Male (right) and female (left) European bee-eaters
Male (right) and female (left) European bee-eaters

Our favourite birds return this spring

Last month, my article regarding the reliance the wildlife has on the river was perfectly timed.

The day the article was published, it rained enough to start the river running and, at time of writing this month’s article, we are having a very wet few days and the river locally is rising by the hour. This is great news!

March 20 was the start of spring and soon some of the popular favourite birds of many wildlife lovers will be returning to our region. I am constantly teased by spotless starlings during the winter who mimic-call two of my favourite birds!

European bee-eater

Top of the wish-lists of many wildlife seekers is the European bee-eater, a delight in both noise and colour. April 1 is their usual date of return but can be a few days either side. Their fantastic electronic noise complements their multi-coloured plumage. Both sexes have the similar brown, yellow, green and black colouring, with the female having less and sometimes missing brown on the shoulders. Can you tell the difference between the male and female in the photograph?

As the name suggests, they eat bees (and any other flying insect), catching them acrobatically in flight. You may think they pose a problem to honeybee populations, but they do not consume enough to affect the colonies. Nests are holes dug into banks, usually not too far away from water and colonies are established for breeding. Fresh tunnels are dug each year. Whilst it’s never a good idea to approach a nesting site, they can be witnessed from a distance. Last year, whilst they didn’t nest near to me, I had the pleasure of watching a group of over 50 gathering at sunrise and sunset in my garden.

Golden oriole

Male (in flight) and female golden orioles
Male (in flight) and female golden orioles

If I had to create a list of my favourite local summer visitors, it would be hard to decide the top spot between the bee-eater and the golden oriole. The latter is much harder to spot, but you’ll certainly hear their call.

The bright yellow of the male (the female is more of an olive colour) and contrasting black colouring is stunning, but they still manage to conceal themselves within the leaves of trees. Their flute-like call is unmistakable and even though the spotless starlings try, they can’t reproduce the fake-call with the same beauty of the golden oriole. They build cup-shaped nests, usually high in eucalyptus trees, so anywhere that has these trees is a good start to view these amazing birds.

They also love figs, hence their Portuguese name of ‘papa-figos’. The males start to arrive towards the end of April with the females usually a few days later.


Male nightingale singing
Male nightingale singing

The first two birds are both beautiful in colour and sound, however, the nightingale is quite plain-looking compared to its incredible collection of songs, which is believed to be over 1,000 sounds to choose from! It is the males you hear singing, serenading the females to pair up to breed. They sing all day and night and never seem to take a break. Once a breeding partnership is formed, the beautiful song turns into a croaking sound not too dissimilar to a frog.

Spotting them is very difficult and although they want to promote their presence, they spend most of their time well-hidden in foliage. Slightly larger than a robin, they are very plain-looking with various brown colours. They can be seen, or rather heard, in woodland areas usually not too far from water.

European roller

European roller
European roller

If you venture slightly north from the Algarve into the steppe plains of the Alentejo, you may find a real treat, the European roller. You could also be lucky to spot one in the Algarve during the final stages of migration from Africa. It’s another bird with beautiful colouring, but their call is better described as aggressive rather than beautiful – think crow and you are not far off. They also make an interesting chattering sound too.

The European roller is similar in size and shape to a jay and, when found, you’ll often find many. They are various shades of striking blue, with contrasting black and brown feathers.

They are a threatened species, but local farmers, conservationists and wildlife lovers have made areas for them to breed and numbers seem to be improving. Their name comes from their aerial display of flying high and then swopping vertically to the ground with twists and turns.

They will be returning to their nesting sites usually in the third and fourth week of April. A trip into the Alentejo plains should be on every wildlife lover’s wish, not just for the rollers but all birdlife, particularly birds of prey.

By Craig Rogers
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Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit