Sunday, March 18, 2012


Here they come! First flights of the summer into Corfu. These are with Air Ridibundus.

 Better known perhaps as Larus Ridibundus or the Black-Headed Gull which actually is not a migratory bird, but makes a perfect advertisement for flying
Humans are not the only visitors to Corfu, and moreover, our non-human visitors tend to come in great numbers, out of ‘season’, to behave beautifully, be photogenic and in fact, act like the perfect tourist.
I refer of course to birds.
Spring is naturally a time of great change in the world of birds; with migrations, mating and breeding causing annual re-appearances and changes of appearance of familiar species. So much in our own human lives seems to be changing for the worse – it is a relief and a pleasure to see that on Corfu - this beautiful island of ours - avian tourism is flourishing. Many of those bird visitors come back each year to the same nests, like tourists returning to their favourite accommodation. They enjoy the same activities as humans do – such as paragliding:

Lunch by the sea:

People watching on the Liston

And can even be seen checking out the latest magazines and postcards:

 In my last Blog I mentioned the Scops Owl that arrives in the orchard beyond my bedroom windows nightly, at around 4 a.m and proceeds to hoot loudly in the hope of attracting a female. He seems to have struck a chord with my readers, several of whom commented on how much this little bird appeals to them.

He hasn’t always appealed to everyone though.
During my villa repping years, I often heard complaints about him interrupting people’s sleep. He was accused of being a faulty water pump several times, and I was urged to take matters up with villa owners. I told the complainers it was just an owl and the response was often: ‘Well, shoot it then!’
Can you imagine shooting such an adorable little chap? I haven’t heard him for a couple of nights – do you think he has found Romance, the Perfect Mate?
The Scops Owl was associated with the goddess Athena, and was a favourite subject in the decoration of Ancient Greek pottery, such as the pot shown in the photo above.

Sometimes, as you drive along a country road at night in Corfu, you will see a great white blur as a Barn Owl takes off from his watchful position on a fence-post or in a tree. What a magnificent sight this huge bird presents. They are likely to stare at you with a baleful gleam in those huge unyielding eyes, before taking to the wing, silent, fearless and utterly focused on finding food.
I had the great good fortune to be associated with the filming of the first (BBC) production of Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’, here on location in Corfu. My job was to find ‘things’ and organize ‘things’ for the designers. This could mean anything from knowing where to find antique cars in Corfu, stored in dusty garages, to providing the names of ex-pat British men who would look the part as ‘players’ at a cricket match staged for the series. One night, quite late, I received a phone call from the series’ zoologist, Nigel Marvin, now the star of his own nature programmes. ‘Help!’ he cried. ‘The Barn Owl chicks have hatched and they are all falling over! Have you got any old rugs or carpets?’
As it happened, I did have some off-cuts of carpeting in a cupboard and I rushed them over to Nigel’s accommodation at Gouvia.  He was hatching Barn Owl chicks for the series, and it seems that in the wild, they hatch out on rough natural surfaces with plenty of grip for their already long claws. Nigel’s birds were hatching out in special cardboard boxes, with smooth surfaces, and were lying around belly-up as if drunk. My carpet saved the day!

We live with a great variety of birds here in Corfu, but don’t always notice them. There are some you cannot ignore though. For a couple of years I lived high above the sea at Barbati in northeast Corfu, on the lower slopes of our highest mountain, Pantocrator. A pair of eagles frequently paid me a visit, swooping down out of a clear sky, their fantastic wingspan taking the breath away. Further along the coast, above the harbour of San Stephano, I have often stopped the car to watch honey buzzards riding the thermals above the channel between Corfu and Albania. Watching them, their supreme freedom and confidence and suitability to their environment makes me envious. What must it be like to soar so effortlessly above the earth?

At Old Perithia and at Nissaki there are large, broad-branched trees that house jackdaw colonies. They seem to spend a lot of time, like any other community, paying calls on each other, hopping from branch to branch, cawing and cackling raucously, until some particularly scandalous piece of gossip causes them all to take flight, wheeling and diving about the tree, flapping away for a short distance before returning for the next installment.

I couldn’t find a photo of the Nissaki jackdaws but gossiping and arguing in a group is not confined to birds, and these old guys are at the Nissaki cafeneion anyway!

Not all our birds live in noisy colonies. This elegant thrush lives quietly in my friend Frosso’s garden, though he could hardly be called unobtrusive, with his magnificent markings.

And this Partially Albino House Sparrow lives unobtrusively with his mate outside Boatman's World at Kontokaali.

For a while there was a Bird Sanctuary on Vido Island, opposite the town of Corfu, and if you pay a visit to this rather beautiful little island – a few minutes by caique from the port – you will find another quiet colony – of pheasants, goats and rabbits, left over and multiplied many times when the Sanctuary closed. Very tame, they make a visit to the island a delight for children and adults.

 Magpies, like jackdaws, make a lot of noise, especially in the mating season when they must be some of the clumsiest and most hooligan-like suitors, crashing through the branches of the tree where their lustful eyes have located a potential mate, screeching and chattering in excitement. Handsome they may be with their black, blue and white plumage and long tails, but their eating habits leave much to be desired, with a special liking for road-kill.
But no Greek landscape would be complete without them, or without their distinctive call which has given them the onomatopoeic name in Greek of ‘karakatsa’. Associated with the Greek god Bacchus, the magpie is highly intelligent but is a ruthless killer of small songbirds.
Oddly enough, many of the birds I have watched in Corfu seem to handle the mating business in a somewhat less than suave way – I used to live next door to a man who kept exotic chickens and also peacocks. Now surely, with such impressive plumage and colour,  you would expect the peacock to be a talented and skilful lover, but the one I observed was clumsy and clueless – instead of flaunting his brilliantly coloured and eye-patterned tail feathers at the female, he turned himself round and waggled his colourless rump at her – am I missing the point here?

The first swallows have been sighted in Corfu – but there is a saying ‘Two Swallows do not a Summer Make’ – or was it One Swallow? And who said it – some say Aristotle, but others have been attributed with the sawing, including Cervantes, and one wit remarked ‘Depends what you swallow’.
Swallows, Swifts or Martins? Hard to tell at times. When I worked in the town of Corfu, in a ground-floor office on a narrow alley, we were often required to rush outside to rescue some unlucky swift that had fallen from the rooftops and crashed into the alley below. Sometimes these were adult birds, more often they were novice flyers. Once on the ground, usually unharmed, their wings were too long for them to be able to get lift-off. The local vet taught us how to pick them up and hurl them into the air so that they could get wind under their wings – it was such a triumph when they took off.
(Have you ever listened to Bette Midler sing ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’? Sentimental, Kleenex-rating high, but illustrates how we can help others to fly high, literally and metaphorically.)
Swallows return every year to the same nests and usually to the same mates. Once they are mated, the male spends all his time in flight, seeking food for the female, and he rarely settles till the young are on the wing and fending for themselves.

In San Stephano, there is a small supermarket which, when I first knew it, was the local shop, and they kept one door unglazed so that the returning swallows could fly in and reclaim their old nest in the interior beams, high above the cheese counter. The Corfiots have a special fondness for their swallows, and wherever they have nests, in bars and restaurants, above the tables, the owners rig up various devices so that the birds debris from nest-making and, er, related activities, does not fall on to unsuspecting patrons.
We used to watch the swallow families as the day approached for that first flight, anxious parents tutoring their offspring in the mechanics of aviation, until the day itself dawned, and we would all gather around to watch and cheer on the young flyers, raising our glasses to them. (Any excuse..)

I leave with this short extract from My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell:
"Spring had arrived and the island was sparkling with flowers. Lambs with flapping tails gambolled under the olives, crushing the yellow crocuses under their tiny hooves. Baby donkeys with bulbous and uncertain legs munched among the asphodels. The ponds and streams and ditches were tangled in chains of spotted toads' spawn, the tortoises were heaving aside their winter bedclothes of leaves and earth, and the first butterflies, winter-faded and frayed, were flitting wanly among the flowers." My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.

If you have never read his book, or have forgotten how wonderful its descriptions of Corfu are, I urge you to read it, preferably while you are in Corfu.

One final, final word – I am not a ‘twitcher; and there is much I do not know about birds. I am aware that some of the birds I have mentioned are not seasonal visitors, they are residents. I plead ignorance and a tendency to exercise poetic licence! Oh dear, and I still haven't mentioned the nightingales, or told you about the Grey Parrot.....

And as for this Angry Bird... another time!

Photos from my own collection and also by Joanna, Frosso, Julie, Aleka.


  1. i tittered my way thru this latest blog; a lovely account of Corfu birds. My favourite was the Angry Bird at the end!

    An interesting insight into wildlife.

  2. I read it !! very enjoyable too. I visit Corfu each year but apart from an odd seagull or two on the beach,and the housemartins/swifts, (usually on the balconies) and the noisy little chic.......however you spell it haven't seen any other birds. Will certainly keep a good look out this June.

  3. Really enjoyed this - winter has seemed more like winter than ever this year making it all too easy to forget how lucky we are to be living here in the first place. Think your blog should be compulsory reading with every 'swallow'. Can't believe it will be Easter any minute now!
    losslalerv from Paxos x

  4. A wonderful-read, as always Angie !!! When are you starting that book ??? The Corfu Tourist Organization should at least be financing your wonderful vivid and descriptive accounts of life on the island and printing them as an attraction for the incoming visitors. Bravo!!!

  5. Another great read. Keep them coming!

  6. I loved this post! I am an avid fan of Corfu, Gerald Durrell and birds and you have charmed and enchanted me with your lovely writing and photos.

    I have visited Corfu after years of reading and rereading Durrell's magnificent books and wish I could live there. You are not only talented but lucky.

  7. You`ve just brought tears to my eyes of yearning to be there again. Keep on writing, please

  8. Oh how I enjoyed your blog Angela! Can't wait to get back to Gimari, sit on the terrace and watch the fabulous birdlife.

  9. Loved the birds blog.

    Your photo of the old men in the Cafe are actually in Lakones outside the cafe Olympia - Theodoris owns it.


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