Central Portugal’s Serra da Estrela mountain range is an ecologically diverse area of striking natural beauty. As Portugal’s largest and oldest nature reserve, it is home to many species of mammals, birds and reptiles, as well as diverse flora.
This article gives an overview of the wildlife found in the park.
Mammals of Serra da Estrela
Iberian Wolf – After centuries of persecution, the Iberian wolf is making a recovery in both Portugal and Spain. Once common in Serra da Estrela, they now make an occasional appearance, roaming down along the Portuguese-Spanish border from the Peneda-Gerês national park in the north, where there are an estimated 300 individuals.
Studies have found that the main limitation to a sustained wolf presence in Serra da Estrela is the lack of sufficient large prey. The recent wildfires are encouraging local authorities to think seriously about the reintroduction of several large herbivore species (various deer, as well as wild goats and horses) – which would have the dual effect of thinning the thick brush that allows wildfire to spread unchecked, and supporting the movements and recovery of the Iberian wolf.
Serra da Estrela’s beautiful native mountain dog – the Cão da Serra de Estrela – was originally developed as the first line of defence against the Iberian wolf. It is a powerful livestock guardian, bred to protect sheep, goats and shepherds – but, interestingly, is now being used in efforts to protect the wolves themselves. Read more about the Estrela Mountain Dog and its role in wolf recovery.
Red Fox – Red foxes are common throughout Europe and Serra da Estrela is no exception. Foxes in Portugal are of the Iberian subspecies, which are slightly smaller and sleeker than their northern cousins, often with blonde, sandy brown, or grizzled fur. They are omnivorous opportunists that primarily subsist on rodents, small birds and the occasional stolen chicken.
Martens – Both pine and stone martens inhabit Serra da Estrela. These sleek-furred mustelids – related to weasels, pole-cats and otters – spend much of their time in trees, devouring small birds and mammals, as well as fruit, insects and carrion.
Genet – Genets are one of the most abundant carnivores in Portugal – said to have been introduced from Africa by the Moors. They have spotted fur, a slender face and body, and a long tail with dark bands.
These nocturnal, arboreal predators dwell in the densest forests, preying on birds and rodents. Although cat-like, they are unrelated to cats, belonging instead to the viverrid family, which includes genets, civets, meerkats and mongoose.
Otter – Otters can be found in the in mountain streams, rivers and valley bottoms where they prey on fish and freshwater crustraceans. They are frequently seen near Manteigas and the Poço do Inferno. Their presence can be detected by star-shaped spoor and scat on the riverbanks.
Other inhabitants include badgers and European wildcats.
Boar – Wild boar, or javali, are common in Portugal, although secretive. They can be spotted in dense woodland areas throughout the year, preferring locations with good access to water for drinking and wallowing. Hunting is not an unusual pastime in the mountains of Serra da Estrela, and javali features heavily in traditional local dishes.
Wild boar are omnivores, subsisting on a varied diet of acorns, tubers, fungi and nuts, but also insects, rodents, small reptiles and ground-dwelling birds such as grouse and the endangered capercaille. They regularly stray into farms and smallholdings, where they devour and trample crops.
Granada Hare – A solitary rabbit-relative which can run up to 80 km (50 mph). They are most commonly seen in spring, when both males and females engage in ‘boxing’ matches on their hind legs, and frenetic chases known as ‘March madness’.
Roe Deer – Deer have been hunted to near-extinction in many parts of Portugal. Once three species – the roe, fallow and red deer – roamed. Today only the roe remains in Serra da Estrela.
Serra da Estrela is also home to many small mammals, including 19 species of bat, four species of shrew, three species of vole, rabbits, red squirrels, hedgehogs and finally, the bizarre Iberian desman – a type of aquatic, insectivorous mole with webbed feet and a long, ‘snorkel-like’ nose.
Birds of Serra da Estrela
Serra da Estrela is one of the best places in Portugal for birdwatching. There are so many bird species to be seen here, we have given them their own article.
Below is an overview of some of the more interesting species for the common observer. If you are a birdwatcher or simply want to know more, please refer to: Birds of Serra da Estrela.
Large Bird Species
Small Bird Species
Reptiles of Serra da Estrela
At least six species of snake can be found in Serra da Estrela, of which only the Adder (European Viper) poses a significant concern to humans. Nevertheless, all snakes should be treated with caution and respect.
With so many rivers, streams, lakes and pools, Serra da Estrela provides diverse habitats for amphibians, including frogs, toads, newts and salamanders.
Insects of Serra da Estrela
With over 53 species of butterfly alone, Serra da Estrela is buzzing with insect life. Here are a few of our favourites.