A visit to the Doñana’s marshes is only complete when you get to enjoy the sighting of one of these birds. They resemble terns and fly as agile as swallows, feeding often in flight like them but being closely related to waders. Long, pointing, narrow wings, deeply forked tail, short legs and a short bill with a bright red patch at its base along with and a thin black line framing a cream-coloured throat patch, a nice set of features to build a beautiful looking bird.
Its unmistakable repetitive call blows the whistle and make us look automatically up in search of them, you always hear them before you see them. Normally in groups, as soon as they come around they fill the skies over the marshes with their sharp cries and their skilled pirouettes. Beatles, dragonflies, ants and wasps are in their diet but if someone has to be really alert are grasshoppers, their favourite dish, they catch them easily flying low over the ground.
They nest in colonies, often locating the nests over cow dungs, and defend them actively from black kites and other flying predators. If one approaches the area they react in a very alarmist way, making quick flights over our head, then they land and pretend to be injured or walk quickly and stop suddenly to raise the wings aggressively accompanying their movements with their typical moans and cries. Brave birds they are, but also very elegant. A hidden secret in their design are the large reddish patches that decorate the underside of their wings, only visible in flight under the right light or when they land. It is not uncommon to find them on the road that crosses the marshes and be able to see them at a very short distance, starting to fly again only when our vehicle is only a few meters away.
Rare in Europe, they only breed in the south of the continent, locally in Greece, the French Camargue and the Danube Delta. The biggest populations breed in Spain, at Albufera in Valencia, Ebro Delta and mainly in the southern marshes of Doñana. Strictly migrant, they come back every spring from their winter grounds in the subsaharan area and they are very wellcome every year as one of the most elegant and beautiful birds of Doñana’s Marshes. They are starting to go now, we will miss them very much, but many are still around just in case you want to come and see them.