Turtles and Birds in Crete

As visitors to Crete, we all have a responsibility to help to preserve the indigenous environment and species. That is why Pure Crete has pioneered schemes to help protect the endangered loggerhead turtle and the bearded vulture in Crete.

Loggerhead Turtle

Turtles have existed since the dinosaurs – some 200 million years – but now face the threat of extinction unless stretches of beach where they lay their eggs are protected from disturbance. That is why Pure Crete funded a turtle hatchery, in Gerani on the north-west coast of Crete, through the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece.

Loggerhead turtles grow up to 100kg in weight and 90cm in length. Each population is genetically distinctive, and hatcheries enable the stretch of beach to which they habitually return to be protected.

The Loggerhead turtles around Crete nest from the end of May to mid-August. Each adult female lays eggs every 2 or 3 years, and may lay 120 eggs at a time, twice or three times in that season. If a turtle is disturbed by human activity when she comes ashore she will postpone her egg-laying and ultimately abort her eggs in the sea where they will be lost. In any case, only one in a thousand hatchlings entering the sea survive to adulthood due to predatory seabirds and fish and it then takes between fifteen and twenty years for a turtle to reach sexual maturity!

It is therefore important to protect the nesting habitat of the Loggerhead turtle and we hope that you support the work Pure Crete has done to ensure eggs are successfully laid and hatched.

The Bearded Vulture

Pure Crete has funded thousands of leaflets in English to raise awareness and money to help to protect the Cretan Bearded Vulture. The Bearded Vulture, or Lammergeier, was once found in mountain regions across Europe, Asia and parts of Africa, but is now an endangered species and only survives in a few areas. One of these is Crete where 31 birds are left. 

The Bearded Vulture is the only bone-eating bird in the world – dropping bones from hundreds of feet to shatter them before descending to eat. `The bone breaker’ has a wingspan of 2.8 metres and its narrow wings allow it to reach great altitudes to reign majestically and peacefully in the Cretan skies.

It has reddish yellow or white plumage on the head and breast with a grey black tail and wings. Its black forehead and beak forms the distinctive appearance of a beard.

The vulture reaches adulthood after 6 or 7 years, and lays two eggs between December and January, one of which will normally survive. Its natural lifespan is 40 years. The Lammergeier displays no predatory behaviour and has no natural predators but faces extinction due to man. Destruction of natural habitats, poisonous baits by shepherds, egg stealing by collectors, tourist disturbance and high voltage cables all take their toll.

That is why Pure Crete through the `Immediate Intervention for the Protection of Nature’* has acted to raise awareness and funds to protect the Bearded Vulture in Crete. We hope other companies will follow our lead.

* An EU charity working in partnership with the Greek government to intervene to protect endangered indigenous species.

Birds near Souda Bay and surrounding areas.

Crete offers a unique opportunity to see some of the rarest European birdsof prey with ease, if one knows where to look. One should be able to spot Griffon Vultures, Buzzards, Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles and the Lammergeier,in one of its last remaining strongholds.

The commoner Cretan birds such as Sardinian and Cetti’s Warblers, Crested Larks and Kingfishers are year long residents, but during the spring andautumn migrations there are many additional species to be seen.The site at Aptera is worth exploring. One can expect to see SardinianWarblers, Stonechats and Crested Larks. The Blue Rock Thrush may be more elusive. Positioned atop the Turkish fort, look out for birds of prey which are frequently seen flying along the line of cliffs, often being mobbed by the local Hooded Crows. During the hours of darkness one invariably hears and sometimes sees the Scops Owl, indeed several clients in the past have reported being observed by this bird whilst sitting out on their terraces.

Souda Bay British War Cemetery is well worth a visit. The well kept garden surrounded by trees provides close views of many birds including migrants such as Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck and Wood Warblers. The journey can be continued onto the Akrotiri peninsula and the gardens/orchards of its two monasteries at Aghia Triada and Moni Gourverneto, where the irrigated plots attract lots of Finches (including Hawfinch), Wagtails and Red-backed Shrike. Crested Larks are everywhere. Kingfishers have been spotted diving into the sea in Almerida harbour, in the harbour at Hania, along the river which flows into the sea at the far western end of the Kalives beach below the fort of Izeddine and at Kalami, Skala.

Venturing further afield, a trip to Omalos combines spectacular scenery with sightings of most of the raptors commonly occuring in Crete. In addition Choughs, Crag Martins and Woodlark have been seen. Somewhat rarer is the elusive Rock Bunting. Heading into Rethymnon province and taking the route through the Kourtalioliko and Kotsiphos gorges, one can expect to see Griffon Vultures, Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles, numerous Buzzards and perhaps a glimpse of a Lammergier. On the return journey visit the Petres River Gorge, a breeding site for Griffon Vultures, Peregrines and Blue Rock Thrush. Recently, on a trip from Therisso to Zourva (which can be driven), a stand of trees in the valley below were covered by a flock of Bee-eaters. The best times to be in Crete are during the migrations, but there is always something interesting to observe. Binoculars are essential and good reference guides.