Science trips – The best places in Spain to see eagles

Eagles are mythical animals that are represented in all cultures, and in Spain there are native eagles that can be seen in their natural environment.

The eagle is present in the coat of arms of the United States, Russia, Poland, Germany, Austria, Romania, Mexico, Jordan, Nigeria and many other countries. Eagles were the symbol of the Roman Empire and the representation of power in ancient Egypt. Nor can we forget that the golden eagle is the key to passing the level in the popular video game Angry Birds. Something must have this bird of prey for so many humans to want to associate with its image.

Most of the 60 species of eagles come from Eurasia and Africa. Outside this zone, only 14 species are found: 2 in North America, 9 in Central and South America and 3 in Australia. Eagles are not a naturally occurring group, their name is generally used to refer to birds of prey large enough to hunt vertebrate and sizable prey, about 50 cm in length or more.

These birds are threatened by habitat loss, poison traps and power lines, and of some species only a few hundred individuals remain. Spain is one of the best places in Europe to spot wildlife, and that includes the magnificent eagles endemic to the Iberian Peninsula. Here are the places you should go to see each one:

iberian imperial eagle

imperial eagle

The Iberian imperial eagle (adalberti aquila) is one of the endemic birds of the Iberian Peninsula, an endangered species of which there are only 407 pairs in the Iberian Peninsula. The plumage is dark brown, except on the upper part of the wings, where they have white feathers. Its fortress is found in the mountains of central and southwestern Spain, such as in Extremadura, Ciudad Real and areas of northern Huelva and the Sierra Norte de Seville.

iberian golden eagle

Royal Eagle

The golden eagle is widespread throughout the world, but there is a subspecies (Aquila chrysaetos homeyeri) endemic to the peninsula. It is distinguished from those of northern Europe by its slightly darker color. Years ago the Cantabrian Mountains were the ideal place to observe these birds, even on the coastal cliffs, but in recent years their population has declined in this area, now being more abundant in the Pyrenees and the central and Andalusian mountains.

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Bonelli’s eagle

Bonelli's eagle

Bonelli’s eagle

Bonelli’s goshawk or eagle (fasciata) is a slightly smaller bird, and gets its name from one of its favorite dishes: hunting rabbits, pigeons, partridges and lizards. It is about 70 cm long and weighs about two kilograms, with a dark brown back and yellowish-white feathers on the underside. In Spain it all but disappeared from the northern highlands, and the formerly dense populations of the Mediterranean coast suffered large declines. To see them you have to go to the natural parks of the south and of Extremadura, such as Parque de Doñana or Parque de Monfragüe.

osprey

osprey

The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is spread along coasts and rivers around the world, but is in danger of disappearing in Europe. Unlike other birds of prey, their toes are longer, with curved nails and an opposable outer finger, allowing them to grab the slippery fish that are their main diet. In the Iberian Peninsula the osprey was officially extinct in 1983, but in 2003 it was reintroduced to Cádiz and Huelva thanks to a reintroduction program. The first breeding pair was observed in the Marismas del Odiel Natural Park, in Huelva, and since then it has been increasing progressively, so it is considered the species recovered in Andalusia.

short-toed eagle

short-toed eagle

The European Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) is widespread in most of southern Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East. As its name suggests, it specializes in eating small snakes, which it catches with its short but strong claws and kills with a sharp peck to the head. They arrive in Spain in the spring to nest and at the end of August they return to spend the winter in Africa. It is easy to see them in the Coto de Doñana, where they arrive together with the migration of many other birds.

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