SEO/BirdLife presents an unprecedented scientific study on the abundance and distribution of birds in winter in Spain - SEO/BirdLife

SEO/BirdLife presents an unprecedented scientific study on the abundance and distribution of birds in winter in Spain

  • Three years of fieldwork, more than 70,000 kilometres of walked survey transects and 30,000 hours of sampling highlight the effort behind the preparation of an atlas of the abundance and distribution of 407 bird species
  • The study will become an essential reference work for new ornithological studies and a crucial tool for the management of protected areas and species
  • The atlas has been produced thanks to the invaluable support of over the 2,600 ornithologists involved

More than 70,000 kilometres of walked survey, the equivalent of almost twice round the world on foot to reach every part of Spain: this was the huge effort undertaken by an army of 2.600 ornithologists in carrying out the most comprehensive study ever of the distribution and abundance of birds in Spain in winter.

Today SEO/BirdLife has presented the publication which summarizes this huge undertaking, the Atlas of birds in winter in Spain (2007-2010), a reference work which fills an important gap in the study of Spain’s bird fauna. Traditionally, more effort has been devoted to understanding the distribution of wild birds in the spring, to coincide with the breeding season. To date, two atlases of breeding birds in Spain have been published, but work had never been carried out to understand bird distribution in winter, except in some earlier local studies. SEO/BirdLife took on this ‘winter challenge’ for the first time in Spain and today presents the results of work which began in 2007 and now offers important results which extend the understanding of bird ecology. This study places Spain at the highest level of ornithological study, as only a small number of developed countries have carried out similar studies on birds in winter in their entire territory.

The Atlas of birds in winter in Spain (2007-2010) is illustrated with sketches by the artist and biologist Juan Varela (finalist in BBC Wildlife Artist of the Year 2013) and has been produced with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment and published with support of the National Parks Service. Amongst its 820 pages there are up-to-date data on 407 species, of which 238 are listed as ‘common’ and a further 76 whose presence is ‘scarce’ or ‘occasional’. Finally, 34 are considered as rarities and 59 are non-native species.

This study sheds important new light on the distribution of birds in Spain. From comparison with the breeding atlases, it is possible to estimate the difference in distribution of bird species in the two different periods and to illustrate and understand their seasonal movements. For example, it has been confirmed that geographical differences in land use are a more important factor in explaining winter bird distribution than differences in climate. Areas with a greater variety of habitats are those with the highest species richness in winter.


Presentación del Atlas de las aves en invierno en el salón de actos del Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente. / Agustín Carretero-SEO/BirdLife



The assistance of more than 1,000 fieldworkers has been fundamental in the compilation of the atlas; they carried out systematic field reconnaissance surveys in the 2007-2008, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 winters. During this period 120,317 15-minute walked transects were carried out, which equates to 71,950 kilometres walked, or approximately 1.8 times round the Equator. During 30,079 hours of sampling the presence and abundance of all bird species was noted in those months considered to be ‘winter’ according to the biology of the majority of bird species (15 November-15 February). In addition, the atlas incorporates data from other bird monitoring programmes carried out by SEO/BirdLife, such as SACIN, Noctua or Sacre, in which a further 1,600 ornithologists collaborated. The atlas therefore brings together the work of 2,600 people.

The method employed is that used by modern wildlife atlases. From intensive studies in certain selected representative areas of Spain, and in response to no less than 75 function different variables: geographical, climatological, descriptors of habitat and land use, landscape and topography, the presence of bird species has been estimated in the remainder of the country. In its own right, this comparative framework breaks new ground in the environmental and geographical classification of Spain.

The Atlas of birds in winter in Spain (2007-2010) will from now on be regarded as a key reference point for new ornithological studies and an essential tool for the management of protected areas and the conservation of biodiversity. Furthermore, the recorded changes in short- and long-term distribution of birds give key clues to the possible effects of global change and other factors, such as land-use change, farming activity and other human pressures.

The Atlas of birds in winter in Spain (2007-2010) can be ordered online from SEO/BirdLife


The Atlas of birds in winter in Spain (2007-2010) has been produced with the collaboration of 2.600 ornithologists and the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment and the National Parks Service.


Asunción Ruiz, Chief Executive of SEO/BirdLife:

“This atlas demonstrates that the scientific vocation of SEO/BirdLife is one of the fundamental values that are the lifeblood of the organization, and that vocation has remained strong since our foundation in 1954. Since that date we have always cared for and protected nature but always with solid arguments. In SEO/BirdLife we work for birds but to protect people too – to protect the future for everyone. What we present today is not just an atlas, because it’s important to remember that the EU recognises the healthy state of wild bird populations as a key indicator of our quality of life. For that reason, looking after birds is looking after ourselves, because the environment and the natural world is our real richness”.

“The work of the atlas would have been impossible without the priceless contribution of thousands of co-workers. This contribution is a powerful demonstration of the strength of civil society. In these confused times, in which the excuse of the economic crisis is an excuse to cut resources, SEO/BirdLife wishes to demonstrate that another model exists, of a fairer, more sustainable society, with a stronger democracy where the public interest is the most important value. This atlas proves that with the combined efforts of many people great things can be achieved”.

Professor Eduardo de Juana, President of SEO/BirdLife:

“This is a collective work, thanks to the efforts of many highly skilled co-workers to whom we extend our warmest thanks for their dedication in a task which is neither easy nor comfortable. This great effort gives us a practical tool for interpreting our ecosystems and the changes which might take place in the future: birds are a marvellous indicator which we should study carefully”.

Federico Ramos, Secretary of State for the Environment:

“It’s a study which unites a colossal amount of information with great scientific rigour. With this work SEO/BirdLife updates the catalogues of birds in Spain and helps our country to comply with our international commitments in relation to inventories of biodiversity”.

About SEO/BirdLife

The Spanish Ornithological Society is a scientific conservation NGO founded in 1954 and represents BirdLife International in Spain. SEO/BirdLife publishes the scientific journal Ardeola, included in the ISI Science Citation Index since 2003.








Related Posts