Valencia, one of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain, has a well-established reputation as a top birding region. The extensive network of coastal wetlands, including the famous L'Albufera de Valencia, are famously productive – and there are quality montane and steppe habitats too, all of which offer classic Mediterranean and Iberian birding.
Recently, though, the more list-focused Western Palearctic (WP) birder could be forgiven for being intrigued to visit the less likely birding locales of Valencia and Castellón de la Plana – two cities in the province. That's because three Category C species have recently been added to the Spanish list based on populations in the region, and are thus the only 'tickable' birds of their kind in the WP. They are Red-masked Parakeet, Red-whiskered Bulbul and Orange-cheeked Waxbill.
Red-masked Parakeet as established itself in the region of Valencia, and is now on Category C of the Spanish list (Ed Stubbs).
There is no doubt that introduced birds, included on national lists on the basis of being self-sustaining (i.e. 'Category C' species), cause debate among birders. Many deride them as 'plastic'. The rules on what exactly is deemed countable are inconsistent across country borders and there are many examples of apparently self-sustaining populations fizzling out, thus prompting the question of why they were ever deemed admissible to a national list. Lady Amherst's Pheasant in Britain is a decent example of this, but there are many others across Europe and indeed the world.
However, if you're in the numbers game when it comes to birding, then Category C species are of significance. This is especially true in the WP. Indeed, more than 35 species are only on the WP list as a result of Category C populations. As it happens, an upcoming Birdwatch feature will take a detailed look at the status of the WP's Category C species – here we will focus purely on the 'new' regional species that are gettable in Valencia.
This medium-sized parrot has a fairly limited range in south-western Ecuador and north-western Peru. Introduced populations are established in the USA in California and Hawaii. A small population has been present in Valencia since the 1990s, after a few escaped birds settled in proximity to other parrot species (Monk and Ring-necked Parakeets are well established in many Spanish cities, including Valencia).
In the late 2000s the population exceeded 20 individuals and continued to increase significantly to the point it was added to Category C of the Spanish list in 2019. On 17 February this year, no fewer than 443 were counted flying to roost during a SEO/BirdLife exotic species census near the Jardines del Real (or Viveros) in the heart of the city. Clearly the species is thriving in Valencia, as are the aforementioned Monk and Ring-necked Parakeets. Red-masked Parakeets have been recorded nesting in tree holes or building cavities and can occasionally be seen perched incongruously high up on the side of some of the city's many aesthetically pleasing buildings.
While birds rove into the city suburbs – and even beyond, with a record at Albufera, some 20 km to the south, in 2015 – the core population is found in and around the parks and gardens in centre. Between La Petxina and Mestalla, Red-masked Parakeets can be encountered virtually anywhere, especially in the 10-km-long Jardins del Túria, a narrow strip of parkland that winds along the old Turia River through the city, though they are far less numerous than Ring-necked and Monk Parakeets.
The most reliable location is Jardines del Real, situated immediately north of Jardins del Túria and the site of the Museum of Natural Sciences. It is here that the large roost can be witnessed at dawn and dusk, with small groups or individuals dotted about the grounds of the gardens during the day, often feeding inconspicuously on small fruiting trees.
Incidentally, a tiny population was also present in Barcelona during the 2000s and early 2010s, but thisis thought now to be extinct.
Jardines del Real is the best place to see Red-masked Parakeet, with pre- and post-roost flights visible overhead at dawn and dusk (Joan Banjo / Ed Stubbs).
A common species in the Indian subcontinent and South-East Asia, Red-whiskered Bulbul is very popular in the cagebird trade due to its singing abilities. Established populations in the USA are found in Florida, California, and Hawaii, with others on tropical islands such as Mauritius.
While a regular escapee in Europe, populations have rarely become established. In Valencia, however, there is a self-sustaining population clearly based around the old Turia River valley, from the city centre north-west to L'Eliana. Almost equidistant between the city centre and L'Eliana is a residential area called La Cañada, which is where the first sighting in the region came in March 2003. It has increased significantly since then – in 2012, the population was still estimated at fewer than 100 individuals, but a 2022 study showed there to be a few thousand individuals in a study area close to La Cañada. It was added to Category C of the Spanish list in 2019.
The species has spread more than 20 km from La Cañada since 2003 and is now a familiar bird in much of Valencia. It is unfussy in its habitat preferences. While the suburbs hold the core population, it is a routine city centre bird now and, similarly to Red-masked Parakeet, can be found along Jardins del Túria, with particular hot-spots including the Bioparc, Parc de Capçalera, Jardín Botánico and Jardines del Real. Less conspicuous and present in fewer numbers in the city than the parakeet, it is a trickier bird to connect with, and may more likely be heard or seen flying overhead.
Red-whiskered Bulbul bred in Tenerife in 2001 (at least), but the population there was thought to be short-lived, with a dearth of subsequent reports.
This fetching estrildid is native to West Africa, from Senegal south to Angola. Popular in captivity, introduced populations are established in parts of the Caribbean, Hawaii and Japan. It has something of a chequered history as a non-native species in Iberia, with various small populations having boomed and busted down the years, including one near Seville that was estimated to contain 50-100 pairs in the 2000s.
However, it is the establishment of a population in Valencia that led to its admission to Category C of the Spanish list in the 2019. This population is localised – much more so than the two previously discussed species – and is centred on the Mijares River that flows between the cities of Villarreal and Castellón de la Plana into the Mediterranean.
Lagunas del Millars, a series of narrow pools on the north side of the river close to the Almasorra district, is the hot-spot for Orange-cheeked Waxbill. The birds can be elusive, often feeding low in long grass, bushes or reeds beside the river. More good habitat, up to the CV-18 road bridge, holds birds too, though the species is not abundant here by any means.
Castany, J, & López-Iborra, G. 1997. Atlas of European Breeding Birds. European Birds Census Council.
Domínguez-Pérez, L, & Gil-Delgado, J. 2022. Population increase of the invasive red-whiskered bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus in Valencia, Spain. Animal Biodiversity and Conservation. DOI: 10.32800/abc.2022.45.0085.
Keller, V, et al. 2020. European Breeding Bird Atlas 2: Distribution, Abundance and Change. European Bird Council and Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Rouco, M, et al. 2019. Lista de las aves de España. Edición de 2019. SEO/BirdLife. Madrid.
Sullivan, B L, et al. 2009. eBird: a citizen-based bird observation network in the biological sciences. Biological Conservation 142: 2282-2292.