Feeding the pigeons on the plaza outside Parliament was once a favourite activity of young tourists (and Athenian kids too). But the city’s bird population is far more diverse. Today, it’s as likely you’ll spot—or at least, hear—parrots in Athens, as wild colonies are taking over the city’s small parks. Several sites near Athens—Mount Ymittos, Antonis Tritsis Park, Schinias Reserve, Mount Parnitha, the Vravrona Estuary—are excellent for birdwatching. But even in the centre of Athens, you don’t need to go far to spot the city’s feathered population.
The National Garden
An incredible variety of vegetation provides the perfect habitat for birds. Look up, look around and with luck you might spot the white wagtail (Motacilla alba) pumping its tail up and down as it chases insects. The Troglodyte troglodyte, one of Europe’s smallest birds and the only wren species on the continent, also makes its home here. Another unusual bird: the wryneck, or Jynx torquilla, a woodpecker that twists its neck when frightened. You can spot them in old nests high in the trees or flicking insects off the ground with their tongues.
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The owl, symbol of the city, features on Greek coins. But if you want to spot one in real life, you’ll need to head to Lycabettus. Its pine-covered slopes and quarry are also habitat for the kestrel (Falco tinnuculus), golden oriole (or fig eater, sykofagos, in colloquial Greek), great tit, hoopoe and finches who are among the 64 species recorded there by the city’s birdwatchers.
Sparrowhawks seems especially fond of Philopappou Hill—you’ll often see them soaring overhead. This pine habitat also attracts kestrels, small grey owls, and the swift goldcrest with its colourful plumage. In spring, the chirping can rival the summer cicadas: it’s the chatter of the European serin, a small bird that’s easily mistaken for a canary.
"One of Attica’s richest wetlands, a popular stopover for birds migrating between Europe and Africa."
One of Attica’s richest wetlands, a popular stopover for birds migrating between Europe and Africa, is located along Faliron Bay, where the Kifissos river spills into the sea. During migration periods, the area serves as a resting place for some 130 bird species, from the Great Cormorant to the Manx Shearwater. Construction of the coastal road and sports stadium disrupted their journey but in 2018, a ‘park zone’ was approved for the site in hopes of restoring the deltahabitat.
Book a Tour
If you’re an avid birder—bird-watching fanatic for those not in the know—you might want to treat yourself to a tailor-made bird watching tour. Experienced local bird guides Spyros Skareas (MSc in Natural Resource Sciences) and Lefteris Stavrakas are putting their knowledge into action in Athens. Greece Birds Tour, provides custom bird-watching and bird photography tours for small groups (2-6 people) all year long. The tours cover several areas around Athens: Schinias National Park, Mt Parnitha, Mt Hymettus, Spata fields, and Vravrona Estuary, to name a few, as well as urban parks such as the National Garden, Lycabettus Hill and Philopappou Hill, all on occasion. Costs range from €50-150 per person depending on location, target species, transport and duration. Greece Bird Tours also offers pick up and drop off services. Just BYOB — bring your own…binoculars — although, if needed, they can even provide those. First time birders as well as avid twitchers are all welcome, and it’s strongly advised that you book (months) in advance, especially if you’re planning on visiting during spring or autumn.