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Some of the most noticeable aspects of the animal life on the islands are that they are home to one of the largest colonies of yellow-footed gulls in Europe, the most abundant number of European Shags in Spain, a small number of breeding pairs of Lesser Black-back Gulls and the last remaining colony of guillemots. These are some of the main reasons the islands were declared a National Park.
There are two bird observation hides (see map) from where it is easy to observe the mating rituals of the gulls and cormorants. They are well camouflaged and are very closely situated to the breeding grounds.
There are also a large number of other species including: birds of prey, pigeons, numerous species of birds, mammals, reptiles, etc as well as lower-order animals -insects, rock-pool fauna, beach-life, etc. The islands are a major resting point for many migratory species of birds on their route between northern Europe and Africa.
This is the most abundant species of gull in Galicia. From studies, it can be deduced that the majority of them only move around the rï¿½as nearest to the islands. They nest on all the steep cliffs on the open-ocean side of the islands as well as some sites on the landward side. They choose areas of sparse vegetation and the nesting area is a protected zone with restricted access but you can view the area from the hide.
The breeding season is from March to August and they have 2-3 young. The young have brown feathers which they keep until they are 3-4 years old. It is important that you do not disturb the gulls as they are in their home. Do not feed them anything as they are wild animals and they will lost their hunting instincts if they become accustomed to humans. They will, however, try to steal your food if you are not careful so, Look out! If you find an injured gull (or any other animal), please do not touch it but do report it to a park warden. It is quite normal that some gulls die - this is natural selection in process.
This species of cormorant is well adapted to life on the water. It has a dark plumage with a greenish metallic tint, a yellow throat, black beak and black feet. It mainly feeds on fish which it catches by diving below the surface of the water. It is very likely that you will be able to observe some shags while they are hunting. You may be surprised by how long they can stay submerged.During the mating season they grow a spiky plume on their heads which disappears afterwards.
On the Islas Cï¿½es there are about 1000 mating pairs making this the largest colony in SW Europe. When they are breeding, they build large nests on the cliffs and, from the observatory, you can see flocks of shags flying over the water or floating on the surface in large groups.
This is a bird that looks pretty similar to a penguin. In the 1960s the population was estimated at 600 breeding pairs but this number has decreased until now there are only non-breeding examples in the surrounding waters. If you are very lucky, you may spot one from the ferry or from the deck of a boat as you sail around the islands. Their decline is blamed on a combination of human activity - overfishing, pollution - and natural factors - they only lay one egg per year. As with the Shags, they are excellent fishers and feed on small fish and crustaceans.
On the subject of marine life, there are a huge number of shellfish and crustaceans, the most numerous being the mussel. In fact, the waters around the island are where the young mussels are taken from to supply the mussel rafts you can see all around the Galician coast.
Percebes, razor clams, sea snails, cockles, oyster, prawns, velvet sand crabs, spider crabs, king crabs, Lobsters and slipper lobsters, etc are some of the abundant species to be found here. There are also many cephalopods - octopus, squid, cuttlefish etc. Among the numerous species of fish there are bream, red mullet, sea bass, sole, mullet and a long etc. With a little luck many of these species can be seen from the bridge over the lagoon, an incredibly beautiful natural aquarium.
In the zones which have been repopulated, the islands have a good covering of woodland. The main species of tree are the pine and the eucalyptus. There are also many gorse bushes, rockroses and brambles. In the more protected areas, the gorse bushes grow quite large and act as a shelter for the colonies of sea birds. The most important plants on the islands are those that grow on the sand dunes and cliffs as these are the most endangered and most valuable as they only grow in these conditions and are very scarce.
Sea thrift and Portuguese crowberry are the two most important, the second only grows in Camariï¿½as, Cabo Vilano and on the Islas Cï¿½es. Here, it grows quite extensively on sand ground between the beaches of Rodas and Figueiras. It has a strong, pervasive smell, thin leaves and white berries which have a nice taste and which were used in the past as a remedy for fevers.
To preserve the flora of the dunes, basic conservation methods have been put in place such as fencing the borders of the area to impede people entering the zone, removing non-native trees and shrubs and by creating raised walkways. It is very important that you do not enter these zones as they are very fragile. Also, please do not disturb the wildlife - this is their home!
The pre-history of the islands is subject to the inherent problems of their isolation. However, the appearance of worked tools allows us to assume that man has inhabited the islands since these times. Man's presence in the Palaeolithic period can not be ascertained as the sites which have been found are not coastal ones. Whatever the conclusion, it is true that many Stone Age tools have been found although it is difficult to date them accurately.
At the end of the Bronze Age came a new population, the development of which lead to the most characteristic culture of the North-West of the Iberian peninsular - the Castros. They built settlements on high grounds and hills with fortifications to protect their huts. They had polished stone tools and rudimentary, thick ceramics. Along the pathway that leads to the ruins of the island's old monastery, you can find many fragments of ceramics from this period.
As an example of the Castro culture of the islands, you can visit the settlement of "As Hortas". This stretches across the incline between the small Faro do Principe Lighthouse and the main lighthouse.
In 138 BC, the Gallaecia tribes fought the Roman army. Around 90BC, Publius Crassus undertook an expedition to Galicia to search for the Tin Islands (The Cassiterides) and in 60BC, Julius Caesar started his war campaign which forced the indigenous Lusitanians to flee from Mount Herminio. The Herminians abandoned the high grounds between the Duero and MiÃ±o rivers and headed toward Galicia, arriving in Baiona and sailing across to the islands. On his arrival, and seeing how close the islands were to the mainland, Caesar ordered boats to be built to attack the islands. Once the fleet set sail they were faced by the steep cliffs on the south of the islands and had to land on Rodas Beach where, after a bloody battle, they defeated the Herminians. Many more battles lay ahead before the Romans finally conquered the whole of the NW peninsular.
Although it is known that the Sueves sailed these waters, there are no remains from this time. In the 6th century AD, the time of a proliferation of religious orders of the Middle Ages, two convent-hermitages were founded on the island: San MartiÃ±o on the south island and San Estevo on the north island. The Interpretation Centre is built on the ruins of San Estevo where some of the anthropomorphous burial chambers can still be seen.
Despite attacks by the Normans, religious communities prospered and rule the population as a feudality. In the mid 16th century, the population started to abandon the islands due to attacks by the Turks, Tunisians and the English. Francis Drake attacked the RÃa de Vigo and sacked the islands.
As a result, the archipelago was fortified in the 19th century and an arsenal was established in the old San Estevo monastery and a military base and prison were built near to Nosa SeÃ±ora beach. With this increased level of security, the islands started to be re-populated and new industries sprung up. Around 1840, two salt plants were built - one on the site where the restaurant now stands and one on the south of the island. The lighthouse Faro de CÃes was also built in this era (1852). A tavern was also built on the banks of the lagoon which was also used as a lobster farm. Competition from the mainland led to the decline of the salt industry and by 1900 the factories were only used as storage areas.
A small population remained on the islands, the majority from Cangas, but this slowly decreased until the mid 20th century. At the same time, the wealthy classes started to come to the islands for their holidays and, in the 1950s large-scale tourism arrived. This led to the need to protect the natural beauty of the islands and they were declared a National Park in 1980.