Following the Trail of the 7 Faunal Treasures in Doñana

Ignacio Luque
Ignacio Luque

The anarchy developed by the million of birds refueling in this natural halt is one of the main attractions. The presence of the most endangered feline species, the Iberian lynx, is another of the highlights of the Park, along with the presence of the Spanish imperial eagle. These are just a few examples of what you can find in this place that, before becoming a National Park, was a Royal Hunting Site.

Its listing as a National Park fits perfectly, since this unique ecosystem that embraces the provinces of Huelva, Seville and Cádiz, is globally known by its ecological biodiversity. This richness is not seasonal. It’s worth visiting all year round. There’s awesome landscaping during summer, the life in the marshland during spring and autumn, and the light in winter.

Atardecer en Doñana

Sunset in Doñana

Nattule suggests a rendezvous with 7 umbrella species of this National Park, no matter which season you decide to visit.

1. The Big Predators: the Spanish Imperial Eagle and the Iberian Lynx

These two emblematic species of the Iberian fauna find in Doñana one of their last bastions. The Park areas with Mediterranean shrubs, heather, mastic and cork oak are called cotos and corrales, and are their ideal dwelling place. It is in these areas that their main preys are found, hares and rabbits, that live among the big herbivorous of Doñana.

Águila imperial ibérica

Spanish imperial eagle

One of the sites where there is a higher chance to watch these animals is the site known as Coto del Rey and Matas Gordas. Mosaics of little lagoons, like the Sopeton, Acebuche or Santa Olalla Lagoons, areas of hills and clear sands will be your travel companions on this route.

The best option is to take a guided tour on a 4X4, since many areas are restricted for regular vehicles. There is a possibility of going on foot as well, but it is a rough option with less possibility of watching animals.

Lince ibérico

Iberian lynx

2. Bittern, the Camouflage Magician

This little type of heron uses the marshland reed to built its nest. In Doñana, it has found its ideal habitat among the Caños, a special habitat located in the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. It dwells there during summer, between the months of April and September.


Bittern © Cándido Gómez Álvarez

The area near the Visitor Center José Antonio Valverde, is a good area to watch this type of birds. The visitor center is located in the northern part of the Park by the Lucio del Lobo. To get there you will go through marshlands with narrow paths only suitable for 4X4 vehicles. This is why the area is not crowded by tourists. For bird watchers, this is a must.

Although more crowded, La Rocina Brook is another site where bittern can be found. The paths taking there depart just 300 meters away from El Rocío. Once there, there are different lookouts and an interpretation center.

Arroyo de la Rocina

La Rocina Brook

3. The Black Stork: the Elusive Traveler

Doñana is one of the Andalusian areas with a highest black stork population. This bird is an endangered species. Most of them are found in the banks of the Guadalquivir River. During winter, they are seen in the woods near the water streams and flooded areas.

Cigüeña negra

Black stork © Cándido Gómez Álvarez

The black stork is a timid bird, much less confident than the white one, so you have to be very careful and quiet while approaching it. In Dehesa de Abajo, an area of rice fields and marshes, it is easy to watch them. You can get there from the village of Isla Mayor, where a path departs from there, which you can easily bike.

Dehesa de Abajo

Dehesa de Abajo © Cándido Gómez Álvarez

Around the area of the Visitor Center of José Antonio Valverde, it’s possible to watch the black stork, since they feed there.

4. Looking for the Red-Knobbed Coot, the Star of the Marshes

Years ago, the red-knobbed coot was almost extinct. To introduce them back into nature, the reproduction center of Cañada de los Pájaros was created. Now we can see them flying freely over the lagoons and marshes of the National Park.

The Dulce and Santa Olalla Lagoons create an area, among the reserves and dunes, that contain water all year round and where it is easy to find them.

Focha cornuda

Red-knobbed coot © Xavier Idígora Planas

They also can be seen in the La Rocina Brook or in El Acebuche Lagoon, although their presence there is scanty. This last site is the departing point of the guided tours in Doñana. The 4X4 tours depart from there towards the different ecosystems of the Park, including the marshland, the natural habitat of the red-knobbed coot.

Vistas desde el centro de visitantes de El Acebuche

View from El Acebuche Visitor Center

5. Marbled Teal: a Special Duck

The marbled teal along with the red-knobbed coot are the most endangered birds of Doñana. By the end of the 19th century, this was the most common duck of the Guadalquivir Mouth. It dwells in low water marshlands with plenty of water vegetation. There are a couple of places in the park where you can try to find them.

Most of the marbled teal pairs that remain in Doñana nest in Balsas de Veta de la Palma, a ranch located on the Guadalquivir and Brazo de la Torre Riverbanks. You can take a bus from Seville to take a route that begins on the northern part of the ranch or take a boat from Sanlúcar de Barrameda to begin the visit from the southern part.

Cerceta pardilla

Marbled teal

You may find them in Las Nuevas and Vetalengua Lucios. Look for them while touring on the 4X4 departing from El Acebuche Visitor Center.

6. The Aviary Queen: the Squacco Heron

The squacco heron is mainly found in Vera de Doñana. That area is the union point of the brush and marshland ecosystems. The abundance of vegetation is the reason why a multitude of species gather. In fact, it is one of the areas with the most biodiversity of the whole Park.

But above all, the Vera area is known for the big cork oaks where hundreds of birds dwell. The area is called the Doñana Aviary. The access is forbidden except for investigators, so you will only be able to watch it from a distance. However, it is possible to watch the squacco heron coming and going from the trees to the marshland looking for food.

Garcilla cangrejera durante la época nupcial

Squacco heron during breeding season © Cándido Gómez Álvarez

Near there, the Lucio de las Gangas harbors numerous groups of squacco herons on the taray tree branches surrounding the area.

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Doñana is like Kenya but with less stress in the atmosphere. The fight for survival here undergoes in a lesser scale, with the lynx and the rabbit playing the roles of the lion and the wildebeest. But it does not matter. Visitors of Doñana do not look for fight.

Tell me your experiences in Doñana National Park. Have you ever seen any of these species?

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