Wildlife in Athens

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The vast urban space of Athens looks like the most unsuitable place for the presence of wild species of flora and fauna. However, appearances are deceiving. The groves, the parks, the hills, the few streams, the archaeological sites, the cemeteries and even the, so unnatural, apartment buildings are full of life confirming that Athens is an ideal habitat for many animals and plants. The factors that contribute to this, are the geographical location, the large area, the existence of food and water sources, the mild climate, the absence of hunters and the rather indifferent attitude of the majority of the inhabitants. We should also not forget that Athens was largely formed within a very short period of time. A century ago, the Attica basin retained beautiful mixed forests, dozens of streams, wetlands, olive groves and crops, attracting dozens of species of fauna whose descendants continue to visit or live here permanently. There are even great references of travelers, such as the story of the 19th century in which bearded vultures were flying down from Parnitha mountain to the Sfagia (slaughterhouses) district to get bones, but also engravings of the same period showing white storks nesting in the domes of the churches of Plaka and idyllic streams running in front of the Parthenon. Today, despite the absence of large parts of urban greenery, the center of Athens maintains many small habitats like Lycabettus hill, Acropolis, Philopappou hill, Ardittos hill, Strefi hill, National Garden, Pedion of Areos park, Pangrati park, Tourkovounia hill, Pillars of Olympian Zeus and the archaeological site of Keramikos. In the surrounding suburbs there are many more habitats, such as New Philadelfia park, Attica park, Sygrou park, "Antonis Tritsis” park, Chalandri stream, Goudi park, Filothei stream, Podoniftis stream, the Agricultural School, Pikrodafni stream, as well as areas of Kesariani, Vyronas, Petropoli, Aigaleo and Melissia bordering with the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, some important and historical habitats have been lost, or altered almost irreparably, such as the natural flow of the three rivers of Athens, Kifissos, Ilissos and Eridanos, as well as the famous, formerly, large wetland of the mouth of Ilissos in the Faleric bay.

Crocuses, irises and fritillaries
The flora of the city has been most affected as the urban construction led to the extinction of many wild plants. On the Acropolis grow plants like the Moraea sisyrinchium iris, Sternbergia lutea subsp. lutea, Inula verbascifolia subsp. methanaea, Muscari parviflorum, Crassula tillaea, Cyclamen graecum subsp. graecum, Sedum sediforme, Lamium moschatum, Mesembryanthemum nodiflorum, Gagea graeca, Ballota acetabulosa, Biarum tenuifolium subsp. abbreviatum but also the controversial Micromeria acropolitana which is considered a narrow endemic of the Sacred Hill. In the wider area that includes the hill of Philopappou grow various orchids, such as Himantoglossum robertianum, Anacamptis coriophora subsp. fragrans, Orchis italica, Serapias bergonii, Ophrys aesculapii, Ophrys mammosa, Ophrys attica, Ophrys tenthredinifera, Ophrys lutea and Ophrys ferrum-equinum. In the few places where the river-bed of Eridanos is not encased, grows the impressive Iris pseudacorus, while almost everywhere one can see the impressive Acanthus mollis, that plant that was the model for the creation of the Corinthian capital. Lycabettus is distinguished for its flora with important species like, Aethionema saxatile subsp. graecum, Allium hymettium, Crocus cancellatus subsp mazziaricus, Aristolochia microstoma, Campanula celsii subsp. celsii, Carlina corymbosa subsp. graeca, Colchicum atticum and Silene corinthiaca. It is important that in Tourkovounia grows the extremely rare Fritillaria oblqua subsp. obliqua.

Little owls in Kerameikos
The avifauna of Athens is rich, as the area is located on an important migration corridor. Kestrels live almost all over the city (Lycabettus, Acropolis, the Pillars of Olympian Zeus and Tourkovounia) and nest even in old houses, in big chimneys at Gazi and on the pillars of the Olympic Stadium in Marousi. Sparrowhawks are residents in every large park and peregrine falcons, although more rare, nest in the OTE building in Kifissias road. During migration over Athens fly common buzzards, short-toed eagles and honey buzzards. Particularly important is the presence almost everywhere of the emblematic bird of Athens, the little owl, which in the center lives at Acropolis, Philopappou, Keramikos and Lycabettus along with the scops owl. Until recently, tawny owls were breeding in the National Garden. Swifts, martins and swallows make their nests in Plaka while in almost all large parks you can find are colonies of green parrots. Many, less common, birds visit the same favorite places every year. So, blue rock thrushes and black redstarts live on the rocks of the Acropolis, olivaceous warblers nest in the Pedion of Areos park, redwings and short-toed treecreepers migrate in the National Garden and nightjars, chukar partridges and quails find shelter in Tourkovounia. Unusual but permanent visitors of Athens are lesser kestrels, Eleonora's falcons, cuckoos, turtledoves, nightingales, icterine warblers, red-breasted flycatchers, collared flycatchers, goldcrests, golden orioles and the Bonelli's warblers. Most common birds are hoopoes, robins, wrens, dunnocks, stonechats, blackbirds, song thrushes, blackcaps, sardinian warblers, spotted flycatchers, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, red-backed shrikes, starlings, jays, hooded crows, magpies, greenfinches, chaffinches, goldfinches, serins and cirl buntings.

The green toads of Eridanos
The reptile and amphibian fauna of Athens includes many interesting species that find protection mainly in the rocky areas. Most common of them are the marginated tortoises, the Hermann's tortoises, the balkan green lizards, the snake-eyed skinks and the ocellated skinks, while snakes like, leopard snakes, Dahl's whip snakes, four-lined snakes, levant montpellier snakes and balkan whip snakes are more rare. In the few remaining streams of Athens and in the National Garden live common toads while it is impressive that in the center of the city in the open Eridanos stream live beautiful green toads. Two alien species of lizard have settled permanently n some parts of the city, the Spanish lizard (Podarcis vaucheri) and the Sicilian lizard (Podarcis siculus).

The Fox of Elpis Hospital
The presence of mammals is much more sparse and does not come close to images of other major cities in Europe, such as the foxes of London or the boars of Berlin. However in Athens foxes live mainly in the streams connected with the surrounding mountains while a few years ago a fox from Tourkovounia was found looking for food in the Elpis Hospital. The old stories of the city talk about hunters who went to Ampelokipi for hares, but now hares live only on the outskirts of Penteli and Hymettus. The mammal that one can meet often in Athens is the hedgehog. These small mammals still live in Philopappou, Maroussi, Sygrou park, Vrilissia, even in the few remaining empty fields of Elaionas. Every afternoon from spring onwards many bats appear in the sky of the city, mainly common pipistrelles. Finally, the presence of badgers in the center of the city was recently confirmed by a dead animal found next to the hill of Ardittos, while weasels are common in the city limits.

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