When my eyes met binoculars in 2012, they were likely in pursuit of the feathered occupants of Paris, from tits to creepers. My wife and I moved to the capital of France in early June and I averaged about one morning of birding every week until late November, when we traveled back home to Seattle by way of Eastern Europe for a month. I mostly birded in green-spaces near our flat just southwest of Paris (in the city of Boulogne-Billancourt) with periodic trips further afield.
With moderate effort, I tallied 72 species in the City of Light.
There aren’t many birders in Paris. I met four of them and while I learned quite a bit, I almost always birded solo (during the week). Consequently, my ears failed to find the less common songs/calls and I am sure my eyes missed a few of the expected fall migrants in all their dull greatness (i.e. phylloscopus warblers). I also missed spring migration entirely.
Highlights include a Lesser Redpoll working an alder with two European Goldfinches on November 8th, a European Honey-buzzard migrating over Parc des Beaumonts in mid-August, separate sightings of Tawny Owls in two different parks southwest of the city in the summer, two sightings of Black Woodpecker in the Bois de Boulogne, a pair of Hawfinches in early November, and several sightings of Eurasian Bullfinches throughout the year—the handsomest of the European line-up.
Biggest miss: Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. I’ve heard a couple but so far these small trunk-climbers have eluded me.
I’ve included a full species list below, with codes denoting where I saw them. Most locations are slightly outside Paris proper but all are easily accessible by the Paris metro system. Each code links to a full description (and MAP) in my blog post, “Birdwatching in Paris.”
- Bois de Boulogne (BdB)
- Parc de l’Ile St Germain (PiSG)
- Ile de Seguin (IdS)
- Parc du Beaumonts (PdB)
- Jardin des Plantes (JdP)
- Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise (CdPLC)
- Bois de Vincennes (BdV)
Canada Goose (BdV) — Flock on Lac Daumesnil, Bois de Vincennes.
Common Pochard (BdV) — Wintering flock found in Lac de Minimes, in east Bois de Vincennes.
Ring-necked Pheasant (BdB) — Seen a couple times in the deeper recesses of Bois de Boulogne.
Great Crested Grebe (BdV) — Found in winter on Lac de Minimes, Bois de Vincennes.
European Honey-buzzard (PdB) — Uncommon migrant through Paris. I joined expat birder David Thorns at his beloved Parc du Beaumonts on an afternoon in mid August and this was the first, and closest, raptor to pass us during the two hour skywatch.
Little Ringed Plover (IdS) — A pair were spotted in the dirt construction areas of Ile de Seguin in July.
Common Tern (IdS) — Seen during migration on the Seine on Ile de Seguin.
Common Wood-Pigeon (BdB–PiSG–IdS–PdB–JdP–CdPLC–BdV) — Widespread; one of the most abundant species in Paris. You can’t scan the skies without seeing several of these guys. Their silhouette is frustratingly similar to a raptor in flight to North American eyes.
Tawny Owl (BdB) — The alarm calls of Eurasian Blackbirds alerted me to my first Tawny Owl in Domaine Saint-Cloud (across the river from Boulogne-Billancourt). My second was seen the following week after hearing the startled call of a Green Woodpecker on a run through the Bois de Boulogne.
Common Kingfisher (BdV) — A single bird fishing a small stream in Bois de Vincennes.
Black Woodpecker (BdB) — Chasing down the sounds of a foraging woodpecker yielded fantastic views of my first Black Woodpecker in Bois de Boulogne in August. I found a second, more vocal bird in November.
Eurasian Hobby (CdPLC) — One quick fly-by in Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise in mid October.
Rook (BdB) — Three flew over Bois de Boulogne in early November.
Barn Swallow (PdB) — Two flew past skywatch hill at Parc des Beaumonts in August.
Common House-Martin (BdB) — Common at north end of Lac Inferieur in Bois de Boulogne in summer.
Greater Whitethroat (PiSG) — I spotted my first during fall migration in Parc de l’Ile St Germaine.
European Pied Flycatcher (BdB–PiSG–CdPLC) — Uncommon migrant. Found my first in Bois de Boulogne, my second in Parc de l’Ile Saint Germain and my third during a small migratory fallout in Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise.
Black Redstart (Domaine de Saint-Cloud) — There was a reliable pair across the river from Boulogne in Parc de Saint-Cloud.
Fieldfare (PiSG) — A thrush that winters in Paris. I found my first in November.
Redwing (BdB) — Another wintering thrush. I found my first in Bois de Boulogne in November with a flock of Eurasian Blackbirds visiting a fruiting conifer tree.
Western Yellow Wagtail (IdS) — Seen along the fortified banks of the Seine, across from Ile de Seguin.
Gray Wagtail (BdB) — Seen near water in Bois de Boulogne.
Eurasian Bullfinch (BdB–PiSG) — In my opinion, the most attractive of Europe’s urban birds. I chased down some soft call notes in June to find a pair foraging quietly in the grass (beneath a stand of conifers) just north of the Reserve Ornithologique in Bois de Boulogne. I didn’t see any others until I found a small (but reliable) flock visiting some fruiting shrubs in Parc de l’Ile Saint Germain. Handsome devils.
Lesser Redpoll (PiSG) — Probably the most unexpected bird I found in Paris. While birding in early November in Parc de l’Ile Saint Germain, I was attracted to a small flock of European Goldfinches flying amongst a small patch of alders. I noticed that one was particularly tan. Once I noticed the subtle reddish cap and black mask, I knew I had a redpoll but I had never seen one so awash in brown. I studied the bird as it foraged for several minutes. My Princeton Birds of Europe guide was printed in 1999 and only had Common and Arctic (Hoary) Redpoll. Once I returned home, I learned that the cabaret subspecies that best matched this bird (as depicted in my book) was split in to a new species: Lesser Redpoll. I returned to this patch of alders several more times and never saw any other redpolls.
Eurasian Siskin (PiSG) — I finally found my first siskins near the patch of alders that hosted the Lesser Redpoll above. After several attempts, I found four that were visiting a small pond as I was leaving the park via the western entrance.
European Goldfinch (BdB–PiSG–IdS–BdV) — This was one of the first birds I saw on my first morning of birding in Paris (in Parc de Saint-Cloud). It was a full month before I found another five working some thistle on Ile de Seguin. They became more common, and formed larger flocks, in early November, when I found them at several different locations.
European Serin (PiSG–IdS) — In summer, Ile de Seguin was the most reliable spot for this species, where they were the most boisterous songster. A small flock joined the finch fest that had formed in early November in Parc de l’Ile Saint Germain.
Hawfinch (BdB) — Early November brought a pair of Hawfinches to the parcours sportif, a fitness trail that is my favorite place to bird in Bois de Boulogne.