The birds of Naxos

Typical for islands, the number of breeding bird species on Naxos is lower than on the adjacent mainland. Regardless of this fact, Naxos Island’s avifauna is astonishingly rich and includes a greater diversity of species than most of the neighbouring islands. This is due mainly to the large size of Naxos and its diversity of landscapes. In addition to the breeding bird species, the migrating birds found on Naxos are of special interest due to the fact Naxos is an important stepping stone between Africa and Europe.

A visitor to Naxos (left), bird watching with Naxos’ most prominent ornithologist, Nikos Promponas (right).

A diversity of bird species breed in the Mediterranean habitats that are not found in Western Europe.

The best site to observe migrating waterfowl is at the lagoon near the airport.

Two-hundred and twenty five species of birds have been observed on Naxos (this is excluding some very old records). This is about half of the 437 species occurring in Greece. Naxos and a few neighbouring islands have 70 nesting species, 4 of these are irregular nesters. Permanent resident species that nest on Naxos number 43, while 27 nesting species are migrants. Close to 90 species are regular migrants in spring or fall and 40 species are winter visitors. 51 species of birds found on Naxos are listed in the Greek Red List of endangered species.

The species of birds found on Naxos are changing, with species such as the Blue Tit and the House Martin no longer found on Naxos in the last 100 years. At the same time, several new species not recorded before, such as the Collared Dove, Cetti’s Warbler, Stonechat, Tree Sparrow and Red-rumped Swallow, have been established on the island. Six of the 70 nesting species that were listed above can be regularly seen on Naxos but do not nest on the island itself but on small neighboring islets. These species are the gulls and shearwaters, Eleanora’s Falcon and the Griffon Vulture (which breeds on nearby Heraklia).

Only in the last few decades have Red-rumped Swallows been established as a nesting species on Naxos, photo by Winfried Scharlau.

The highlights of the Naxian avifauna are doubtlessly the raptors and the waterfowl. Raptors that nest on Naxos or nearby include not only the Common Buzzard and the Kestrel, but the rarer Eleanora’s Falcon, Griffon Vulture, Bonelli’s Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon and Lanner Falcon.

On Naxos, Eleonora’s Falcon occurs in both the light and dark phase, pictured here is the rarer dark phase, photo by Th. Gaitanakis.

Waterfowl that occurs in the Mediterranean Sea are fewer in species and individuals when compared to areas such as the North Sea, but they are of special interest. Most of the waterfowl that occur in the Mediterranean are not seen in many other areas, such as the very common Yellow-legged Gull (the Mediterranean form of the European Herring Gull), the extremely rare Audouin’s Gull (which occurs only in the Mediterranean) and Cory’s and Yelkouan Shearwaters. Naxian nesting waterfowl include Shags, Black-winged Stilts, Stone Curlew and Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers.

Recently, the very common Yellow-legged Gull was split from the European Herring Gull, Photo by Winfried Scharlau.

The Little Ringed Plover nests on Naxos along the sandy shores of lagoons, photo by Th. Gaitanakis.

A few pairs of Stone Curlew nest at the airport lagoon, photo by G. Beriatus.

Obviously, the most interesting nesting species on Naxos for Western European birders are either Mediterranean or Eastern European species. These are for example the Sardinian, Ruppel’s, Orphean, Olivaceous, and Cetti’s Warblers, the Cirl, Black-headed and Cretzschmar’s Buntings, the Black-eared Wheatear, the Blue Rock Thrush, the Woodchat Shrike, the Red-rumped Swallow and the Alpine Swift.

The Cirl Bunting is one of the most common species on Naxos. Photo by Th. Gaitanakis

Cretzschmar’s Bunting is a typical inhabitant of low shrub vegetation. Photo by Th. Gaitanakis

Moreover, several species can be found on Naxos that also occur in Western Europe, but are not very common. These include: Crested Larks, Woodlarks, Northern Wheatears, Corn Buntings, Stonechats, Ravens and Nightjars.

The stonechat occurs regularly on Naxos. Photo by Winfried Scharlau

Finally Naxos nest several bird species that are common in Western Europe but quite rare in the Aegean, making their presence here somewhat surprising. Among these species are Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Wrens, and Nightingales. Much less common, but still observed from time to time are Spotted Flycatchers, Tree Sparrows (which nest in only one small locality), and the European and Great Reed Warblers. Until they were recently discovered on Naxos, these species were not known to breed on the Cyclades.


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