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Birds of Athens
Zannis Pittakidis, architect N.T.U.A.

In spite of the fact that the constructed environment of the Athens basin has critically limited natural areas, there are still several spots where nature continues to apply its laws. Hills and parks that have not been built and archaeological sites are nowadays zones where the city’s “wild” nature has taken refuge in. In fact, the physiognomy of certain such areas has slightly changed over the years. An important number of birds appear in these areas.

These fundamental “urban” bird habitats, with a tremendous social value for the city’s inhabitants, are:

- Ymittos Mountain of a 1.000 m altitude, with dense or sparse pinewoods. It is estimated that there are more than 600 vegetative species at Ymittos; 31 of them are Greek endemic ones. More than 40 kinds of orchid and several types of Mediterranean mammals have been recorded in the beautiful woods of Kessariani. An extensive part of the mountain falls within the European Network of Protected Areas NATURA 2000, while it also constitutes an Important Bird Area (IBA) of Greece. At least 130 species of birds have been recorded here and it is the only area of the Athens basin where large predatory birds nest.
- Lycabettus, a little hill of low altitude with rocky slopes, is a small “oasis” in the middle of the city. The largest part of this hill is covered by pines and low shrubs. Lycabettus, mainly its steep upright parts, is a significant habitat for certain bird species (64 in particular). Furthermore, the quarries / stone pits that existed in the area have developed into important habitats for the birds that reproduce there.
- The Attica Park (Attiko Alsos – Tourkovounia) is for wild birds an island of mountainous peaks and green. This area has the most extensive precipices of the Athens basin, great parts of which are not natural but the remainders of old quarries pits. At least 95 species of birds have been recorded in the area; 26 of them also reproduce there.
- Falirikos Bay is the mouth of the basin’s two rivers, Ilissos and Kifissos, and the Pikrodafni stream. It is clearly a combination of ecosystems whose principal element is water. In earlier times, Ilissos and Kifissos were the main water sources of the great swamps that extended over and covered the Faliro region. The rise in population and construction works in the Athens basin drained the area, resulting into the destruction of extensive water systems and main wetlands. Nowadays, despite the destruction noted, the area is still of high importance since 142 bird species have been recorded there.
- The extended area of Acropolis, the Ancient Market, and the Hill of Nymphs (Filopappou) is not only an international symbol of culture but also shelters many of the city’s birds. More than 88 bird species can be found in this typical natural Mediterranean ecosystem, among the olive trees, locust-trees, cypresses and numerous tree and shrub types met there. The majority of these birds are migratory ones.
- The National Park is an artificial “forest ecosystem” with a large variety of shrubs and trees, located at the heart of the city. It includes evergreen trees and shrubs that are, to a large extent, foreign to the Greek environment, but shelter more than 61 bird species met at the park from time to time. They are mainly migratory birds that have grown accustomed to people and their everyday activities, and use the park for a short period of time, as a stopover.
- The Park of Environmental Information and Sensitisation “Antonis Tritsis”. At a short distance from the city’s centre, there is a characteristic Mediterranean rural-forest ecosystem that stretches over 1.000 stemmas and is one of the last refuges for wild life in the urban environment of Athens. At least 157 bird species have been recorded in the park. The singularity of the park, which distinguishes it from the other important bird areas in the Atttica basin, is based on the aqueous systems found there.

Apart from the seven aforementioned important bird areas of the basin, there are also groves, parks, and streams, bigger or smaller ones, which are equally interesting. Their vegetation consists mainly of various Greek and foreign species of pines, as well as various types of ornamental trees and shrubs. The most important parks are the ones found in Nea Smyrni, Nea Philadelphia, Strefi Hill, Pedion Arews, Ardittos Hill, Pagrati, the Agricultural School and Syggros Area. Yet, apart from the parks, whatever has been left of the basin’s big streams is equally important for the birds of this city. The most important are the streams of Halandri and Helidonou and the Filothei ravine.

All these little heavens are what were left from the rich natural environment that used to exist in the Athens basin. Over the last years and mainly due to the constructions growth in Attica, these little heavens have suffered major damages. It is in our power to try to give them an opportunity to continue to exist

zannis.pittakidis@monumenta.org

 

NOTICE
The data in this article comes from printed material and articles of the Hellenic Ornithological Society (H.O.S.). H.O.S. was founded in 1982 and is an official partner of BirdLife International, the global organization for the protection of birds. H.O.S. is one of the most significant environmental, Non-Profit organizations of Greece; it is the unique body concerned exclusively with the study and protection of wild birds and their habitats.

25/02/2007
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Map showing the most important sites for Attica's birds
(Credit: Hellenic Ornithological Society)
Ymittos mountain - Kesariani's forest
(Credit: Hellenic Ornithological Society)
Pikrodafni's stream
(Credit: Hellenic Ornithological Society)
The Acropolis of Athens
(Credit: Hellenic Ornithological Society)
The National Garden
(Credit: Hellenic Ornithological Society)