Guide to birdwatching in Malaga
This post might come as a surprise. After all, who’d expect birdwatching to feature on the list of things to do in Malaga, Spain’s sixth largest city and home to 569,000+ people? But the city provides some great twitching opportunities. So, grab your binoculars and notebook, and read on to discover just where to go birdwatching in Malaga.
What you’ll see when birdwatching in Malaga
Malaga has a surprisingly rich birdlife. The city turns out to be birding expert David Lindo’s number 1 city for birdwatching. And as David points out, even in the heart of the city you’ll see lots of different species and some interesting ones too.
Along with the sparrows, pigeons and gulls, look out for the following in the city:
Monk parakeets – you’ll have no trouble spotting these. Not only is their green-yellow plumage impossible to miss, you’ll hear the squawks from a mile off.
Kestrels – several pairs fly the Malaga skies regularly and roost on ledges just about anywhere. Malaga Cathedral is one of their favourite spots and they also like the industrial chimneys.
Peregrin falcons – a few are permanent residents in Malaga and like the kestrels, they’re keen on the Cathedral for accommodation.
Booted eagles – a solitary one makes a daily lunchtime circuit of my local park (Parque Litoral) and he/she also scans the city centre on a regular basis. The booted eagle flies surprisingly low in such an urban spot and you get a great view of the black and white plumage.
Starlings – lots gather in the autumn and their murmurations are stunning to watch at dusk. You’ll hear them chattering in the trees on the main Malaga streets first and last thing.
Cormorants – lots fish just off the beaches in Malaga all year round.
Black redstarts – easily recognizable with the flash of their red tail, these friendly birds pop up all over Malaga, especially in the winter.
Hoopoes – not so easy to see, although we see a pair in our park regularly. Unmistakable with its orange, white and black plumage, and striking crest.
Best spots for birdwatching in Malaga
You’ll spot birds just about anywhere in Malaga, but these are the top spots:
Paseo del Parque
The birds don’t seem to notice they’re hemmed in between two busy roads and there’s plenty of fluttery action going on. Pick your bench, sit quietly and watch and listen.
Roman Theatre and Alcazaba
Again, choose a quiet spot and get ready to see black wheatears, sparrows and blue rock thrushes on the ground. Move your gaze upwards for kestrels, the booted eagle and possibly a peregrine or two.
Pick a beach in Malaga outside high season and sit near the shore to watch gulls, terns and cormorants. The quieter the beach the better the birdwatching, but you’ll see plenty of feathered action even on La Malagueta.
Guadalhorce Nature Reserve
The 120 hectares of protected nature reserve are the jewel in the crown for birdwatching in Malaga. Made up of the Guadalhorce river mouth and several old gravel pits, these wetlands rank as one of the best places to see birds on the Costa del Sol.
This twitching spot is also hemmed in. In this case, Malaga Airport and the A7 dual-carriageway form the boundaries so plane and car traffic is intense. But don’t let that put you off – the Guadalhorce Nature Reserve is a haven of peace and quiet as well as a birdwatching paradise.
Make your way round the paths (well-signposted) and stop in the hides on the way to spot the birds. You probably won’t be alone – lots of local birdwatchers are regular visitors and they’re usually keen to share their knowledge (and binoculars).
The list of permanent residents runs long – osprey, sanderlings, spoonbills, herons, cattle egrets, terns, moorhens… And the rare white-headed duck, something of a celebrity in Malaga where it manages to breed successfully. Look out for their bright blue beaks in the lagoon to the north.
You may also see cormorants (in their hundreds in winter), a flock of flamingos and lots of non-water birds in the scrubland. Listen out for the common nightingale, skylarks and thrushes.
Getting there: The best way to get to the nature reserve is by bus. If you don’t mind getting your feet wet as you wade through the river, take the 40 bus from Paseo de los Curas to Sacaba Beach and walk along the beach past two small bays until you reach the longer stretch of sand backed by the fence enclosing the nature reserve (1.2km approx.).
For drier feet, you have 2 options:
- Walk to Sacaba and then follow the first river tributary north until you reach a white bridge on the left. Cross over and turn right up a short slope. Continue right along the river dyke until you reach the Guadalhorce River Bridge (opened in September 2020). Cross it and when you reach the other side, take a left into the Nature Reserve. It’s around 2km from Sacaba to the Nature Reserve entrance.
- Or take the 5 bus from the Alameda Principal and get off at Calle Wilkinson stop (1014) in Guadalmar and walk east until you come to the river bank. Climb it and turn left to cross the bridge into the nature reserve.
Best times of year: The vast variety of birds makes any time of year good for birdwatching in Malaga. Winter and spring are peak seasons at the Guadalhorce Nature Reserve while summer is pretty quiet. First and last thing are the best times of the day.
More information about birdwatching in Malaga
The provincial authorities run a reasonably good website with information in English. It covers birdwatching in the province of Malaga and as you can see from the map, there are plenty of great twitching spots. Click here.
And to see what we’re talking about, check out the David Lindo video on birdwatching in Malaga below.