Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean covering an area of 9250 km2 and lies on one of the major bird migration routes across the Mediterranean. With Africa to the south, Turkey and central Europe to the north and Syria and the Middle East to the east, Cyprus is a major staging post used twice a year as birds move between Africa, Europe and Eurasia, with over 200 species occuring as regular passage migrants in varying numbers. On the contrary, there are only around 50 resident species, and a further 40 or more species that are migrants which regularly or occasionally breed on the island. The Cyprus list currently stands at 398 species. Cyprus has two endemic species, the Cyprus WheatearOenanthe cypriaca and the Cyprus WarblerSylvia melanothorax.
In addition there are four endemic subspecies, Cyprus Scops Owl Otus scops cyprius, Coal TitParus ater cypriotes, Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla dorotheae and Cyprus JayGarrulus glandarius glaszneri.
Sadly in recent years Cyprus has lost some regular breeding species, such as the Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca and the Dipper Cinclus cinclus, whilst the Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles leucopterus has been seen occasionally but with no recent proven breeding records. The Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus and the Raven Corvus corax are in serious decline.
Spring migration in Cyprus starts early in February with the arrival of the first Hirundines and Wheatears, such as the Isabelline and Northern Wheatear, and with Great Spotted Cuckoo arriving towards the end of the month. Early March sees the first Hoopoe, and by the end of this month the spring migration is under full swing with the arrival of Pallid Harriers, Wryneck, Larks, Pipits, Wagtails, Black-eared Wheatear, Sylvia Warblers (including Ruppell’s and Subalpine), Cretzshmar’s and Ortolan Buntings. This migration continues into early April with the additional arrival of various Egrets, Herons, Waders, Rollers, Bee-eaters, Olivaceous Warbler, Shrikes, Golden Orioles, and Black-headed Bunting. Towards the end of April passerine migration drops off, but wader migration continues, with the possibility of the odd rarity arriving continuing into May.
Breeding birds include Griffon Vulture, Bonelli’s Eagle, Eleonora’s Falcon, Long-legged Buzzard, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Roller, Cyprus Wheatear, Cyprus Warbler, Olivaceous Warbler , Masked Shrike and Cretzschmar`s Bunting.
Autumn migration starts in early August with the arrival of the Shrikes. Passerines are less obvious in the autumn than they are in spring. At the very end of August/ early September, Demoiselle Cranes stop off at Akrotiri Salt Lake and are occasionally seen flying over other parts of the Island. Autumn migration usually includes a variable passage of raptors including Egyptian Vulture, Lesser Spotted Eagles, good numbers of Honey Buzzards, Black Kite, Red-footed and Lesser Kestrels, and Black and White Storks. It continues into October, when winter visitors also start to arrive.
The winter months can also be very productive, but can have quite a northern Europe feel to them, whilst still retaining an eastern species theme. Duck numbers increase and there is a small wintering flock of White-fronted Geese. Species such as Black Redstart, Robin and Song Thrush are quite common, with Bluethroats and Reed Bunting found in marshy areas, with Dunnock, Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Goldcrest, Brambling, Siskin present, but less common. Stonechats are very common and can include Eastern races such as ‘Armenian’. Finsch’s Wheatear is a Cyprus wintering specialty in suitable habitat and Wallcreeper can be found on cliffs or gorges, but both species require time and effort to locate. During winter one can find the odd rarity, with Rock Sparrow and Rock Buntings occasionally found amongst other Eastern European species.
During winter, the sea around Cyprus can produce occasional sightings of Scoploli’s and Yelkouan Shearwater off headlands, but is otherwise relatively quiet. It requires effort to find any winter water species on the sea other than the resident and wintering Gulls, which can include the odd Greater Black-headed Gull and Shags or Cormorants.