Some of the species
listed below are those that are most likely to be seen when seawatching
on Madeira. How many species and in what numbers you will see them in
a one or two weeks trip depends highly on which time of year you visit
Madeira. The ultimate time to see both breeding and migrating seabirds
is undoubtedly between mid August and mid September.
Pterodroma feae deserta
Resident breeder on Bugio, the southernmost island of the Desertas. The
species use the rabbit burrows on a small plateau for nesting. The Fea's
Petrel breeding season in Bugio is roughly two months behind schedule
in comparison to Zino's Petrel. So laying goes from mid July to early
August and the chicks fledge in December. The population on Bugio is estimated
at 150-200 pairs and the nominate race which breed on the Cape Verde Islands
(500-1.000 pairs). In the Cape Verde Islands the laying takes place during
December and January. The Fea's Petrel may also breed on the Azores where
there have been several records of birds in potential breeding habitat.
As Fea's and Zino's are very difficult to separate,
if not impossible, a sighted bird in the field often has to be noted as
a Fea's/Zino's Petrel. Nevertheless, you will never be disappointed when
seeing one of these species! Boat trips to Desertas often produce the
best chances to see it close, but the numbers always differ from a few
birds to up to 30. With patience you will also find Fea's/Zino's passing
off Ponta da Cruz and certainly at Porto Moniz. At the latter site they
seem to come closer to shore compared to the former site. During one week
of dedicated seawatching you may see a total of up to 30-40 Fea's/Zino's.
If anyone may wonder how to distinguish the Fea's and Zino's by their
call I could tell there is no notable differences! In fact, the Zino's
were rediscovered in late 60's when Alec Zino played up the Fea's call
(recorded on Bugio) to Madeiran sheperds all over the island (The voice
of the Freiras = calling nuns)!
Resident breeder on Madeira. This endemic species is near extinction.
However, during 2003 a new breeding ledge on Madeira was found and another
in 2004 at Pico do Areeiro. The population is now estimated between 65
and 80 breeding pairs. In April-May they lay their single egg in self-made
nesting holes in several ledges at the peak of Pico do Areeiro. Soil erosion
by feral goats as predation by Black Rats and feral Cats, are the main
danger for the species. However, a more recent threat comes from Portugals
proposed construction of a NATO radar station near the summit of Pico
The only chance to get a 100% positive identified Zino's
on your list is to visit the known breeding ground at Pico do Areeiro
at night and from there you can hear its spooky calls when they arrive
to their nests. Best time to hear Zino's at this location seem to be April
to mid August. Officially it is forbidden to use the path between Pico
do Areeiro and Achada do Teixeira after the sunset, which was determined
by a governamental resolution signed in 1999. Therefore it's highly recommend
to use one of the guides available if you intend to visit the area. Don't
hesitate to contact one of the three companies that run nocturnal expeditions
to Pico do Areeiro: Madeira
do Mar (new from 2006) and Madeira
A few of either Fea's or Zino's can be seen along the Madeiran coast during
the winter. Many birders have reported sightings of Fea's/Zino's at Porto
Moniz between December and February, with up to 8 birds on one week.
For a brief history of the
Zino's Petrel read more here»
Migrant breeder and only seen between early May (although it is not until
June that large numbers can be seen) and mid September. The breeding population
is estimated at 7.500 pairs. During the breeding season it could be seen
in the whole archipelago. Boat trips always offer the very best views,
because Bulwer's is highly pelagic and stays far from shore. Highest numbers,
although rather distant, were seen from the southern spot Ponta da Cruz;
2.000 in the evening on 25 August 2003. At least 3.000 were seen passing
Deserta Grande in the evening on 12 July 2003! In the afternoon on 31
August 2002 a total of 867 were seen during two hours of counting, all
birds moving to their breeding grounds on the Desertas. At Porto Moniz
the numbers are much lower, but most of them come closer to shore compared
to Ponta da Cruz.
Calonectris diomedea borealis
A migrant breeder, which breeds from June to October on mainland Madeira
as well on the Desertas and Porto Santo. The breeding population is estimated
to 3.000 pairs (the Salvage Islands excluded). Between June and October
the most numerous breeding seabird to be seen both from land and boat
or ferry trips. Many passing and feeding close to shore and can offer
good views from coastal spots. Could be seen almost everywhere along the
coast. Worthy of mention is 5.700 seen in the morning of Ponta da Cruz
on 6 July 2003 and a incredible big and loose flock about 1.000 Cory's
off Ponta do Rosto on 8 September 2000.
Don't forget to visit Ponta do Garajau (NE of Funchal)
to hear the calls of Cory's Shearwaters when they are visiting their nests
when darkness has fallen (as well the possibility to hear Madeiran Storm-Petrel
and Barn Owl).
Migrants pass Madeira in late August to mid September, exclusively along
the north coast and best witnessed from the northwestern tip, Porto Moniz.
Before the year 2000 only a few birds have been reported, which probably
depends on very sporadic seawatching sessions at Porto Moniz. In 2000
a total of 219 passed on 7 September, which was an incredible high number
at that moment. In the following years the passage has been even more
spectacular: 1.393 on 31 August and 343 on 12 September 2002, 2.932 on
26 August and 4.438 on 7 September 2003. According to the observers in
2003: "We probably missed 1.000's of birds, because there were too
many as they passed by in a seemingly endless stream!"
In year 2004 and 2005 there was no high number at all
counted at Porto Moniz, but in year 2006 there was literally a all time
high peak. Between 24 August and 18 September a total of 25.284 birds
was counted (as we know for certain!) at Porto Moniz, with four outstanding
peak days: 4.472 on 24th August, 5.023 on 1st, 6.600 on 2nd and 3.200
on 11th September!
Remember that the passage of Great, Manx and Sooty Shearwaters
off Porto Moniz is very unpredictable and you have to spend many days
there, in both morning and evening, to hit the right day. With patience
you will certainly be rewarded!
The breeding population on the Madeira archipelago is estimated over 500
pairs. Although the species is rarely seen along the coast, except for
the true migrants that pass Porto Moniz between late August and mid September.
High numbers are exclusively seen passing west off Porto Moniz, such as:
1.403 on 30 August to 5 September and 2.446 on 11 and 12 September 2002,
1.268 on five days between 3 and 12 September 2003 and 3.081 on 4-9 September
2004. All time high was between 2 and 19 September 2007, when a total
of 26.930 birds was logged towards west, of which 10.500 was recorded
on 19th. Eighteen birds passing Porto Moniz on 26 January 2003, which
is an interesting record.
Rare, but regular seen. Especially at Porto Moniz on days with heavy passage
of Manx and Great Shearwater.
Scarce migrant between late August and mid September. All records in recent
years are from Porto Moniz, though there are no records before 2000, when
5 passing west on 7 September. Between 30 August and 12 September 2002
a total of 56 birds were seen as 4 birds between 24 August and 6 September
All birds occurred on days with heavy passage of Great
and Manx Shearwaters, except a few records during winter.
Puffinus assimilis baroli
Resident breeder. The breeding population is estimated over 1.400 pairs,
of which 1.000 pairs breed on Salvages, 300 on the Desertas and several
on the small islands off Porto Santo. This species is recorded in most
months of the year, but seem to be more common in late summer. However,
a few observers could tell about high numbers in April and May off Funchal.
Interesting is 33 birds off Porto Moniz on 25 January 2003. The most reliable
site year round seems to be Porto Moniz and, of course, boat trips to
Desertas or Porto Santo. However the species is not common in any way
and even many hardcore seawatchers that had visited the archipelago did
not see a single bird! Also beware of Manx Shearwaters, which in the strong
light could be mistaken for a Little. The flight action is often the key
to distinguish it from Manx.
Resident breeder (one population in the summer and another during winter),
however, many migrate to unknown areas outside the breeding season. The
breeding population is estimated at 2.000 pairs, of which 1.000 breeds
on Salvages. Without any doubt the most difficult of the breeding seabirds
to see, no matter whether you watch from land or on pelagics. Probably
the best way to put the species on your list is to hear it, when they
arrive to their breeding grounds after the dusk. The best place for doing
this is to stay over night on Deserta Grande, seeing and hearing them
arriving to their nest in the caves located close to the research station
where the boat anchors.
Note: Rarely seen in daylight from land or boat
during the summer. However, the chance to see it from land or boat seem
to be higher in autumn and winter, according to a few reports and told
by many birders. For example: 10-12 single birds about 3 km off Funchal
on 3 January 1996, at least single 15 birds passing westwards off Porto
Moniz on 1 October 1999, 1 from boat on 31 October 1999 and 3 from ferry
crossing on 4 November 1999.
Interesting records from year 2004: In mid August
Chriss Bell and company took the 7pm ferry crossing from Funchal to Porto
Santo as the boat would be approaching Porto Santo towards dusk (9.30pm
at the time). They saw at least 10 Madeiran Storm-petrels amongst large
numbers of Bulwer's Petrels when they were about 1-2 miles from Porto
Santo (sometime around 8.45 to 9pm). Furthermore, two were seen off Porto
Moniz in late August and in the beginning of September. In addition a
few heard calling at Ponta do Garajau on several occasions.
About 60.000 pairs breeds on the Salvages Islands, which is located 162
nautical miles (300 km) south of Madeira. Despite this the species is
very rare around Madeira! However, the specie are seen now and then, for
example twice in summer 2004 (close to Funchal on 8th July and one off
Porto Moniz on 19th August) and on three occasions in summer 2005.
Scarce migrant in late autumn and winter, especially along the north coast
Scarce, migrants and wandering birds. In the archipelago this species
appears to be the most regular among the skuas in late summer and early
autumn, especially at Porto Moniz.
Scarce, migrants and wandering birds is seen regularly.
Scarce, migrants and wandering birds and it seems to be the rarest of
the skuas. Worthy of mention is 11 adults towards west off Porto Moniz
on 23 August 2003.
Scarce, migrants and wandering birds. Porto Moniz seems to be the most
reliable site for the few birds that may occur.
Scarce visitor, especially at Funchal harbour and nearby shores. The numbers
vary a lot periodically and many birders leave Madeira without seeing
it. Seem to be fairly regularly during winter.
Rare but regular visitor in autumn and especially in winter, with a maximum
of three first winter individuals in late January 2001.
Gull Larus fuscus
If you look carefully through the flocks of Yellow-legged Gulls you will
always find a few Lesser Black-backed. Funchal harbour and Porto Santo
are the most reliable sites to find this species. The majority of the
birds seen in the Madeira archipelago are probably intermedius/graelsii.
Gull Larus michahellis atlantis
A resident and common breeder, which is present almost everywhere along
the coast and surprisingly in good numbers on the high plateau of Paúl
de Serra. The most numerous concentration year round can be found in the
harbour of Funchal. This subspecies is found in the whole Macaronesian
A scarce passage migrant, especially in late autumn and winter. An interesting
record is of six birds at Porto Moniz in January 2003.
A regular breeder, but in low numbers. There is no colonies to be found
in the archipelago, but only single breeding pairs here and there along
the coast of the main island. The harbour of Funchal seems to be the best
place to find this species. Other good sites where the species has occurred
are the bay of Machico, Caniçal, Ponta da Cruz, São Vicente,
Porto Moniz and Calheta. Always make a practice of looking through flocks
of terns carefully!
Migrant breeder and only seen between March and October. Small numbers
could be seen almost everywhere along the coast.
At last, there are
many more seabirds that has occured in the archipelago, but which are
rare or scarce. All those and their status you will soon find in the new
full species list compiled by SPEA (Portuguese Society for the Study of
Birds), which will be published on this web site later, probably in 2005/2006.
In meantime you can use the 'old' full species list, which is available
to the Main page»