Azores - Giving something back

Giving something back

Azorean bullfinch by Yulia_B ShutterstockThe Azorean bullfinch is protected by the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds © Yulia_B, Shutterstock

If you have enjoyed your visit and the islands’ hospitality, you may have the feeling you would like to say thank you, and give something back.

The Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves) (SPEA) (SPEA – Açores, Apartado 14, 9630 Nordeste, São Miguel; tel: 296 488 455; mobile: 915 836 123; email:; is a not-for-profit organisation promoting the study and conservation of birds in Portugal. They are very active in the Azores and need all the support and help they can get since there is much to do to protect and regenerate wildlife habitats in the islands.

Early farmers killed the once locally abundant endemic Azorean bullfinch or priolo, Pyrrhula murina, to save their crops, especially oranges, from its attacks. However, from the 1920s, forest clearance and general habitat destruction, together with the invasion of alien plant species destroying its food plants plus probable predation by rats and feral cats, made this small bird increasingly rare. It is now confined to about 6km² of native forest on Pico da Vara and Serra da Tronqueira in the east of São Miguel. Long thought to be down to between only 200 and 300 individuals, in 2008 the first full census was made and the estimate revised to 775 individuals. Under the 2009 IUCN Red List, the priolo was officially categorised as ‘Critically Endangered’, because of its small population and limited distribution.

The area where it survives is designated a Special Protection Area under the EU Wild Birds Directive and is included in the São Miguel Natural Island Park. Since 2003, SPEA, along with governmental agencies and municipalities, have undertaken conservation work in the priolo’s main distribution area; they have recovered its habitat, the Azores laurel forest or laurisilva, by controlling invasive plant speciesand planting native species to increase its desperately needed food supplies. This is a long-term commitment. This work allowed the priolo’s population to increase up to 1,000 individuals in 2013, allowing it to be downgraded to only ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN. SPEA’s work has also contributed to sustainable development of the territory by restoring peatland areas in the Planalto dos Graminhais and promoting sustainable tourism in the territory. In 2012, the ‘Lands of Priolo’ (Nordeste and Povoação municipalities) were awarded the European Charter of Sustainable Tourism.

The society’s first ever visitor/interpretative centre is located within the protected area, in the Cancela do Cinzeiro Forest Recreational Reserve. The Priolo Environmental Centre (mobile: 918 536 123; email:; May–Sep 10.00–18.00 Tue–Sun; Feb–Apr & Oct–Nov 12.00–17.00 Sat & Sun; other times available by appointment) offers information about the flora and fauna of the Serra da Tronqueira and Pico da Vara and especially about the priolo, with temporary exhibitions, a nearby small garden of native plant species, and facilities for its education programme for schools and the local population. In addition, there is a shop with merchandising.

Visitors are made very welcome, and the centre may be reached via the unsurfaced road off the main Povoação to Nordeste road, either just beyond Povoação, or from above the village of Lomba da Pedreira, or from Nordeste (ten minutes). You can find more information about the centre and its activities at the website Membership is available to families or individuals. Members receive the society’s magazine three times a year and news of regular field trips (free to members).

Your financial donation and/or your participation in voluntary work (educational activities, fieldwork activities, professional or academic visits) are fundamental for the success of the project and for the conservation of the priolo and its habitat.

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