Ornithology in Extremadura can best be indulged in Peñafalcon. The rock is located on the southern border of the national park of Monfragüe. From Trujillo it takes three-and-a-half hours northwards on the A-road EX 208 until Tajo, where the soaring huge rock falls away sharply towards the river and is perfectly visible from the other riverside. The Tajo River flows quietly and widely below it. From the other riverside a rock wall soars above the river and looks as if it bears the scars of old longstanding battles. It has large and small gaps, corrasions and flaws as if hundreds of munitions were fired at it. In the small caverns and at protrusions griffon vultures sit straight and sublimely. As long as they are sitting, they look peaceful. As soon as an adult griffon vulture rises up, it looks like a frightful raptor. It has a wingspan of 2.5 metres and flies majestically through the air. It moves its head back and forth in order to keep watch. Sometimes the griffon vultures do not fly back to their rock at the other side, but rather to the visitor’s side where there also is a small rock. The large numbers of observers show great respect for these animals. Actually, the griffon vultures did not choose this rock in order to be admired by the ornithologists, but rather because the rocks in the south of Monfragüe are in an advantageous location for birds. It is an appropriate environment for vultures to bring up their chicks safely and a good starting point for hunting. The savannah-like Dehesa is a good food source for raptors. Vultures have always played the role of health police by eating to the bones of dead sheep, goats, cows and pigs, as well as dead red deer. From the rock in Monfragüe, vultures fly up to 100 kilometres inland to catch prey. The flight of the vultures can also be observed from the nearby castle ruins, the Castillo de Monfragüe. At this place, ornithologists stand literally at eye level with the raptor, or even a little bit over it and can look down on it. The griffon vultures are not the only birds that can be gazed at. Black storks, common ravens and peregrine falcons also utilise the rock as a breeding place and can be seen from the castle ruins. Well developed hiking trails lead to the castle and to many more sites for ornithology in the national park. Ornithology maps are available in the visitor’s centre in Villarreal de San Carlos and in Torrejon el Rubio. It is also possible to book guided tours in Villarreal.
Extremadura’s visitors do not have to go especially to the national park to watch birds. They can most of the time just go for a walk into the nearby holm oak forest, and once there to be attentive. Groups of cranes stand close together there eating acorns from the floor. Azure-winged magpies, which only live in Spain and Portugal, fly excitedly forwards and backwards between trees. Corn buntings attract attention to themselves by twittering strangely, which makes you think of a rattling bunch of keys. And not to forget the omnipresent white stork, which sits on the top of oak and eucalyptus trees or is looking for food in the meadows. The most famous stork nest in Extremadura is built on the ledge of the city hall at the Plaza Mayor in Merida. Storks are not afraid of men. They build their nests on church towers, house tops and boulders. Along the A-road N 521 from Caceres to Malpartida de Caceres, public authorities have erected dozens of high iron bars with a plateau, which the stork families willingly use as a platform for their nests. Up to 12,000 couples live in Extremadura. Around a third of the storks do not fly to Africa in autumn anymore, the same with the white-tailed kite, which prefers staying in the Iberian Peninsula instead of flying to the southerly continent. In the 1950s a few exemplars migrated from East Africa to Extremadura. This raptor today lives in the Dehesa. There are also outside national and natural parks countless places in Extremadura where ornithologists can indulge in their passion and watch rare birds. Spanish sparrows in the olive groves between Monroy and Talavan at the Tajo, little and great bustards of Belen near Trujillo, all species of warblers and nightingales in the mountains of Montanchez in the north-east of Merida, great spotted cuckoos, stone curlews, calandra larks, Montagu’s harriers and black-bellied sand grouses in the Serena in the east of the country, all these birds can be found there. A paradise for ornithologists that has not been discovered yet is in the mountains of Villuercas in the Sierra de Guadalupe. The Sierra is a 45 minute car drive away from Trujillo and worth seeing. Indeed, a large range of rare birds like woodchat shrikes and azure-winged magpies live in the forests surrounding the villages Cañamero, Cabañas des Castillo and Navazuelas. Bird enthusiasts will find in book shops several informative new publications about bird populations in Extremadura. However, even without being prepared in advance, ornithologists and common bird lovers will be very pleased by the bird world of Extremadura.