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Lake Kerkini and Dalmatian Pelicans: all you need to know

Lake Kerkini is one of the favorite destinations for nature lovers and photographers in northern Greece. Discover the history of this place.

sunset over kerkini lake in greece

What amazes a visitor who arrives for the first time on the shores of Lake Kerkini is the incredible number of bird species, at least 300, all living in a relatively small space. It’s also really nice to see how men and animals have been living together in peace for a long time.

Until 1928, Lake Kerkini was not permanent. In that year, the Greek government commissioned the American Company John Monks-Ulen & Co. a project for the development of the Serres Valley. In 1932, work began on the project, which was completed in 1982.

Today the water level of the lake can vary greatly so its size can go from a minimum of 55 square kilometers to a maximum of 85 square kilometers. The lake is at most 10 Mt deep, so not that much.

How to get to Kerkini

kerkini pelicans greece

To get to Kerkini you’ll need to rent a car. Most probably you’ll fly to the Thessaloniki airport and from there you can drive to Kerkini.

Once in Kerkini, the best way to visit the lake is by boat and here you’ll have a couple of options.

  • The first option is to join a tour with other people. If you are traveling with your family or with friends and you only want to spend a couple of hours immersed in nature, this is a great option. It won’t be expensive and you can meet some local people, which is always nice. The tours usually leave around mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Keep in mind, however, that especially on weekends there are many people.
  • The second option, which is certainly more interesting if you are a photographer, is to rent a private boat and ask a local fisherman to take you around the lake. The cost is slightly higher than the first option, and you have to wake up very quite early to take advantage of the good light, but at least you’ll have all the boat for you.

Where to stay in Kerkini

white storks kerkini

If you want to visit the lake, you can sleep in a B&B in the village of Kerkini. You can find some good deals on Booking.com. Alternatively, check out Agoda.

If you decide to visit lake Kerkini, don’t forget to make a short trip to North Macedonia: you will not regret it. Here you can find some tips if you want to visit this small off-the-beaten-path country in Eastern Europe. In North Macedonia, you can also find another colony of Dalmatian Pelicans.

The thing that really impressed me the most when I got to Kerkini was seeing a long line of White Stork nests along the main road. This proves that there is a special balance between man and nature.

Kerkini and the birds

kerkini lake in greece

Due to its location in eastern Europe, Lake Kerkini offers a unique habitat for birds. It’s one of the best places in Europe for birdwatching and some of the species are extremely rare.

It’s possible to observe Golden Eagles, Hoopoe, Great crested grebe, Eurasian spoonbill, Black Cormorant (thousands of them), White and Black Storks, and the Dalmatian Pelican.

black cormorants of lake kerkini

There are thousands of Cormorants in the area of Lake Kerkini. The guano they produce is so corrosive that some trees are dead and seem almost spectral.

During the days I spent on the shores of Lake Kerkini I also took several photos at the Great crested grebe on their nests. I obviously didn’t get too close to them to avoid causing any problem.

bird kerkini lake

If you have the opportunity to stay for several days in Kerkini you will surely be able to see more species of birds and mammals and maybe be able to spot some wolves and bisons.

I hope to have the opportunity to come back in winter so that I can photograph the pelicans during the mating season while they have the characteristic bright red beak.

The Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) of Kerkini

dalmatian pelican in greece

The majority of photographers who visit Kerkini do it to photograph the colony of Dalmatian Pelicans. If you really want to know more about them I highly recommend reading the book “Dalmatians – and other Pelicans” by Swedish photographer Brutus Östling.

The Pelican is a migrating bird, but the local fishermen feed the pelicans during the winter, so they no longer have any reason to migrate.

dalmatian pelican in kerkini

From a naturalistic point of view is not good when men change the habits of the wildlife, but it must be kept in mind that the Dalmatian Pelicans are now an endangered species and what the local people have done is helping to preserve the species.

Obviously the topic it’s much more complicated than this but I think they did a good job saving the local colony.

This bird is really impressive: with a wingspan of 3 meters and a weight of 13 Kg, it is the largest of the 8 species of Pelicans and one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. It feeds on fish but sometimes also on chicks of other bird species, as I found out to my surprise.

In mythology, pelicans are associated with parents who sacrifice their hearts to raise their children. I discovered these legends only once back home, but that doesn’t surprise me. I happened to see a little pelican who had fallen into the water and, not being able to fly back to the nest, he found shelter on a piece of wood. His parents, instead of abandoning him, took turns feeding him and standing next to him. Really a beautiful example of parental love.

Unfortunately, today the life of these birds is seriously endangered. The nesting sites and the places where they catch the fish are increasingly reduced or damaged by pollution. We can only hope that more and more people understand that habitat loss is a threat not only for the Pelicans but also for us all.

Some final thoughts

dalmatian pelican at sunset in greece

Lake Kerkini is an example of how man and nature don’t necessarily have to compete with each other. Of course, the balance existing in this place is really precarious, so I believe that is good to raise awareness among the people about the dangers that many animals are facing.

What the local teachers are doing, bringing children to the lake, and educating them to respect nature is a good step in the right direction.

Here are some more pictures of Lake Kerkini. Here is my travel guide to Meteora. If you are planning to visit nearby North Macedonia don’t miss my post about the top things to do in Skopje and in Skopje, the capital of the country.

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