The Birds of Wine

Jose Luis Gallego, environmental communicator

With the arrival of spring, the vineyards of the Mediterranean countryside begin to stir. Green specks appear amid the gnarled wood of the budding vines, announcing a new season of the agricultural calendar—the season of hope.

 

The buds swell and eventually burst, revealing the tightly furled leaves of the first shoots. These tiny, tender leaves will open up like butterfly wings under the pale March sun: gradually, wary of treacherous spring frost. Providing the soundtrack for these developments are songbirds which—like the vineyard—have resumed their activity, urged on by the arrival of the mating season.  

 

 

El abejaruco, un habitual en los viñedos (imagen de Ana Mínguez - @anacagur)

Bee-eaters are a common sight in the vineyard (photo: Ana Mínguez - @anacagur)

 

Vineyards are among the most biodiverse of all agricultural ecosystems, particularly as far as birds are concerned. Many avian species establish their breeding grounds in the surrounding areas; some even nest among the vines. These days, the newly verdant vineyards are being serenaded by linnets, goldfinches, greenfinches, and other finches.  The greenfinches do so from the very top of the vines, flashing the vivid, almost fluorescent, lemon yellow plumage on their rump. The smallest of our seedeaters hopes that this will attract a female and keep male rivals away from his vineyard. 

 

Later in the spring, other melodies will drift up from the ground level as the larks of the drylands chime in: woodlarks, crested larks, greater short-toed larks, and calandra larks. And last, but definitely not least, skylarks—the great sopranos of the vineyard. 

 

High up on the electrical cables, the corn bunting chirps incessantly: a single chord verse which many consider the most famous springtime call in the countryside. In some areas, buntings, pipits, and wheatears will join the chorus. Then there are the year-rounders like magpies, crows, and jackdaws—rural bird species that never leave the vineyard. Their somber livery is contrasted by the African colors of the bee-eaters, European rollers, and hoopoes whose plumage will soon brighten the vineyards. 

 

 

La perdiz (imagen de Ana Mínguez - @anacagur)

Partridge (photo: Ana Mínguez - @anacagur)

 

Low-flying swallows and house martins are already crisscrossing the skies, and soon the swifts will do so too. Elegant partridges run about the furrows, reluctant to fly for fear of catching a shot off a hunter's rifle. If all goes well, they will soon be joined by a clutch of cute chicks.  

 

In the Castilian steppe, a few select vineyards will see stone curlews, little bustards, and great bustards starting to strut their stuff. The latter are truly impressive. Over one meter tall and weighing in at almost 20 kilos, the great bustard is the largest flying bird in Europe and one of the heaviest on the planet: our very own ostrich!

 

Birds of prey are well aware of the many avian species that gather in the vineyards and seek them out in search of food. This makes it easy to spot a variety of raptors circling above the vines, from buzzards and kites to a variety of hawk species, goshawks, sparrow hawks, and the most beautiful of our eagles: Bonelli's eagle, an endangered species for whom the vineyard is a preferred habitat.  

 

 

El mochuelo, buscando altitud para controlar el peligro (imagen de Ana Mínguez - @anacagur).

A little owl perches up high to avoid danger (photo: Ana Mínguez - @anacagur).

 

When night falls, the little owl is a common sight: this small nocturnal bird of prey has twilight habits, an unsettling demeanor, and a fondness for positioning itself high up in the vines to look out for the dormice, voles, and mice scuttling about below. In sheds or in a dark corner of the winery, it is quite possible to come across a barn owl—yet another of the winegrower's allies in keeping rodent numbers down. 

 

These, along with others, are the birds of wine: avian species with a close connection to the vineyard, which add a splash of color and music to the growing season.

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