The Urdaibai Bird Center is a nature museum for enjoying the world of birds. It offers a unique observatory of marshland in the heart of Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve in Euskadi in northern Spain.
The Center is called a “living” museum because what it has to show depends on the life of the marshland and the birds who choose to visit. You can see some of that in the webcam below.
As the Northern Hemisphere winter approaches, food supplies for birds dwindle and most begin to migrate south. Coming from as far west as Greenland and as far east as Russia, they head towards western Europe, then down towards the border between France and Spain. With the Pyrenees blocking their path to the east and the Bay of Biscay a barrier to the west, they funnel through a narrow path that takes them through Euskadi, the Basque country of Spain.
This is the East Atlantic Flyway, a bird migration system linking breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra with wintering grounds in Mauritania, and stretching from northern Russia to southern Africa.
The Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve preserves an age-old oasis for these birds. From here, they head south through Spain, many going to the Doñana National Park in Andalusia, across the Mediterranean to Morocco, then down the west coast of Africa to wintering grounds in the Senegal and Niger deltas, with some going as far as South Africa.
The Urdaibai Bird Center has exhibits, AV shows, interpreters, and more to explain all of this. In addition, they have observatories from which you can see the birds who are there on a given day (as in the webcam).
The birds are wonderful to see and their stories are often amazing. The migration routes sometimes extend thousands of miles. One especially interesting case is the red-backed shrike.
Like other birds this shrike heads south from northern Europe, stops over at Urdaibai, and then goes to southern Spain. But instead of heading directly south to the west coast of Africa, it turns east to Italy, or even Greece, then turns south through central Africa. Further breaking the mold, it returns by a different route. It goes further east, through the horn of Africa, Arabia, and Turkey, before turning west.
After exploring a bit in some ornithology journals, I learned that individual red-backed shrikes break the pattern even more, often following idiosyncratic paths and ending up hundreds of miles apart in South Africa.
It’s behavior like this that makes the work of a bird center like Urdaibai both challenging and wonderful.