Five natural sites in France to observe bird migration

THE MORNING LIST

All north! The prenuptial migration of birds lasts until late spring. Each species has its own time slot and flight corridor.

In Leucate, birds of prey against the Tramontana

You can see up to 20,000 black swifts flying over Leucate (Aude) on certain days.

The limestone plateau dominates a coastal strip separating the Mediterranean Sea from a lagoon. In the distance, to the south, the Pyrenees. On the right, the first foothills of the Corbières massif. On the cliff of Leucate (Aude), the spectacle is as much landscape as ornithological. In 2021, more than 500,000 birds of 148 different species flew over this site from February to May. Coming from Spain, they fight against the tramuntana which deports them towards the sea and take as a visual reference point this strip of land which leads to the cliff.

Linnets, storks and cranes open the ball. Then the flow of black swifts reaches 20,000 individuals on certain days. Raptors follow, like the honey buzzard, a bird with a wingspan of one and a half meters, in waves of 10,000. “The sky is full of them! It is the place in France where you can see the most in a single day”notes Sébastien Roque, from the Med migration association, which does the counting.

The worrying state of certain species does not go unnoticed either. European greenfinches, European goldfinches and skylarks now pass through in meager numbers, a drastic drop compared to the 1980s.

At the Pointe de Grave, a dance of swallows

On average, the honey buzzard flies over the Pointe de Grave (Gironde) a week earlier than in 1989 to adapt to climate change.

At the northern end of the Médoc (Gironde), above the dunes of the Pointe de Grave, it is not uncommon for the sky to fill up in one day with tens of thousands of swallows and brown gulls. On one side, the ocean. On the other, the Gironde estuary.

The birds that follow the Atlantic coast meet those who pass by land but do not dare to cross the estuary. At the Pointe de Grave, you have to take the plunge to continue your journey. This funnel effect offers a spectacular spectacle until the end of May. “It is here that we best observe this imperative need to go north”explains Jean-Paul Urcun, of the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO) Aquitaine.

The association has been monitoring it for more than thirty-five years. This long series of observations made it possible to develop an indicator of the impact of global warming on the spring migration of fifteen species of trans-Saharan migrants such as the honey buzzard or the osprey. To adapt to the new climatic conditions, these birds have advanced their journey by a week since 1989. A size change on the scale of a sparrow.

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