Skip to main content

Fauna in the Atlantic Islands

Atlantic Islands, do you know the fauna of the National Park?

Enjoying the islands of the National Park of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia is a luxury within our reach. But we can increase this enjoyment by getting to know them better. The native fauna in the Atlantic Islands is rich, especially in birds. Knowing it will help us understand the islands, enjoy them and conserve them more when we are able to visit them again.

We are going to give a brief description of the animals that we can find on our walks along the trails that run through the islands of the National Maritime-Terrestrial Park of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia.

And if we talk about fauna in these islands, we have to talk about birds. Without taking insects into account, birds make up 80% of its terrestrial fauna. The spectacular colonies of seabirds that nest on its slopes, a worldwide reference for the National Park, stand out above all.

atlantic islands
The yellow-legged gull is the star of the fauna of the Atlantic Islands National Park.

Island conditions: less human presence, fewer predators, abundant marine resources and good breeding areas. All this makes the islands a good home for a great variety of birds, especially seabirds, but we also find terrestrial and migratory birds. For this reason, both Cíes and Ons are catalogued as ZEPA areas (Special Protection Area for Birds).

Of the seabirds that nest in the National Park, the most abundant and one of the most emblematic is the yellow-legged gull (
Larus michahellis

In spring, some 10,000 pairs of this impressive bird concentrate on the slopes of the islands, forming one of the largest colonies in Europe. If you visit the Cíes Islands during the breeding season , don’t miss the climb to the lighthouse, from where you can listen to their impressive cries.

Reproduction in spring

Each pair lays 1 to 3 eggs, which hatch in June. The young chicks are cared for by their parents for 2 months, they feed them and protect them with great bravery. Therefore, if we visit the islands when the chicks are still in their nests, we will be lucky to see them. Its appearance is that of small balls of light gray down with black spots. Of course, we must be careful not to disturb them or get too close if we do not want to get a scare or even a peck from one of their parents.

After these 2 months the chicks reach almost the size of adults and begin flight exercises, in addition they have to start subsisting on their own. It is not until they are 3 to 4 years old that they become adults and change their plumage color to the characteristic white and gray on the back, and yellow on the legs and beak. But what do seagulls feed on in the islands? during the breeding season mainly for crabs, but also for mussels, barnacles, starfish, etc.

But not only this gull nests in the National Park, among the groups of yellow-legged gulls it is not difficult to see one with a darker, almost black back. It is the black-headed gull (Larus fuscus), much scarcer both in Europe and in the Iberian Peninsula. The gull’s favorite nesting island is Sálvora, where about two dozen pairs nest each year.

The cormorant, the other star of the Atlantic Islands

Another of the Park’s most emblematic birds is the shag (
Aristotle). It receives this name because of the feather “bow” that they wear during the nuptial season. Visiting the islands it is easy to see them flying along the water in search of schools of fish or perched on the rocks of the coast drying their plumage. It is very difficult to see the chicks of this precious species before they leave the nest. Cormorants breed on rocky ledges of the “furnas ” (sea caves) or on cliffs.

Within a few months they have almost reached the size of their parents but with a different plumage, as they have white shades on the chest and neck.

The shag is catalogued as a vulnerable species in Galicia and in danger of extinction at national level, constituting, the 1,000 pairs that breed in the Atlantic Islands, one of the largest enclaves in the world, concentrating almost 50% of the Spanish population.

atlantic islands
Phalacrocorax_aristotelis_Cormorán Moñudo. Resident in Cíes and Ons

Their population on the islands has decreased a lot in recent years. This is mainly because they get caught in fishing nets. The long-term effects of the Prestige catastrophe must also be taken into account.
Prestige catastrophe
catastrophe (bioaccumulation of polluting residues and decrease in the population of sandeels, the main food of this species) and the predation of invasive species such as the American mink.

Therefore, it is very important to spare no effort in its conservation to prevent the disappearance of the emblem of the National Park of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia.

In addition to nesting seabirds, others can be seen depending on the time of year.

Other birds in the National Park

In winter we can see more fauna from the Atlantic Islands: large cormorants and black-headed gulls that

use the islands as a refuge. In spring and autumn, on the other hand, it is easy to see groups of gannets feeding and black-footed terns searching for fish. In addition, many waders come to the ponds, beaches and “Lago dos Nenos” in the Cíes Islands during migration to rest and take refuge.

On one of the different routes in the park we can also see terrestrial birds. For example, raptors such as the buzzard (
Buteo buteo
), the peregrine falcon (
Falco peregrinus
) or the goshawk (
Accipiter gentilis
), among others.

A multitude of small passerines hop among the branches of trees and bushes: finches, robins, goldfinches, greenfinches, stonechats and other small birds.

Willing to travel to Ons and Cíes to observe the fauna?


Diana del Río.


¿Tienes alguna duda?

Nuestro equipo a tu disposición para resolver tus dudas.

× WhatsApp