Azerbaijan is a wonderful place for birdwatching. Tucked in its relatively small space are environments ranging from alpine to subtropical, and this makes a home for a wide range of life, including birds. Some 365 species of birds have been recorded in Azerbaijan. These range from the large and spectacular - such as flamingos and eagles - to many kinds of waterfowl, colourful bee-eaters, rollers and Hoopoe, and numerous small brown warblers that strain even the expert`s identification skills.
The avian show keeps changing through the year. Because of Azerbaijan`s relatively mild winters, many birds from farther north winter here. Water birds by the thousands concentrate in the many wetlands, large and small, coastal and inland. Among these birds are swans, geese, ducks, flamingos, and waders like Black-tailed Godwit, curlew, and snipe. Along the coast, Common and Great Black-headed Gulls appear. Over the land, Hen Harriers and a few Peregrines and Saker Falcons hunt; the latter two, unfortunately and illegally, are captured for lucrative sale to Arab falconers. Some species of small birds that nest farther north also come here for the winter. Big flocks of Meadow Pipits and Bramblings, for instance, roam the open areas, feeding on seeds. In the mountains, most birds of the alpine zone, like Guldenstadt`s Redstart and the Great Rosefinch, are forced lower in winter by snow, some down to the river valleys. The kinds of birds you can see in winter - the Peregrine for instance - may be composed of some individuals from farther north and some that are here all year. Global warming may be increasing the number of species that habitually winter in Azerbaijan.
Spring reduces the great wetland show but brings in a different storm of migrants and nesters. Most of the waterfowl and shorebirds depart for northerly climes, beginning in late February. Early arrivals from the south include Hoopoe, Barn Swallow and wheatear, all easily seen along roadsides. Overhead, you might hear the hoarse croaking of Common Cranes or glimpse a Steppe Eagle, both on their way to Russia or Kazakhstan. Spring migration peaks in April and May. All sorts of small birds, such as shrikes, warblers, and flycatchers, pass through or stay to nest. Look for bee-eaters and electric blue rollers on telephone wires. Along the coast, cormorants, terns, and waders stream by. All this passing and arrival of new life is what makes spring the most exciting time of the year for most birdwatchers.
Summer, of course, is the time of reproduction for most birds. In the marshes, herons, Pigmy Cormorants, and the remaining ducks are conspicuous, while Purple Gallinule, Moorhens, and Water Rails skulk in the reeds. The forest birds, such as tits and woodpeckers, in the mountain forests and remnant lowland patches, break away from the winter flocks to set up paired housekeeping. Alpine birds move upslope to the meadows below snowline. Larks and wheatears sing above their open country territories. Some of the days may be too hot for us sensitive humans, but there is much to see out there in the mountains and plains. Try early morning for coolness and the most bird activity.
Bird migrations in autumn are not as urgent and concentrated as they are in spring. There is no reproductive command pushing them, just the need to get where they`ll find their kind of food in winter. It all begins with certain shorebirds in late summer, picks up with small land birds in September, continues strongly with a variety of land and water birds in October, and ends with the great influx of waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) from October to December. Throughout the fall, raptors such as eagles and hawks pass through, especially along the coast. Water birds, too, have preferred flyways. The majority follow the coast, some cutting across the Apsheron Peninsula and some going around it. While many of those not stopping in Azerbaijan continue toward Iran along the coast, others turn westward up the Kura River lowlands toward interior wetlands. A few go on to the Black Sea.