Birding in Slovenia
An overview about Slovenia's birds and where to see them
The small size and heavily diversified landscapes of Slovenia make this country an excellent place for birding. Forests cover more than half of the country’s surface and are home to some of Slovenia’s most sought-after species. Certainly the most wanted species by visiting birders is the Ural Owl Strix uralensis. This large owl is widespread in a variety of forests throughout the country, but prefers mixed mountain forests in the south. In the Kočevska and Notranjska regions of southern Slovenia Ural Owl reaches some of the species’ highest population densities in Europe. But the Dinaric forests in the south and west of the country are particularly rich with other birdlife too. Rarer species of owls include Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum & Tengmalm's Owl Aegolius funereus, both usually linked to mountain conifer forests. Woodpeckers are well represented in Slovenia with 9 species. The most interesting are Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus (ssp. alpinus), White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos (ssp. lilfordi), Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius, Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus and Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius. Forest grouse are also present, but they are much more difficult to observe; both Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus & Hazel Grouse Bonasa bonasia inhabit mixed mountain forests, especially those in the alpine range of Slovenia. In some lowland forests Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis can be very common, while much rarer is the Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva, inhabiting old mountain forests. Two rare birds of lowland forests are also the Black Stork Ciconia nigra and White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes is also found in mountain forests, although it is quite an elusive bird to see. Among common forest birds are: Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus, Willow Tit Poecile montanus, Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus, Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus, Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes and Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla, to mention just a few.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis
Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus
Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum
Black Stork Ciconia nigra
The Southern Limestone Alps of northern Slovenia are the perfect place to look for high-altitude alpine birds. Species like Ptarmigan Lagopus muta, Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis, Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris, Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus, Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus, Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta & Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix inhabit the highest mountain pastures and the rocky world above the treeline. Other birds like Western Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli, Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris and Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria can be found at lower elevation, usually in the Alpine valleys. The flower-rich mountain pastures are also home to the elusive Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca and the colourful Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis. A common bird along mountain streams is the Dipper Cinclus cinclus. The Julian Alps host a good population of Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus, which in some places are very easy to observe. Slightly more localised is the Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, with several pairs scattered around the mountain region of Slovenia.
Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus
Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis
Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca (Photo: Jure Novak)
Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis (Photo: Aleš Jagodnik)
The Karst plateau, stretching from the coast near Trieste (in northeast Italy) into western Slovenia is another very rich habitat. Dry stony grasslands provide home to birds such as Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus, Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana, Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris, Hoopoe Upupa epops and Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus. The limestone cliffs of the Karst edge are excellent for observing breeding birds such as Eagle Owl Bubo bubo, Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, Alpine Swift Apus melba, Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius, Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica, Rock Bunting Emberiza cia and Rock Dove Columba livia. These cliffs also become a winter refuge for the Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria and small flocks of Alpine Accentors Prunella collaris.
Slovenia’s rural landscape is still well preserved and managed extensively, rather than intensively. Birds such as Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio, Wryneck Jynx torquilla, Quail Coturnix coturnix, White Stork Ciconia ciconia, Scops Owl Otus scops, Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus and many others still thrive in agricultural areas. Although increasingly under threat, birds of wet meadows such as Corncrake Crex crex, Whinchat Saxicola rubetra and Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria can still be found in several areas, while rarer species include the Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor and Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus.
Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana (Photo: Jure Novak)
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
Hoopoe Upupa epops (Photo: Jure Novak)
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria (Photo: Dušan Klenovšek)
Wetlands are important areas for birds and host a great diversity of species. Here we will mention just some of the most interesting. In coastal brackish and freshwater wetlands one can observe breeding birds such as Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus, Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus, Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta, Little Tern Sternula albifrons, Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus, Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Purple Heron Ardea purpurea as well as Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis, Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus and Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti. On migration, among passerines both Moustached Warbler Acrocephalus melanopogon and Bluethroat Luscinia svecica are fairly common. More exotic species such as the recently-arrived Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis and Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus can be sometimes observed along the coast. Pygmy Cormorants Phalacrocorax pygmeus can be commonly observed both at coastal wetlands and in the continental part of Slovenia. Lakes, fishponds and reservoirs away from the sea are important for species such as Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca, Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena (breeding just at one site), River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis, Bee-eater Merops apiaster, Little Porzana parva and Spotted Crake Porzana porzana, as well as small numbers of recently-discovered Baillon’s Crakes Porzana pusilla.
On the short stretch of Slovenian sea the Mediterranean subspecies of Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis ssp. desmarestii, as well as Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis and Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus can be commonly observed. During spells of bad weather, flocks of Yelkouan Shearwaters Puffinus yelkouan come close to shore and can also be observed with a bit of luck. In coastal shrubland and on sunny slopes Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala, Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans and Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta are also present.
Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus
Moustached Warbler Acrocephalus melanopogon (Photo: Jure Novak)
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis (Photo: Jure Novak)
Bee-eater Merops apiaster
WHERE TO WATCH BIRDS IN SLOVENIA - TOP 10 PLACES TO VISIT
If you come to Slovenia for a shorter or longer trip and would like to spend some time birding, then you should perhaps choose between this selection of sites, which we regard as being the most interesting for birding in the country.
1. Cerkniško jezero - the Cerknica lake (Notranjska Regional Park): this is Slovenia's largest temporary (intermittent) lake and is usually full of water only in winter, spring and late autumn, while in summer it usually dries out. The lake itself can be relatively poor with waterbirds and usually hosts common species, while more important are the surrounding wet meadows that host breeding Corncrake, Barred Warbler, Common Rosefinch, Little, Spotted and Baillon's Crake, Whinchat, Quail, Yellow Wagtail and many others. Small numbers of White-tailed Eagle, as well as Black Stork are frequently seen around the lake. The vast meadows are also used for hunting by a pair of Short-toed Eagles, as well as by flocks of migrating Red-footed Falcons, Hobbies and Montagu's Harriers in spring. The lake is home to the only breeding population of Red-necked Grebe in the country and Ferruginous Duck also breeds occasionally. In the surrounding rural countryside one can observe common species like Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck, White Stork, Common Redstart and many others.
2. Dinaric forests of mount Snežnik & Kočevska region: the vast mixed forests of beech and silver fir that stretch over most of southern Slovenia are home to many interesting species of birds. Ural Owl is the commonest owl and with a bit of luck and dedication it can be seen hunting either along forest roads or at the edge of small forest clearings, frequently also by day. Going out at dusk is helpful, especially to try and hear its distinctive hooting. Even more so is hiring a local guide that knows the exact spots where observations can be guaranteed and unnecessary disturbance avoided. During an evening trip in spring one might be lucky to hear Tengmalm's and Pygmy Owl as well. Black and Grey-headed Woodpeckers are common and are easily heard, as are some of the mountain species like Willow & Crested Tit, Crossbill, Firecrest and others. A great amount of luck is needed to find the rarer woodpeckers: in old conifer stands one should look for Three-toed Woodpecker, while White-backed Woodpecker lives exclusively in old beech forests.
3. Mount Mangart (Julian Alps): an excellent high-altitude location is on the saddle of mount Mangart in extreme NW Slovenia. Easy access is possible in summer, via a comfortable tarmac road. Here species like Alpine Accentor, Alpine Chough and Water Pipit are easy to observe. Alpine Swift, Ring Ouzel and occasionally Wallcreeper can be also seen. Until recently this used to be an excellent breeding site for Snowfinch, but now only small numbers are seen every summer. Ptarmigan is another fairly common bird, but certainly not an easy one to see, due to its cryptic plumage.
4. Mount Breginjski Stol (Julian Alps): the grassy mountain ridge above the town of Kobarid in NW Slovenia in summer is an excellent site for Rock Partridge, Rock Thrush, Corncrake, Golden Eagle and Griffon Vulture. Access is possible via a quite rough mountain road from the northern side of the mountain. The site is also excellent for raptor migration in spring and late summer.
5. Karst edge in the Primorska region: the limestone cliffs that extend along the villages of Osp, Črni kal, Podpeč, Hrastovlje and Rakitovec in SW Slovenia are home to interesting birds such as Blue Rock Thrush, Alpine Swift, Rock Bunting, Sardinian Warbler, Peregrine Falcon and Eagle Owl. In winter these cliffs are the perfect wintering site for Wallcreeper. On the Karst's plateau above the cliffs are large areas of dry grasslands, where birds like Short-toed Eagle, Tawny Pipit, Hoopoe, Cirl Bunting, Woodlark and Nightjar can be seen. Especially good areas of dry grasslands are those around the villages of Rakitovec, Podgorje and Kastelec.
6. Medvedce reservoir, Rače fishponds, Ptuj & Ormož lakes: these sites lay all relatively close to each other, in the Pannonian plain of NE Slovenia. They share a similar origin (man-made fishponds or artificial lakes) and also a similar birdlife. Large concentrations of waterbirds can be seen here, especially in winter, while in spring and autumn migrants are the attraction. Breeding birds include Ferruginous Duck, Black-necked Grebe, White-tailed Eagle, Black Stork, Little Bittern, Night Heron, Spotted & Little Crake, Mediterranean Gull, Common Tern and many others. Pygmy Cormorants are common all-year-round, while large mixed flocks of waders, which regularly include rarities, are seen during migrations. Osprey and Pallid Harrier are just two of the many regular migrants through these areas.
7. Pokljuka plateau (Triglav National Park): the vast conifer forests on the plateau above the touristic towns of Bled and Bohinj are home to shy and difficult-to-see species like Capercaillie and Hazel Grouse. Boreal forest specialist like Three-toed Woodpecker, Pygmy & Tengmalm's Owl and Nutcracker can also be observed, or at least heard, with a bit of luck. Black Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Crossbill & Willow Tit are all common birds here. Many hiking paths begin on the Pokljuka plateau and lead to the highest peaks of the Julian Alps, where species similar to those mentioned under the site "Mount Mangart" can be observed.
8. Krakovski gozd - Krakovo forest: this is the largest remnant of lowland riparian forest in Slovenia and lies just east of Novo Mesto in SE Slovenia. Characteristic forest species include: 7 species of woodpeckers, among which Middle Spotted Woodpecker is the commonest, Collared Flycatcher, Black Stork & White-tailed Eagle. The surrounding farmland areas are home to Lesser Grey Shrike (one of the last breeding pairs in Slovenia), Hoopoe, Wryneck, White Stork and Corncrake.
9. Škocjanski zatok Nature Reserve: this English-styled nature reserve is a small wetland area near the town of Koper and is managed by DOPPS - BirdLife Slovenia. Breeding birds in the freshwater marsh include Little Bittern, Purple Heron, Water Rail, Cetti's Warbler, Great Reed Warbler and commoner waterbirds, while the large brackish marsh is home to a colony of Common & Little Tern, Black-winged Stilt, Common Redshank and Little Ringed Plover. Moustached Warbler is a regular migrant in early spring, while Bluethroat is common in the early autumn. Pygmy Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Penduline Tit and many other birds can also be observed here.
10. Sečoveljske soline - Sečovlje's salinas: the largest area of coastal saltpans in Slovenia is found right by the SW border with Croatia. The birdlife here is similar to the one in Škocjanski zatok, but with the addition of a few interesting breeders like Kentish Plover, Avocet, Shelduck and Zitting Cisticola. This large area of brackish and salty wetland is good for migrant birds in spring and summer, while the stretch of sea coast is an excellent place to observe Shag all-year-round and several diver & grebe species in winter. The salinas are also the most reliable site to see the odd vagrant Flamingo in Slovenia.