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Corfu Wildlife

It is with kind permission of Damian Doyle for allowing us here at Holiday Corfu to use his pages on Corfu Wildlife.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Damian and his family a few times now in Messonghi, and you could not wish to meet such a nice family
I would like to Thank Damian for all your hard work in Collating the pages for Corfu Wildlife.

olivegroveflowers.jpg (16988 bytes)Corfu ( Kerkyra ) an enchanting place for the visitor interested in nature in all its guises, is a long irregular shaped island in the Ionian sea, it is about 53km. long, 24km. wide in the north and 4km. near its southern end. It has a total area of 592 square kilometres and a coastline of 217 kilometres. There is a permanent population of approx. 110,000, which swells dramatically during the summer months due to tourism. The Island is blessed with a Maritime / Subtropical climate i.e. mild winters and relatively cool summers compared to mainland Greece. The annual rainfall varies between 700mm and 1400mm, the majority of this in the winter months. Snow and frost are rarities on the island even though the Albanian and Greek mountains a few miles away have a covering of snow for most of the winter. As a result of this, humidity is high which gives rise to lush vegetation, which in turn harbours a great variety of wildlife.

The terrain is greatly varied with at least six peaks over 500meters the highest being Mount Pantokrator at 906 meters. On the northern slopes there is marquis, the typical Mediterranean terrain i.e. rocky with low scrub and grass etc. There is rich pasture/tillable land like the Ropa Valley which includes a golf course, coastal plains with salt water lagoons and large disused salt pans and the remainder of the Island comprising undulating hills carpeted in endless olive groves.

Historically part of Corfu was covered with natural oak forests but these were exploited for ship building by the Venetians whose ship yards can still be seen at Gouvia, and later the British and French took advantage of these resources. However it was the Venetians who convinced the Corfiots to plant olive trees, rewarding them with payment of 36 drachmas for every ten trees planted and also allowing them to pay their taxes in oil. Obviously a very successful venture as today the island is home to over 3 Million olive trees.

inland.jpg (53450 bytes)

Copyright Damian Doyle 2005.

Trees on Corfu


The present day olive tree is thought to have been cultivated from the Oleaster bush about 3500BC in Crete and Syria simultaneously. In Corfu the trees are not pruned and are therefore much larger than elsewhere. Many of the trees are hundreds of years old and are virtually hollow due to their knurled and distorted trunks. Today olive groves cover more than 40% of the island. Here the fruit is left to mature on the tree until it falls naturally as this is said to increase the value of the oil. Other Mediterranean areas use mechanical tree shakers or beat the fruit from the trees.

The fruit is harvested with large black nets spread beneath each tree from November to April. Once gathered the olives are brought to the olive press where they are crushed and then the oil is extracted from the paste by mechanical means followed by filtration to remove any remaining particles. Olive oil is the only oil that can be consumed without any further processing once extracted from the fruit. Olive oil is extremely beneficial for the cardio vascular system, which is evident in the longevity of many Corfiot residents. The olive fruit fly, which is by far the greatest threat to the olive crop, has been the subject of much debate especially regarding its eradication as on Corfu and most other countries this has been done to date using helicopters to aerial spray insecticides.

This has led to uneasiness regarding the long-term effects of these insecticides on both the human population and the beneficial insects on the island and ultimately the food chain. In view of this a comprehensive study of the olive fruit fly was carried out by Scientists Fletcher and Kapatos in unsprayed olive groves on Corfu, which has led to a better understanding of the population ecology of the olive fruit fly. This study in turn has helped worldwide development of alternative methods of control most notably Pheromone traps which are now the only allowable method of control in some areas of Corfu .

Judas Tree
This is so named because Judas is said to have hanged himself from one of these after he betrayed Jesus, therefore it is said to blush with shame ever since, hence the pink flowers ( magenta ) on the trunk and stems before the leaves appear in spring, it flowers from march to April, the flowers have 2 larger lower petals and 3 erect upper petals
and it has bright green circular leaves. This plant is from the same family as peas or legumes.


No picture of Corfu would be complete without a number of tall elegant Cypress trees scattered around the landscape. They are known by the Greeks as "Dachtila tou Theo" which literally means the finger of god. Every village in Corfu has its own story or superstition concerning this beautiful tree. Due to the straight growing nature of the Cypress, it was regularly used to provide the upper floors in the traditional Corfiot houses
and even today is still used extensively in shipbuilding.

usually found near habitation, they have large indented leaves somewhat like a large hand and fruit in the summer months .Fig have been cultivated as far back as 7000B.C. in Jerico and is the first tree to be mentioned in the bible. Originally from Caria in Asia Minor, hence its scientific name of Ficus Carica. The Fig tree is unusual in that it doesn’t have a resinous sap instead it exudes a slightly caustic milky substance when cut. It is very deep rooted and therefore able to withstand extreme drought and also it’s wood is very porous and retains large reserves of moisture.Fig does not flower and fruit like a normal tree instead it actually flowers inwardly and the fruit is in reality

the flowers, full of stamens etc.

Carob or Locust Tree

This tree is evergreen and has brown broad bean like seedpods, which have been used as a substitute for chocolate and also to make carob flour,
which has been used historically during times of distress and even today it is still cultivated by some for animal fodder.
The Carob seed due to its uniformity of weight has been used to measure precious items such as gemstones for thousands of years, hence the word
Carat as in the measure of diamonds.


Often seen where it grows in the wild. It is easily recognisable by its long leaves and peeling pastel coloured rust and cream bark. Eucalyptus are amongst the largest trees to be found on Corfu.


Holm Oak
Distinguishable from the normal oak by its elongated oval shaped leaves.
Holm Oak is a compact tree not unlike the olive and is one of the trees still remaining from the primeval forests of Corfu.

The Strawberry Tree
The strawberry tree has dark green leaves and beige coloured bottle like flowers, its fruit resembles strawberries and ripen from green to yellow to vivid red. It is a member of the Heather family ( ericaceae ). This plant can live for up to a thousand years where older stems are replaced with new growth from its flattened woody base which is called a Lignotuber. The Strawberry tree is native to mediterranean countries and also some milder atlantic coasts such as western Ireland although it has been decimated in these areas where it was used to make charcoal for iron smelting. It is fortunately still quite common on Corfu. The fruit is edible with a delicate flavour and is used in liquors. The Two Tailed Pasha butterfly favours the Strawberry tree for breeding. Other trees, which are a common feature of the landscape, are Holly again a remnant of the primeval forests. Oak its leaves easily distinguishable from any other tree, however it doesn’t normally attain the girth and size of Oak trees in northern Europe. Pomegranate favoured for its fruit and praised in many a Greek legend. Found also throughout the island are Myrtle’s, Prickly Pear and sometimes quite large Bamboo thickets.

Copyright Damian Doyle 2005.

Flowers on Corfu.

March, April and May through to June are undoubtedly the best months on Corfu for wild flowers. In July and August most plants have either produced seed and withered or retired beneath the surface into bulbs and tubers. September onwards often seems like a second spring with many plants making a colourful debut or encore after the long hot and dry summer months. In springtime the variety and profusion of flowers and foliage is done in an English cottage garden like style, which has to be seen to be appreciated. Pathways and clearings in the olive groves come alive with Anemones, wild Tulips, Iris, Bluebells and a variety of flowering plants found in northern Europe but here their flowers seem to be larger and foliage even more succulent.


In springtime the wild cousins of our cultivated Chrysanthemums, lupins, Geraniums, Crocus, Hellebores and Gladioli can be found in fields ditches and even by the roadside. Ipomoea or Morning Glory drapes itself over fences and hedges and although the flowers only last a day they are replaced with fresh blossoms every morning. Other plants include the bright blue flowering Sea Holly and Sea Lavender, Heather’s and Oleander. During autumn large clumps of Cyclamen are sprouting everywhere, even from a spadeful of soil in a fissure on the rocks. There are also a variety of unusual plants including Orchids of which there are about 36 species on Corfu some of them endangered, they include Spiranthes spiralis which has greenish white flowers around the stem like plaited hair, about 12 inches tall. Also Orphrys reinholdii a beautiful purple orchid with a horseshoe printed in white and the Bee orchid, which is also to be found in northern Europe.

Due to the favourable climate on Corfu the island is inundated with a great selection of herbal plants, which the islanders have utilised to their benefit. Amongst them Oregano is gathered by every household in June just as the flower heads open, they are then cleaned in water and hung in the shade. After a week or two the flowers are removed and this is "rigani" which is used copiously in the Corfiot kitchen. Bay and Mint along with Wild Celery are also part of the natural bounty of this fertile island.

A traditional pastime which is today still as important and popular is gathering "Horta".
This is an activity carried out from October to May and involves the picking of a variety of edible plants including Dandelion, Wild Mustard, Neapolitan Garlic, Honeywort, Borage,
Wild Asparagus and Chicory. These are then boiled, covered in olive oil and served with Feta, fish and bread or whatever takes their fancy.

borage.jpg chicory.jpg

Copyright Damian Doyle 2005.

Birds in Corfu

Due to the Corfiots love of hunting during the winter months most species of birds on the island shun human contact and might not be as abundant as in other parts of Europe therefore you have to work hard to observe them. Some species however are plentiful, whether this is because of their unsuitability for the pot or superstition is unknown. Throughout the island there are various habitat types, all within easy drivingairportlagoon.jpg distance of each other. Just to whet your appetite some of those sites include:

Airport Lagoon ( Lake Halikiopoulos )

Unusual in its closeness to the airport, your plane will land on what is reclaimed land on the lagoon.
There are almost always a number of Great White Egrets, Grey Herons, Cormorants and possibly Pygmy Cormorants,
Terns and Marsh Harrier to name but a few.

Note :- As of summer 2004 the local Mayor has secured EU funding to create a nature trail and bird watching facilities on the shore of the airport lagoon.

Lake Halikiopoulos.

Ropa Valley
Thousands of years ago this was a large seawater lagoon, it is now well above sea level and prized fertile land.
Spring would be the best time of the year to make a visit here.
If you are lucky you can see quite a variety of species due to the fertility of the land and the changing terrain surrounding it.



Lefkimi, Salt Pans
Now disused and returning to nature.
This is quite a large area and provides an undisturbed breeding ground for a number of species including waterfowl, Shorebirds, warblers Pipits etc.
During the hottest summer months this area resembles a desert landscape and it is easy to imagine it in its original working state.
Therefore early spring would undoubtedly be the best time to visit the pans.

Lefkimi Salt Pans.

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Goldfinches at Messonghi river. Grey Heron on airport lagoon.


Lake Korission

On the south west of Corfu Lake Korission is separated from the sea by a strip of sand dunes, again
Egrets, Waterfowl, Harriers, Kingfishers Warblers, Hoopoe and a great variety of migrants can be
sighted here during the spring and autumn migration.

Lake Korision.

Pantokrator Mountain
Because Pantocrator is the highest peak on Corfu on a clear day (most days) the whole island is visible from the summit as are the Albanian and mainland Greek coastlines.
Bird life although sparse is quite interesting and varied. Eagles, Kites and Buzzards patrol the skies while Falcons and Kestrels can also be seen pursuing their quarry.
Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstarts and Cirl Buntings are regularly seen here and obviously the lower foothills have a greater variety of species.

Major river valleys
The main rivers such as the Messonghi , Potamos and Ropa etc. don't dry up completely during the intense summer heat and consequently they become an oasis
for all wildlife during the mid summer months. Find yourself a nice shaded and secluded spot away from human activity , sit down quietly for half an hour
and you are guaranteed to see something interesting .



Beside the above specialised areas, throughout Corfu Swallows, Swifts, Gulls, Oriole, Sparrows,
Magpies,Jays and most of the common European birds are regularly seen.
At night most often heard but not seen is the Scops Owl ( Otus scops ) who once the sun sets can be heard no matter
where you are on the island, this is a small owl about 8inches long and its call is a single penetrating "PIUWW".
The Scops owl is known by the Greeks as " gionis " which is in recognition of the sound of its call .



Copyright Damian Doyle 2005.

Butterflies on Corfu

Butterflies and Moths
Throughout the summer months butterflies of all shapes and sizes can be seen fluttering across the vegetation.
Amongst them are: Long Tailed Blues, Southern White Admirals and the Two Tailed Pasha which breeds on the Strawberry tree.
At night a great variety of moths including the Hawk Moths can be seen, it is a good idea to leave a light on and see what it attracts.
For the more curious or gruesome this also serves as a good location to watch Geckos stalk their prey. Also regularly seen are -


Scarce Swallowtail
( Iphiclides podalirius ) which despite its name is the most common Swallowtail in Europe, it is so called because of its rarity in the British Isles.
Wingspan is approx. 70mm to 80mm. Can be seen throughout the summer months.
It appears to glide like a paper aeroplane in reverse.



This butterfly has unusual torn looking wings which are mottled brown underneath.
In northern Europe it has a white comma shaped symbol underneath its wings, hence its name.
But in southern Europe it is represented by the Southern Comma which has smaller wing spots ( see Photo. ) and instead of a comma symbol it bears
a white v shaped symbol on the wing undersides.
Wingspan is 45 to 50mm.
Adults spend the winter in hedgerows making full use of their camouflage to avoid detection.


Distinguished by the red spot in the centre of all four wings and the forewing which sweeps out to a point.
The male has yellow upper wing surfaces whilst the female has pale green .
Wingspan is up to 60mm.Found in open woodland and gardens.
They overwinter in evergreen foliage and are amongst the first butterflies to appear in spring.


Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta )
The upperside colouration is unmistakable.
The undersides are similar but paler and less distinct.
Adults overwinter to reappear again in spring.
Its favourite haunts are flower gardens.
Wingspan is up to 60mm. Caterpillars feed on nettles.

Convolvulus Hawkmoth ( Agrius convolvuli )
A migrant from Africa every spring to breed in Europe.
Can be seen regularly at dusk when it resembles a hummingbird as it feeds with its very long proboscis.
This photo is at a mandarin tree.
Distinguishable by its greyish head and pink striped abdomen.
Caterpillars feed on bindweed and Ipomoea or Morning Glory. Wingspan is approx 100mm.

Giant Peacock Moth ( Saturnia Pyri )
This species is the largest moth to be found in Europe. It’s wingspan is close to 140mm.
Therefore it is understandable why it is often thought to be a bat when flying at night.
This photo is the female, the male has feather like antennae.
The adult moth does not feed, but the caterpillar feeds on various deciduous trees including fruit trees and is regarded as a nuisance by fruit tree owners.
The moth is active from March to late June.

Copyright Damian Doyle 2005.

Reptiles on Corfu

As can be expected of most warm climates Corfu has its fair share of reptiles, some quite common and easy to observe whilst others are less co-operative and have to be searched out .
The best time to see reptiles is in spring or before 10 0clock in the morning during summer months, with the exception of the Gecko of course.

tortoise.jpgTortoise ( Testudo Hermani )
Can be found rustling around in undergrowth if you sit and listen for a while, but during the hot summer days they take refuge from the sun and rest
in the shade. During the 60’s they were exported for the pet trade but thankfully the EU has stopped that practise.
Coloration is normally amber and black, adult males are smaller than the females and have larger and longer tails.
Tortoises hibernate during the winter months below ground.
Mainly vegetarian but also eat slugs and snails etc.
Nests are 3 - 4 inches deep and contain from 2 to 12 hard-shelled eggs which are about 1.25 inches long.
Incubation is from 90 to 120 days.
Tortoises can be taken by large birds of prey where they cruelly drop them from a height to break their shells.
They have unfortunately been badly affected by herbicides, which causes death and deformities.
However they are now a protected species.

Hermann's Tortoise.


This is not a snake but more like a lizard without legs. Can grow up to 20 inches long. They are hardy and eat mainly slugs, worms and insects.
The tail is detachable if captured.
The female gives birth to 5 to 26 live young in August / September who then fend for themselves.
If gardening they can be found hibernating in groups from October to March usually in garden litter or under logs etc.
Slow worms have been recorded to live up to 54 years.


Can be seen around lights at night where they feed on moths and other insects attracted by the light.
Their more natural habitat is stone walls and tree trunks.
The Gecko’s feet are unusual in that they have thousands and thousands of tiny hairs which in turn split into thousands of smaller hairs,
these microscopic hairs create " van der Waals forces " which produces a molecular attraction with the surface on which they climb which allow it to walk across ceilings and on virtually any surface.

Moorish Gecko
This is Europe’s largest species up to 6 inches long, also known as the Wall Gecko.
They have a more stocky build than the lizards. Their colour is grey / tan brown with darker blotches, the under belly is white.
They have pronounced wart like scales along the side of the body and tail.
Two to four clutches of two eggs are buried where they hatch after about two months; the hatchlings take up to two years to mature.
The males can sometimes be heard making a clicking sound.

Turkish Gecko
Smaller in size to the Moorish Gecko. It’s habits however are very similar. Distinguishable by it’s very pink coloration.

Turkish Gecko.

There are a number of species to be found on Corfu and it would be very difficult to spend a day here without seeing one or other of the species.balkangreenhead.jpg

Balkan Green Lizard
Europe’s largest lizard, body length is up to 20cm. and if the tail is included can be 60cm. or more.
Its long tail allows it to run along on only its hind legs. It has a bright green body .
The females and juveniles have yellow or brighter stripes the length of the body.
Food is mainly insects and smaller vertebrates. Does not hibernate in hotter areas of its range like the Ionians.
Regularly seen on the parkland adjacent to the Esplanade in Corfu Town. This photo is of a juvenile.

Note: Both these photographs were taken in Gardiki Cave, obviously the Dragon in residence.

Balkan Green Lizard. ( Adult. )

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Agama Balkan Green Lizard.


Also known as the "Sling Tailed Agama ." .
This species is about 12 inches long but quite heavily built and not dissimilar to an iguana. they have a gular fold and spiny scales around the neck.
The male can change colour depending on mood.
They love to bask in sunshine and are usually found on rocky terrain. Up to eight eggs are laid in June which hatch late August
into September.


Dalmatian Algyroides
The most common lizard found on Corfu.
They reach lengths of about 8 inches. the male is distinguishable by his bright blue throat.
During the hottest part of the day they seek shelter in rocky walls etc.
Two or three eggs are laid in may.


Dalmatian Algyroides.

Don’t worry snakes are more afraid of you and will do everything possible to avoid contact.
If you do see one just back off and observe from a distance and if he does notice you he will certainly try to make himself scarce.
Snakes on the island include.

Nose-Horned Viper (Very Dangerous).
Corfu’s only poisonous snake.
Adults can reach lengths of 24 to 32 inches, it gets its name from a fleshy horn on its snout, coloration is light slate-brown
body with pronounced diamond lozenges down the length of its back.
Usually found in rocky habitats and sea shores but dislikes sandy terrain.
Hibernates in groups where the males emerge in march or April with the females appearing a few weeks later.
Mating occurs in may and after a gestation period of about four months up to 20 live young are born approx. 7 inches long.
Diet includes lizards, small mammals etc.
Although this species is poisonous it won’t attack unless provoked and in fact it shuns human contact.
If found ALWAYS view from a distance as it has a long strike.

Four lined snake
This snake has four black lines down the length of its body hence its name.
It is a heavily built snake and can reach lengths of up to 2.5 metres although this is unusual.
Its general colour is grey or brown.
Four lined snakes are fairly easy going and placid and generally wont bite if handled. If you are brave enough.


Snake. ( identification required )

Montpellier Snake
A large heavily built snake of up to 2 meters long. Coloration is dark brown almost black but this can vary to dark green.
It can move very quickly and may rear up like a rattlesnake or cobra if cornered.
Although not deadly its bite is painful and can lead to swelling and nausea.

Terrapins European Pond Terrapin: - ( Emys Orbicularis.)

One of the two terrapins found on Corfu.
They can grow up to 10-12 inches long.
Likes to hide in the vegetation at the waters edge.
From mid-morning they clamber onto the bank or convenient rocks to sunbathe and warm themselves
as they are cold-blooded creatures.
When dry their coloration takes on a dark chocolate hue.
The males are distinguishable by their concave plastron.
A clutch of 10 to 15 eggs are laid in sandy soil on the bank which take about three months to incubate.
When the young hatch they only measure about two centimetres.
Adults hibernate in the mud on the bottom of the pond or slow moving river.
The young will hibernate in or close to the nest. Food consists of small fish, frogs etc.
European pond terrapin


Stripe Necked Terrapin
( Mauremys Caspica Rivulata.)
The second species of freshwater terrapin found on the island.
Very similar in habits to the European pond terrapin.
It lacks the yellowish streaks on its shell and the yellow spots on the limbs and head.
Distinguishable by the bright stripes down along its neck which are just about discernible in this photograph.
Said to be rarer than the pond terrapin.


                     Stripe necked terrapin.  

It is with kind permission of Damian Doyle for allowing us here at Corfu to use his pages on Corfu Wildlife. I have had the pleasure of meeting Damian and his family a few times now in Messonghi, and you could not wish to meet such a nice family. I would like to Thank Damian for all your hard work in Collating the pages for Corfu Wildlife.

More to be added soon !!!

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