The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Europe (and its islands)

MADEIRA – Macaronesian Endemics & Seabirds

Sunday 26th May – Friday 31st May 2024

Leaders: Diedert Koppenol and a top local bird guide during the pelagics

6 Days Group Size Limit 8


Birdquest’s Madeira birding tours are comprehensive birdwatching tours of this scenic and endemic-rich Macaronesian island. We will target the three endemic landbirds and the seabirds which include Zino’s and Desertas Petrels (our tour includes no fewer than three pelagic boat trips!).

The islands of Madeira offers some superb scenery and as well as the special birds mentioned above, we will also look for some other Macaronesian endemic birds, some distinctive subspecies, some great flora and even a few endemic butterflies.

Madeira and its satellite islands lie some 800 kilometres out into the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest of Portugal, of which they are an autonomous region. Madeira was only discovered in 1419, by João Gonçalves Zarco, following on from the discovery of the smaller island of Porto Santo the previous year. Indeed, the two expeditions, which were sponsored by Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator, were key to the perception that it really was going to be possible to navigate far from sight of land and return safely, and that new lands and potential wealth awaited the bold explorer rather than a plunge into an abyss! They set the scene for the later discovery of the Americas and the first circumnavigation of the globe.

During our time in Madeira, we will spend some of our time exploring the spectacular verdant canyons of the main island and the remainder looking for a pelagic seabirds offshore.

Madeira holds some fascinating landbirds, including the attractive endemic Trocaz Pigeon, the distinct Madeira Chaffinch and the endearing little Madeira Firecrest, as well as the Macaronesian-endemic Plain Swift, Berthelot’s Pipit and Atlantic Canary, plus other island forms not yet treated as full species but possible candidates for the future. There are also other interesting species such as cute Grey Wagtails and smart little Spectacled Warblers.

Even more exciting is Madeira’s wealth of seabirds. Europe’s most endangered species, the relatively recently recognized Zino’s Petrel, nests in the remotest canyons on Madeira, while other species breeding in the archipelago include the recently split Desertas Petrel (split from Fea’s Petrel which breeds in the Cape Verde Islands), Bulwer’s Petrel, Cory’s Shearwater, the threatened Barolo’s Shearwater, and Madeiran (or Band-rumped) Storm-Petrel. We will make no fewer than three trips by boat into the waters around Madeira in order to make sure we have some great encounters.

Birdquest has been operating tours to the islands since 1995.

This tour can be taken together with: AZORES

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotel is of a good standard. Road transport is by minibus/passenger van and roads are good.

Walking: The walking effort during our Madeira birding tour is easy throughout, though we will have an optional night walk to listen for Zino’s Petrel which is a little tougher).

Climate: In Madeira, it is typically warm and mostly sunny in coastal areas, but it is regularly cool and overcast in the mountains. There may be some rain, with the chances highest in the mountains.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Madeira birding tour are very good.


  • Enjoying a special series of pelagic trips to witness Madeira’s rich seabird life
  • Close views of Desertas and Zino’s Petrels, allowing both to be identified confidently at sea
  • Bulwer’s Petrels and Cory’s Shearwaters in great numbers
  • A great chance of other rarer seabirds including White-faced and Madeiran Storm Petrels and Barolo and Great Shearwaters
  • Encounters with some exciting cetaceans with possibilities including several dolphin species, Short-finned Pilot Whale and mighty Bryde's Whales
  • Time to enjoy the scenic and mountainous interior of the island, complete with amazing flora and endemic butterflies
  • Confiding endemic Trocaz Pigeons, tame Madeira Chaffinches and cute endemic Madeira Firecrests in the lush laurel forests
  • Other Macaronesian bird specialities such as Plain Swift, Berthelot’s Pipit and Atlantic Canary as well as Spectacled Warbler and several distinct endemic subspecies


  • Day 1: Afternoon tour start at Funchal airport. Drive to Machico for overnight.
  • Days 2-5: Exploring Madeira, including a series of three pelagic boat trips for seabirds. Overnights at Machico.
  • Day 6: Drive to Funchal airport for morning tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.


Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)

2024: confirmed £1580, $2030, €1850, AUD3060. Funchal/Funchal.

Single Supplement: 2024: £150, $190, €180, AUD290.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in Euros. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.


Madeira: Day 1  Our Madeira birding tour begins late this afternoon at Funchal from where we will proceed to the quiet and attractive coastal town of Machico for a five nights stay. Cory’s Shearwaters (now treated as a separate species to Scopoli’s Shearwater that breeds in the Mediterranean) nest above the hotel and in the evening they can be seen flying over uttering their strange cries.

Madeira: Days 2-5  Madeira’s star attraction is its breeding seabirds, and our stay on Madeira is designed to give us time to conduct enough pelagic trips to give us an excellent chance of finding all of the key seabirds and to make sure we really get great views of the key species. Our days will be structured around these pelagics, and we intend to conduct three, which will run from mid-afternoon until dusk, and there is a contingency day to account for a day when conditions are unsuitable (too windy or even too calm!). The rest of the time we have to recuperate between pelagics and also to explore the lush interior of the island.

During our time at sea, we will be prioritising the two endemic breeding Pterodroma petrels, a group that is always exciting to see! The endangered, breeding-endemic Zino’s Petrel, was only relatively recently recognized as a distinct species, and indeed all three forms (this along with Desertas and Fea’s Petrels) were formerly lumped with Soft-plumaged Petrel of the Southern Oceans. Thanks to careful studies by the Zino family, its specific status and ecology was discovered. It is now reduced to a tiny population of perhaps 80 pairs which breed high in the remote central mountains of the interior of Madeira where conservation measures (such as restricting rats in the area of the colonies) has helped to stabilise the population. With the specialist local knowledge of our guides, we will put our boat into the path of the birds returning to their remaining colonies and we can expect good views of the ultra-rare seabird!

The arid Desertas, stark rocky scraps of land almost devoid of vegetation situated to the southeast of Madeira, are now free from rats and goats after an eradication campaign and set to enjoy a massive increase in the number of breeding seabirds. These rugged islands are a spectacular sight, rising steeply from the ocean like bare mountain tops that seemingly might have emerged from the deeps just yesterday. Not far offshore, the floor of the Atlantic is over 1000m deep and seabirds gather where there are upwellings along the edge of the much shallower shelf that connects the Desertas to Madeira. Off the island of Bugio we should see good numbers of Desertas Petrels, a species (now also treated as distinct from Fea’s or Cape Verde Petrel) that breeds only on the Desertas, admiring their rapid, bounding flight action that gave rise to the name ‘gadfly petrel’ for the genus Pterodroma.

During our boat trips we should also encounter 100s of Cory’s Shearwaters and good numbers of Bulwer’s Petrels, both often at close range. Madeiran (or Band-rumped) Storm-Petrel also nests in the Madeira group and we have a good chance of encountering this species, although they can sometimes be difficult to find. Splitting the Madeiran (or Band-rumped) Storm-Petrel complex may gain wider acceptance in the future, and there are both summer and winter breeding populations in the Madeira group. With a bit of good fortune, we will also see the fast-declining Barolo’s Shearwater, a species now restricted to this part of the North Atlantic following the taxonomic reorganization of the ‘Little Shearwater’ complex, as well as small numbers of Manx Shearwaters, and we may also come across less regular species such as Great Shearwater and the attractive White-faced Storm Petrel, and maybe the odd rarity such as a South Polar Skua. Numerous gulls will also be attracted to the chum, mostly the local atlantis Yellow-legged Gull but with a few over-summering immature Lesser Black-backed Gulls. As we will be using chum throughout the pelagics, the views of many of the seabirds can be excellent and many of the species that would at best be dots from land can give excellent photographic opportunities.

Cetaceans are sometimes sighted, with the most frequently encountered species being Atlantic Spotted, Short-beaked Common and Common Bottle-nosed Dolphins, but we also have a reasonable chance of larger species such as Short-finned Pilot Whales or even Bryde’s Whales. Madeira is supposedly one of the best places in the world to see this rare baleen whale up close.

During our time on land, we will explore the attractive interior of the island of Madeira, which well deserves its reputation as a beautiful, verdant, easy-going, subtropical hideaway far out into the Atlantic. Here everything seems to grow with a greater profusion than on the mainland and the riot of greenery and wildflowers adds to the feeling that one has reached an island especially favoured by nature. To our west, a wall of peaks loom high above Funchal, the capital and the only town of any size. Rising almost straight out of the Atlantic, the volcanic mountains of Madeira reach to 1862m at Pico Ruivo, the island’s highest point, and the deep, precipitous canyons that have formed over aeons of time make Madeira’s scenery something really spectacular. Whilst on dry land, we will explore a number of spectacular areas where pockets of the impressive native laurel forests survive, such as the dramatic canyon at Ribeiro Frio. Here, as we walk along a path next to a ‘levada’, one of the many small irrigation canals painstakingly built along the sides of Madeira’s canyons to take water to cultivatable areas, we shall enjoy some of the finest views in the island (with the highest peaks of the island towering above us, providing it is clear). The three endemic landbirds are relatively easy to find and indeed the Trocaz Pigeon can now even be seen in Funchal. It should be easy for us to see and photograph this impressive beast alongside the diminutive Madeira Firecrest which is itself a delightful and fearless little bird. The Madeira Chaffinch is one of the most abundant birds on the island and you will often find a few trying to eat the food out your hand!We will also hope to find the local forms (either endemic to Madeira or Macaronesia) of various species such as Common Buzzard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Blackcap (there is an uncommon dark morph of the local subspecies), Common Blackbird and Grey Wagtail.

We will also explore the highest parts of the island around the spectacular Pico do Arieiro. Here the views down into the incredibly deep and precipitous canyons are truly amazing. In this area, we will look for some more special birds including two more Macaronesian endemics, Plain Swift (which often fly by at eye-level) and Berthelot’s Pipit. Also here is the Atlantic form of Spectacled Warbler as well as introduced Red-legged Partridges and some spectacular flora including endemic orchids and the amazing Pride of Madeira, an endemic Echium.

In the coastal plains, closer to our base, we will find another Macaronesian endemic, the smart Atlantic Canary, whilst in the arid plains at the east of the island, we may also encounter Rock Sparrow, a species which is far more common on the adjacent island of Porto Santo.

For those that wish, we will also make a nocturnal pilgrimage to Pico de Areiro to listen for the Zino’s Petrel near to their breeding colony. The weird bubbling hoots are somewhat reminiscent of a Tawny Owl, and in the right conditions, we may even glimpse the birds flying over us in the moonlight. It is quite an eerie and atmospheric experience! We can also make an attempt to see the endemic form of Western Barn Owl, though they are not always easy to find!

Other common and widespread species on the island include Grey Heron, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Eurasian Collared Dove, European Robin and European Goldfinch.

For those that are interested in other aspects of natural history, there will be ample opportunity to explore during our downtime between the pelagics. Indeed just during our birding walks, we are likely to encounter much of the endemic flora, endemic butterflies such as Madeiran Grayling, Madeiran Cleopatra and Madeiran Speckled Wood, the endemic Madeiran Wall Lizard. All in all, we will make the most of what is on offer on this lovely island.

Madeira: Day 6  Our Madeira birding tour ends this morning at Funchal Airport.


View Report

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