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Madeira and the Canary Islands

Country/Territory Portugal,Spain
Area 8,000 km2
Altitude 0 - 3700m
Priority urgent
Habitat loss major
Knowledge good

General characteristics

Madeira (politically part of Portugal) and the Canary Islands (Spain) are two volcanic archipelagos in the North Atlantic, c.90 km off north-west Africa. Madeira (including the Desertas) is c.800 km2 in area and reaches 1,860 m, while the Canary Islands total c.7,500 km2 and rise (on Tenerife) to 3,700 m. The Selvagens (Portugal), situated between the two, are also part of the EBA.

On Madeira the characteristic vegetation is laurel forest. On the western and central Canaries laurel forest occurs at 400-1,300 m and montane Pinus canariensis forest at 800-1,900 m. The lower-lying and arid eastern Canaries (Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Graciosa) are vegetated with semi-desert scrub.

Restricted-range species

Several of the restricted-range species are forest birds including the three endemic pigeons, which are laurel forest specialists (of the two which co-occur in the Canaries, Columba junoniae prefers scrubbier areas above and below major stands of laurel). Fringilla teydea is restricted to pine forest.

Tenerife has the greatest number of restricted-range species. Madeira and Fuerteventura each have their own endemic birds and the forested western and central Canary Islands support four endemics.

The islands also hold many endemic subspecies of widespread birds, notably the distinctive race fuertaventurae of Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata, which is confined to the eastern Canaries.

Madeira is particularly important for breeding seabirds, including Zino's Petrel Pterodroma madeira, an endemic breeder on Madeira itself, and Fea's Petrel P. feae, which nests on Bugio in the Desertas (one of a few breeding populations; see also EBA 078) (Zino and Biscoito 1994).


Species IUCN Category
Madeira Laurel-pigeon (Columba trocaz) LC
Dark-tailed Laurel-pigeon (Columba bollii) LC
White-tailed Laurel-pigeon (Columba junoniae) NT
Plain Swift (Apus unicolor) LC
Canarian Oystercatcher (Haematopus meadewaldoi) EX
Fuerteventura Stonechat (Saxicola dacotiae) NT
(Regulus teneriffae) NR
Berthelot's Pipit (Anthus berthelotii) LC
(Fringilla teydea) NR
Island Canary (Serinus canaria) LC

Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
IBA Code Site Name Country
ES338 Morro Tabaiba-Morro de los Rincones-Vallebrón mountains Spain
ES340 Cuchillete de Buenavista-gully of La Torre-Los Alares Spain
ES346 Gully of Ajuí-Betancuria Spain
ES354 Pajonales, Ojeda, Inagua and La Data pine woodlands Spain
ES355 Tamadaba pine woodland Spain
ES357 San Andrés, Pijaral and Anaga mountains Spain
ES358 Las Vueltas, Aguas Negras and Quebradas mountains Spain
ES359 Las Mercedes, Mina y Yedra, Aguirre, La Goleta and Pedro Alvarez mountains Spain
ES363 Tigaiga slope Spain
ES366 Mountain of Agua, gully of Los Cochinos and gully of Cuevas Negras Spain
ES368 Tágara gully Spain
ES369 Vilaflor pine woodland Spain
ES370 Arico pine woodland Spain
ES376 Garajonay National Park Spain
ES379 La Palma laurel forest Spain
ES380 El Canal y Los Tiles laurel forest Spain
PT083 Laurissilva Portugal
PT084 Maciço Montanhoso Oriental Portugal
PT085 Ilhas Desertas Portugal
PT087 Ponta de São Lourenço Portugal
PT088 Ponta do Pargo Portugal
PT089 Ilhéus do Porto Santo Portugal
PT090 Porto Santo Oeste Portugal

Threat and conservation

Today native forest is greatly reduced: 14% of the original area is left on Madeira (where the largest and best examples of laurel habitat remain), 10% on Tenerife and less than 1% on Gran Canaria.

On Madeira the creation of the Parque Natural da Madeira (covering almost two-thirds of the island and virtually all the remaining laurel forest) has contributed to the recovery of Columba trocaz (3,500-5,000 birds and increasing), along with the prohibition of hunting under the European Union Wild Birds Directive. These actions keep this species classified as Conservation Dependent rather than qualifying as threatened. Forests on Madeira nevertheless remain threatened by fire and by grazing and browsing by goats and pigs. The Parque Natural da Madeira also protects the sheer grassy cliffs where Pterodroma madeira breeds (Critical, probably fewer than 30 pairs; see 'Restricted-range species', above), although predation by black rats Rattus rattus and feral cats, and habitat degradation remain threats. The Desertas Special Protected Area protects P. feae (Vulnerable, 150-200 pairs nesting; see above).

In the western and central Canaries, the protection of pine forest has resulted in Fringilla teydea (2,000-3,000 birds) being judged as Conservation Dependent. However, inappropriate management of laurel forest, small-scale learance (inside and outside existing protected areas), illegal hunting and introduced predators (rats and cats) continue to threaten Columba bollii (c.1,700) and C. junoniae (1,200-1,500) (Tucker and Heath 1994).

In the eastern Canaries, the continuing natural desertification of Fuerteventura, together with water extraction and grazing by goats, may damage the future prospects of Saxicola dacotiae (1,500-1,700 birds) (Bibby and Hill 1987). Fuerteventura and Lanzarote are important for Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae (see 'Restricted-range species' above; the most threatened of the species' three races); the entire population of this subspecies was thought to number 200-400 birds, chiefly on Fuerteventura, until a recent survey of Lanzarote and Graciosa estimated 400 birds for these islands alone (Martín et al. 1996). No cause is known for the disappearance of Haematopus meadewaldoi from the eastern Canaries, although competition from man for the intertidal invertebrates on which both once depended seems the most likely factor (Hockey 1987).

Grimmett and Jones (1989) identified over 60 Important Bird Areas in the EBA, and detailed action plans for the threatened and Conservation Dependent taxa are given in Heredia et al. (1996).


Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Endemic Bird Areas factsheet: Madeira and the Canary Islands. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/09/2020.