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Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA) Annual Study

The Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA) is holding its annual Buzzard and Kite Census on the 1st and 2nd of April.  The census aims to assess current population numbers.

The census primarily focuses on the largest bird of prey in the Azores and Madeira. Each archipelago has a distinct subspecies from the round-winged eagle present in Mainland Portugal. The manta (Buteo buteo harterti) in Madeira, and the kite (Buteo buteo rothschildi) in the Azores.

The manta is often seen flying in circles at high altitudes, using the thermals to gain height. It is easily identifiable to the naked eye and found in a wide variety of habitats, including forests, coastal areas, pastures, and even in urban areas. It feeds mostly on rodents, but can also consume small birds, insects, and earthworms. Unfortunately, due to its interaction with man, it is prone to poisoning, electrocution, and being hit by oncoming traffic.

As an easy-to-identify bird, the involvement of citizens in the counts has been frequent and has allowed the populations of mantas and kites to be followed for more than a decade. Unfortunately, the results have not been encouraging, because each year there are fewer birds. In the Archipelago of Madeira the current population of mantas is 254 birds, while in the Azores archipelago, it is estimated that the current population is 2082 kites.

According to Cátia Gouveia, coordinator of SPEA in Madeira, “this citizen science census, which has taken place every year since 2006 in Madeira and the Azores, has had the participation of more than 2500 volunteers. The scarcity of funds dedicated to the study of the species, reinforce the need for the involvement of new volunteers so that we can maintain this monitoring.”

It is only possible to obtain such a high amount of information when citizens get involved in a project and make their contribution to science, as has been the case in this initiative.

To participate in the census there is no need for in-depth knowledge about the species so any nature lover is invited to participate.

For further information and reports on the census, please contact the SPEA website at (

Samantha Gannon

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