Serbia has 317 eBirded species so far, or 89% of the 356 in the national checklist. The country has one eBird hotspot with 200+ and 48 with more than 100 bird species. North of Belgrade, the Pannonian plain is a lowland landscape with large, lazily meandering rivers (Danube, Sava and Tisa), while to the south hilly/mountainous landscapes are intersected by river valleys. Among travel guides, due to its extensive coverage of natural history and birding sites, recommendation goes to Laurence Mitchell’s Serbia: The Bradt Travel Guide (5th edition, 2017).
Depending on your particular interest, opt for March/April (spring migration), May/June (breeding season), August to October (autumn migration), or November/December when waterbird migration reaches its peak.
Spring migration March to April, 270 eBirded species
Garganey are back in late February – early March when Common Cranes start their passage. Northern Wheatears are back by mid-March, Black Kites by the second half of March, while Ospreys are passing from the second half of March onwards. European Collared and Pied Flycatchers, Eurasian Hoopoes, Common Cuckoos and Tree Pipits are back in late March, while Eurasian Scops Owls are back by late March – early April. Wood Warblers have a strongly pronounced passage through April; Tawny Pipits, Bluethroats and Savi’s Warblers are back by the first week, and Ortolan Buntings and European Turtle Doves by the second week of April. Red-footed Falcons, Whiskered and Black Terns by mid-April, White-winged Terns are passing about a week later. European Honey Buzzards are back in April (mostly second half of it) and European Bee-eaters are back (sooner or later) by the second half of April. Little Bitterns are back by late April.
Breeding season May – June, 261 eBirded species (yet, only about 242 breed in the country)
Garganey and Ferruginous Duck, as well as Goosanders (aka Common Mergansers) at mountain reservoirs – they are all busy nesting. Common Quail, Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove, too. There are only about dozen places where Alpine Swifts breed, but downtown Belgrade is one of them since this spring. In the last ten years, Cattle Egrets have bred again, on and off, but for the first time since 1870s. Glossy Ibises are localized, as well as Griffon Vultures. Imperial and Booted are the rarest eagles in the country, the first with only one heavily guarded pair left. Montagu’s Harriers are uncommon but regular, while Long-legged Buzzards are just uncommon. Scops Owls can be easily heard, but not so easily seen, Little and Long-eared Owls are the easiest ones to see, while Tawny and Long-eared are the most easily heard owls. While Hoopoes and Bee-eaters are common, European Rollers are still highly localised, although the population is recovering. Black Woodpeckers are still relatively easy to hear and see. While Saker and Peregrine Falcons have plummeted in the last decade, Red-footed Falcons are still holding on, breeding in the northern lowlands.
Red-backed Shrike is common, Lesser Grey is uncommon and Woodchat is rare. Eurasian Penduline Tits are easy to hear but harder to spot. Sombre Tits are easier, but require traditional farming landscapes and old orchards. Every few years, Rosy Starlings appear – this was one such year. Black-headed Buntings are uncommon, but becoming more widespread.
Interestingly, while they have not yet been recorded in Serbia in the breeding season, Masked Shrike, Olive-tree Warbler and Sardinian Warbler were seen breeding just south of the border, in North Macedonia, and it is likely that some pairs might choose localities further north.
July – simply boring, weather too hot, birds hiding, only beer saves the day
Autumn migration August to October, 266 eBirded species
Ortolan Buntings, Bluethroats and Collared Flycatchers are gone by the beginning of September. Lesser Grey Shrikes, too, are mostly gone by early September (by mid-September, the first Great Grey Shrikes will appear) while Red-backed Shrikes stay until the end of October. Icterine Warblers and Hoopoes are mostly gone by the end of September, while European Pied and Spotted Flycatchers lag till early October. Common (Greater) and Lesser Whitethroats, Garden and Savis Warblers stay until the first half, Bee-eaters one week longer and Wood and Willow Warblers till the end of October. The last Swallows and Martins also stay well into October. Eurasian Hobbies will follow them closely.
Winter, November to January, 197 eBirded species
Usually about 40K geese overwinter in Serbia, but the last cold spell, when the Danube was mostly frozen solid, pushed twice as many to Serbia. Beside numerous Greylag and Greater White-fronted Geese, small numbers of Red-breasted Geese are almost regular (November to March), followed by rarer Taiga Bean Goose (Nov. to February) and threatened Lesser White-fronted Goose (Nov.-December). Among the rarer species there are also Tundra and Whooper Swans.
Red-crested Pochard, Velvet Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser are uncommon, while Greater Scaup, Smew and Goosander are locally regular. With cold spells comes the rare Long-tailed Duck. Slavonian (Horned) Grebe is rare, but recorded every winter. In winter, Jack Snipes join Common Snipes. Common and Green Sandpipers and the Common Greenshank are three shorebirds most commonly overwintering in Serbia.
In cold months, Caspian Gulls become common, while Red-throated and Black-throated (Arctic) Divers (Loons) remain rare, but regular visitors. Pygmy Cormorants are scattered on any body of water.
White-tailed Eagles become more visible and locally more numerous, joined by rare, yet regular Greater Spotted Eagles. The Hen Harrier becomes the commonest of harriers, joined by an occasional Rough-legged Buzzard (Hawk), together with somewhat rare Long-legged Buzzard. Long-eared Owls are roosting in town and village parks (mostly in the north), sometimes with an odd Short-eared Owl among them. Also, in some areas Ural Owls become bolder and visible by the roadside.
Through bare tree branches, the woodpeckers become easier to observe: Syrian, Great, Middle and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, together with Grey-headed, Eurasian Green and Black Woodpeckers. Only the White-backed remains as elusive as ever. Great Grey Shrikes tend to be rather common.
February – winter, too, but also the beginning of the spring migration for some species, weather too cold and you’ve seen them all in the previous months
In other word, for most of the year some 260-270 species are visible, hearable and recordable. That number drops to still good 200 in winter. The peak season is the second half of April and the first half of May.
As Serbia is not a large country (about the size of Portugal or Austria; or the US states of Indiana or Maine) and the infrastructure is reasonably well developed, it is possible to explore it in about a week and, with some advance planning and guidance from the local experts, build up a list of 80 to 90 species in winter and 120 to 140 in the spring.
Cover photo: David Lindo – The Urban Birder (left) birding Obedska bara Ramsar Site, Serbia