Crete is regarded as one of the last refuges for European wild fauna and flora, and a biodiversity hotspot, as a large number of species evolve, live and flourish in the island’s numerous habitats.
Birds are the largest group of vertebrates in Crete. Almost half of the bird species seen on Crete are migratory, as the island is on their migratory path from Northern Europe to Africa and back. But there is also a large number of species that live permanently or breed on Crete.
Τhe “kings” of the Cretan bird fauna are definitely the large raptors (eagles and vultures), that maintain sizeable populations and can be seen in the mountainous areas of Crete.
These are the main raptors of Crete:
Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)
The Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is also known as “kokalas” among the locals because it feeds on livestock bones (kokala means bones in Greek). It is the bird with the largest wingspan in Europe (270 cm), its body length ranging between102-114 cm.
Seen alone or in pairs, the Bearded vulture usually nests in small caves, in isolated canyons and steep cliffs, in areas of medium to high altitude (600-2.500 m.), mostly in the White Mountains. It is a very rare species: there are about 6-7 breeding pairs on Crete, and this is the only breeding population in southeastern Europe.
Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus)
The Griffon vulture is found almost everywhere on Crete. In fact, the island is home to the healthiest population of the species in Greece and the largest island population in the world (over 1,000 individuals). It is a large and heavy predator with a wingspan of 260 cm and a body length of 97-104 cm. The Griffon vulture’s head is bare, and on the base of its neck it has a collar of short feathers. The vulture nests on steep cliffs at low altitudes and feeds on dead animals, mostly livestock.
Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
The Golden eagle has a wingspan of 185-220 cm and a body length of 75-90 cm. It is the principal predator on Crete, and the most powerful predator in Greece. When flying, one can see its golden yellow neck and beautiful long tail. The Golden eagle nests in mountain, rocky areas and feeds on small birds, reptiles, and mammals.
Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata)
Bonelli’s Eagle lives at low altitudes (300-500m.), usually nesting on the sides of gorges. Its territory is small compared to that of other eagles. It’s a rather fast flyer, and generally avoids humans, therefore it is difficult to spot. It feeds on small mammals (rabbits, hares etc.), but will also take small birds. There are about 20 to 25 breeding pairs on Crete, scattered across the island.
Eleonora’s Falcon (Falco eleonorae)
Eleonora’s Falcon is a migratory species. It winters in Central Africa and Madagascar, migrating principally to the Aegean Sea in early spring. Greece hosts 80% of the world population, of which 10% breed on the craggy shores of the islets north of Crete. Eleonora’s falcon feeds mainly on insects, but it also predates small birds during the autumn migration.
If you are an amateur bird watcher, autumn and spring are the ideal seasons to marvel at the flocks of migratory bird species that pass from Crete. As for the large raptors, they can be seen year round in the mountain areas of the island. While vacationing in Creta Maris Resort, explore the Dikti range, mount Yuchtas, or Psiloritis (Ida) mountain, and with a little bit of luck you might encounter these beautiful wild vultures in their natural habitats.