Some of the most important colonies of sea birds in the Mediterranean live between rocks and vegetation on Tavolara, Molara and Molarotto
One of the most characteristic birds on the islands is the European Shag.
In December, adults put on their nuptial plumage: their beak becomes dark yellow, their eyes turn emerald green and their feathers develop a green sheen.
A feather-crest becomes visible on top of their head, and from that moment every fissure and bush gives shelter to at least one mating couple.
You can count more than 300 nests in Tavolara, but the small island of Molarotto is the shags favourite. They take possession of all gorges on the small reef, they hide between hollyhocks and many of the latecomers’ nests remain unsheltered.
In April it is beautiful to see chicks and adults pile up on the rocky juts to dry their feathers.
If you are lucky enough to dive under one of the perches, you will be able to see their manoeuvres in order to find food: they are remarkable skin-divers and they can descend to great depths.
They often stop underwater, look around, swim among the cliffs leaving a wake of small bubbles, caused by the air caught in their feathers.
Sometimes they gather in large groups and fish together: if their is enough food, you can see them swim with shearwaters, herring-gulls and “corsi.”
Sometimes you can see two or three dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) join the group, to take part in the banquet.
The islands cannot offer this sight during the summer, obviously, but only in autumn and winter, until springtime.
Smaller shearwaters have nearly all left “Grotta del Papa” (the Cove of the Pope), but the estimated population of these stormy-petrels is of approximately 7000 couples which nest.
The nests are set in every kind of gorge, especially on the eastern sides of Tavolara and Molara.
Just off the islands, you can often see a large number of them on the surface of the sea.
It is harder to estimate the number of couples of greater shearwaters; groups of 30-40 individuals can be observed during the year.
In the winter time some birds can also be found on the ridge.
Herring-gulls live on all the islands, and there are more than 1000 couples that nest.
Something incredible… on Spalmatore’s shore you can see something incredible…
…a gull twirls over the shallow water and, suddenly, dives to fish.
He touches the surface of the water and strangely disappears underneath.
He reappears after a moment, seems wounded, is not able to fly away.
He miscalculated, trying to seize a large octopus that decided he would rather be a preyer than a prey.
The fight lasts more than five minutes, until the tentacles let go and the bewildered gull is able to fly away.
Audoin’s Gulls nest in Molara.
The colony, surrounded by herring-gulls, has changed its location more than once, but there are still approx. a hundred of couples, which is a considerable number.
Outside of the mating season, the gulls disperse along the coast, moving closer to the shore, but you can always distinguish them from the herring-gulls, because they have a more noble look. Their flight is graceful and they move with greater skill.
Common terns nest on the small granitic islands: isolated couples lay their eggs on the rocks and tenaciously defend the nests from intruders.
The greatest danger for sea birds that nest on Tavolara and on the nearby islands are rats, which pillage the eggs.
During the day they are invisible, but you can sense their presence from the droppings and the dens.
At night, on the contrary, there are lots of rodents, up to the beaches.
These beautiful bird are today only occasional visitors of the nearby coastal ponds.
Up to 1965, when they nested, climbing up to the nest, in order to collect eggs, was a test of courage and of maturity for the local young fishermen: the remains of the last nest were still visible a few years ago on the limestone monolith of “Punta del Papa”.