakens from its winter slumber and the sky, woods and fields are filled with the songs of numerous birds. 

In April nearly all species that spend the winter in Africa have already arrived to Europe to breed

This gives way to a large number of birds in our environment that we can locate in virtually any place and habitat in Galicia. In the cities, towns and villages we come across small birds that feed on insects: swallows, house martins and swifts.

In any area of the countryside or in the great river valleys, we can find summer raptors such as the black kite, particularly in Canóns do Sil, Serra da Enciña da Lastra,  A Limia and A Terra Chá. In these latter two areas as well as in the regions of  Lugo and Sarria, we can find common storks that are already striving to incubate their eggs in large nests near buildings in urban areas.

Short-toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)
Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)
Iberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus ibericus)
European Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)
The cuckoo, a newcomer to our land, can now be heard everywhere

Other species, such as the eurasian hoopoe, allow themselves to be seen gradually in well-preserved agricultural areas. Sedentary species -those that spend all year with us- are already in full reproduction mode so it is not uncommon to see adult individuals with food in their mouths to feed their chicks; most certainly there is a common blackbird doing so somewhere closer to home.

Mountain areas

In mountain areas such as Os Ancares and Montes de Cervantes, O Courel and the Macizo Central, spring progresses more slowly, although a visit further into their forests is quite an experience for the senses. Birdsong dominates the environment, which includes such birds as the common and characteristic iberian chiffchaff.

Summer raptors are another major attraction in April

Summer raptors are another major attraction in April. In addition to the aforementioned black kites are others such as the northern harrier and montagu's harrier. The former can be seen in open spaces in the mountainous areas. It is a hardy bird of prey that, although rare, thrives in harsh environments like these. montagu's harriers arrive in late March but do not get settled into their breeding territories and engage in striking courtship behaviour until April. Within this species, Galicia also has a high proportion of melanic individuals, i.e. birds with very dark plumage. Their fondness for open areas makes places such as A Limia, A Terra Chá, the Serra do Candán and Brañas de Xestoso, Terra das Frieiras and the regions of  Lugo and Sarria ideal for watching them. To this end, we must always look for clear areas with crops or gorse.

In addition to northern harriers and montagu's harriers, in inland areas we can watch Eurasian hobbies hunting insects and small birds. In the mountains and steep areas the short-toed snake eagle catches our attention with its graceful flight in search of reptiles basking in the spring sunshine

Along the coastline

Changing habitat radically, along the coastline the most interesting birds at this time are three species from different environments: the kentish plover, the yellow-legged gull and the european shag. The small kentish plover lives on the open beaches of the Atlantic coast, such as those found in the Costa da Morte, Baldaio, Louro and Carnota, O Grove and Parque Nacional Marítimo Terrestre das Illas Atlánticas de Galicia and the Parque Natural Complexo Dunar de Corrubedo e lagoas de Carregal e Vixán.

It is difficult to watch in its surroundings, since it is perfectly camouflaged in the sand and algae washed up on the beaches; its survival depends largely on how we treat these delicate ecosystems. The other iconic two species can be seen at the Parque Nacional Marítimo Terrestre das Illas Atlánticas de Galicia, both on the island of Ons and the Cies Islands: the abundant yellow-legged gull, which has one of the world's largest breeding colonies here, and the scarce and threatened cormorant. The former can be seen almost anywhere, although the steep slopes falling into the sea host their most spectacular colonies; the latter can be seen on the steepest cliffs. To see european shags we can also go to the Ría do Burgo e Costa de Dexo: some nests still remain on the sea cliffs in these areas.

Not to be missed

  • Among all the migratory species that arrive in Galicia in spring to breed, there is one that is seemingly inconspicuous, but which forms part of the spring-evening visual and sound landscape: the spectacular and easy-to-observe common swift. It is a small bird that lives in villages and cities creating small nests in eaves, roofs and buildings. Its characteristic scythe-shaped wings and deep screeches, especially late in the afternoon, give them away easily and point us to where to enjoy their acrobatic manoeuvres as they feed on small flying insects. Watching them is undoubtedly a comforting activity that can be done in the company of family, since even the youngest family members can see them without binoculars. They never land except to incubate eggs during the breeding season; they sleep and eat in the air, and travel thousands of kilometres from Europe to Africa without stopping...can there be such a fascinating bird that nevertheless lives so close?
  • However, there are not only swifts in our surroundings: swallows and house martins live very close to us. Finding their nests is within anyone's reach. If you are near a wetland, such as Lagoa de Cospeito in A Terra Chá, the San Martiño resrevoir in A Rúa and Petín or the Abegondo-Cecebre reservoir, near A Coruña, a visit at dusk will provide the spectacle of seeing dozens of these species capturing insects near the water.
  • You must know that woodpeckers, such as the great spotted woodpecker, drum on trees to both mark territory and build their nests in dry trees, but have you ever heard them? Now is the time to visit the largest and best forests, such as those of Os Ancares and montes de Cervantes and O Courel.
  • Many migratory birds are making their way this month to northern Europe, where they will breed, so it is possible to see them here too if they make a stop to feed. The larger estuaries and coastal wetlands are excellent. Although, on the whole, fewer birds might be seen than in other months, it is still worth going to the estuary of the river Miño, Enseada de O Vao, in O GroveLouro (Muros) and CarnotaBaldaio (Carballo), ás the Ortigueira and Cariño estuaries and the Ribadeo and Foz estuaries.