Bird Watching Holidays – An A-Z Guide

This A-Z guide features 26 species of beautiful, elusive, iconic, rare, or unusual birds that can be found in some of the best holiday destinations in the world. Pick a species and plan your next trip around it!

Atlantic Puffins

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Atlantic Puffin

The Atlantic puffin is also known as the common puffin and is the only species of puffin found in the Atlantic Ocean. Its big colourful bill and striking piebald plumage gives it a quirky appearance and it has a number of nicknames including the “clown of the ocean” and “sea parrot.

Where to see them
The Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland are famous for their large colonies of Atlantic puffins. As well as many other seabirds such as guillemots, kittiwakes, shags and razorbills you can also see thousands of grey seals and their pups.

Blue-Footed Boobies

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Blue-Footed Booby

Famous for its mating dance, the blue-footed booby has a rather comical appearance. In fact the blue-footed booby derives its name from the Spanish word “bobo” which means silly or stupid and was probably because of its clumsy walk on land.

Where to see them
Blue-footed boobies are found in the Pacific Ocean but most of them live on the Galapagos Islands where you will also have the opportunity to see the vast number of endemic species that inhabit the islands including Darwin’s finches and giant tortoises.

Cactus Wren

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Cactus Wren

Although, cactus wrens will venture into urban backyards they are true desert birds and will rarely drink from free-standing water, instead getting their liquids from food. It nests in cactus plants where it is protected by the prickly spines of the plant.

Where to see them
The Sonoran Desert in Arizona is home to a number of desert birds including woodpeckers, roadrunners, mockingbirds and thrashers. Also look out for the wonderfully named desert bighorn and the banded Gila monster, a species of venomous lizard.

dalmatian-pelicans

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Dalmatian Pelican

The Dalmatian pelican is the largest species of pelican weighing up to 15 kg with a 3 m wingspan. There were once thought to be millions of Dalmatian pelicans in Romania alone but numbers have dwindled to between just 10,000 and 20,000. Unfortunately they are still poached and in markets in Mongolia you may find pelican bills for sale.

Where to see them
The Danube Delta is one of the most important breeding grounds for Dalmatian pelicans. It is also one of the largest wetlands in the world and home to a diverse number of birds including collared pratincoles, paddyfield warblers, somber tits and levant sparrowhawks.

Egyptian Vultures

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Egyptian Vulture

The Egyptian vulture is a small Old World Vulture that breeds in southern Europe and northern Africa as well as east, west and southern Asia. They are usually seen on their own or in pairs soaring on thermals with other scavengers and birds of prey.

Where to see them
In September, the Strait of Gibraltar is a major thoroughfare for migration as up to 400,000 birds leave Europe for wintering in southern Africa. As well as Egyptian vultures you can see honey buzzards, sparrowhawks, short-toed eagles and black and white storks soaring overhead.

Fairy Penguins

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Fairy Penguin

Also known as the little penguin and in New Zealand as blue penguins , the fairy penguin is the smallest species of penguin standing just 33 cm height. Like all penguins, fairy penguins can’t fly and spend most of the day swimming and foraging at sea for small fish and crustaceans.

Where to see them
Fairy penguins are seen all along the coastlines of southern Australia and New Zealand but one of the best places to view them is at Phillip Island where the evening parade of penguins across Summerland beach has become a major tourist attraction.

Giant Kingfisher

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Giant Kingfisher

The giant kingfisher is the largest kingfisher in Africa. It breeds over much of the continent south of the Sahara Desert. It has a long shaggy crest and a large black bill with a loud ‘wak was wak’ call. It is a diurnal bird and can be spotted perching on rocks scanning for prey. 

Where to see them
Giant kingfishers can be found alongside rivers, streams and lakes. A trip to The Gambia is a great way to spot the giant kingfisher in coastal lagoons and estuaries, along with over 570 bird species that also inhabit this small country. 

Helmeted Hornbill

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Helmeted Hornbill

As one of the world’s weirdest looking birds, the helmeted hornbill is a must-see on any serious birder’s bucket list. They are known as are known as the “farmers of the rainforest” due to their role in spreading seeds, and the reduction in its numbers could have a devastating impact on the local ecosystem.

Where to see them
Helmeted hornbills are critically endangered but in the pristine forest within Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia, they are thriving. There are over 300 recorded bird species in the forest including pheasants, pittas, woodpeckers and other hornbills

Icelandic Falcon

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Icelandic Falcon

Otherwise known as the gyrfalcon, this is the largest member of the falcon family and some would argue, the most beautiful. Its plumage, which can vary from all-white to dark brown depends on its located – it breeds on Arctic coasts and tundra and the islands of North America, Europe and Asia.

Where to see them
Go to Iceland to see its national bird. Surrounded by breathtaking scenery you can also see reindeer, whales, Arctic foxes and puffins Visit between September and April and you may be lucky enough to see the northern lights and take some time to chill out in a hot spring.

Jamaican Tody

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Jamaican Tody

The Jamaican tody is a tiny, colourful bird with a bright green body and long, red bill. It is a difficult bird to spot due to its size and colour but once seen it is not shy and will stay still allowing it to be observed for some time. Like many birds, it has acquired a nickname from and is known locally as the Rasta Bird

Where to see them
The Jamaican tody is endemic to Jamaica and a visit to this Caribbean island will not disappoint. Be sure to visit the lush, tropical gardens of the Hotel Mockingbird Hill. It is teeming with beautiful birdlife including streamertails, cuckoos, parrots and owls.

Keel-Billed Toucan

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Keel-Billed Toucan

The keel-billed toucan is a Latin American toucan also known as the rainbow-billed toucan. It has one of the most colourful beaks in the bird world with a mix of green, red, yellow and orange. The keel-billed toucan is native to the jungles of South America where it lives in holes in trees and travelling in flocks of between 6 and 15 birds.

Where to see them
Stay at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort in Panama, and be woken by the sound of birdsong and howler monkeys. Venture into the dense undergrowth of the rainforest to see keel-billed toucans, as well as manakins, parrots, flycatchers, tanagers and woodpeckers and spend an evening hunting for owls, nightjars and nocturnal mammals such as sloths.

Lady Amherst’s Pheasant

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Lady Amherst’s Pheasant

Although they have been introduced elsewhere Lady Amherst’s pheasants are native to south-western China and Burma. The male bird is very colourful with a long tail and red, yellow, blue and green plumage. Despite its showy appearance it is quite difficult to spot in the wild as they tend to inhabit dense undergrowth.

Where to see them
The variety of habitat in China offers spectacular bird watching opportunities. Although it is possible to get on a plane and do-it-yourself, due, to the sheer size of the country it is advisable to join an organized bird watching tour. Wawu Montain in Sichuan is particularly rich with wildlife where not only could you see Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, but also Temminck’s tragopan and a red panda.

Magnificent Frigatebird

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Magnificent Frigatebird

Male magnificent frigatebirds are noted for their large red throat pouches that they inflate during breeding season to attract a mate. It is the largest species of frigatebird measuring up to a 100 cm in length. It is found over tropical and subtropical waters off America and there are small populations on the Galapagos Islands and the Cape Verde Islands.

Where to see them
In North America, magnificent frigatebirds are most commonly seen in Florida. They nest on the Dry Tortugas, a small group of islands at the end of the Florida Keys accessible only by boat or seaplane. The National Park has an official list of nearly 300 species but the best time to go is spring when dozens of migratory birds can pass through in a single day including common yellowthroats, ovenbirds and Cape May warblers.

Nicobar Pigeon

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Nicobar Pigeon

The Nicobar pigeon is a fancy looking bird found only on islands throughout the Pacific. It has metallic green plumage with long hackles. Unlike other pigeons, they tend to fly in single file rather than loose flocks and nest in dense forest on offshore islets, often in large colonies.

Where to see them
Take a speedboat out to the idyllic Similan Islands off the coast of southern Thailand to see Nicobar pigeon, which can be found everywhere, as well as white-bellied sea eagles and black kites. Ko Similan is the largest island surrounded with rock formations and coral reefs under crystal clear waters and there are opportunities for diving and snorkelling.

Ostrich

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Ostrich

Ostriches are native to more than 25 countries in Africa living in nomadic groups of up to 50 birds. It has the fastest land speed of any bird and when threatened can attack with a powerful kick of its legs.

Where to see them
Although there are many ostrich farms around Oudtshoorn in South Africa, if you want to see ostriches in the wild then head to Karoo National Park. It’s also a sanctuary for springboks, zebras, buffalo, jackals and lions as well as number of species of eagle. Visit between October and December to see ostrich chicks.

Philippine Eagle

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Philippine Eagle

The magnificent Philippine eagle is also known as the monkey-eating eagle and is one of the rarest and most powerful birds in the world. It has long, shaggy crest feathers giving it the appearance of possessing a lion’s mane.

Where to see them
The Philippine eagle is endemic to the Philippines. The rainforests of Mount Kitanglad on Mindanao Island is the best place to spot one which also hosts many other rare and endemic species such as the giant scops owl, Apo sunbird and the montane racket-tail.

Quetzal

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Quetzal

The resplendent quetzal, sometimes simply referred to as a quetzal, is a bird known for its colourful plumage found from Southern Mexico to Panama. It was considered divine in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations and in several Mesoamerican languages the word quetzal can also mean precious or sacred.

Where to see them
Head to the cloud forest of Costa Rica to spot this beautiful bird. It offers some of the best canopy experiences in the world with the chance to see toucans, hummingbirds, kingfishers and parrots. Be brave and ‘fly’ through the dramatic scenery on a zip-wire if you dare.

Raggiana Bird-Of-Paradise

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Raggiana Bird-Of-Paradise

Raggiana Bird-of-paradise also known as Count Raggi’s bird-of-paradise, is the national bird of Papua New Guinea. It is a representative of the country’s rugby team and its images is also found on stamps and money. The plumes of the bird are heavily cropped for ceremonial headdresses although this is not a threat to its long-term survival.

Where to see them
Papua New Guinea is home to many stunning birds including 35 species of birds of paradise. You will also find bowerbirds, honeyeaters, flowerpeckers and orioles. And watch out for creepy crawlies – with over 25,000 species of beetle and 6,000 butterflies and moths , it has one of the richest insect fauna in the world.

Snowy Owl

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Snowy Owl

Snowy owls are found in Artic regions in North America and Eurasia. They are easily recognisable with feline like faces and the adult male is almost pure white. Unlike many other owls they hunt during the day, preying on lemmings and other small rodents during breeding season.

Where to see them
Churchill in Canada is famous for the polar bears that will venture into the town in the autumn. It is a popular destination for bird watchers from May to August where you can see snowy owls, tundra swans and American golden plovers. During the summer thousands of beluga whales move into the warmer waters around Churchill to calf.

Tasmanian Native Hen

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Tasmanian Native Hen

The Tasmanian native hen is a stocky flightless rail and one of 12 species of bird endemic to Tasmania. Although many flightless birds have become extinct at the hand of humans, the Tasmanian native hen has benefited from the introduction European-style agricultural practices. 

Where to see them
Tasmania and its offshore islands is home to a wide variety of birdlife that inhabit its varied topography including moorlands, eucalyptus forests, rainforests and coastal heathlands. Several species of penguins arrive in the late summer to Tasmanian shores. 

Ultramarine Flycatcher

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Ultramarine Flycatcher

Male ultramarine flycatchers are very pretty blue and white birds that breed in the foothills of the Himalayas. They are small with a weak song so can be difficult to spot as they don’t often venture into the open, preferring to stay among foliage to feed.

Where to see them
Bhutan is a bird watchers’ paradise and the Puna Tsang Chu Valley is no exception. Here you can see the ultramarine flycatcher as well as sapphire and verditer flycatchers. It is also home to the endangered white-bellied heron as well as Pallas’s fish eagle.

Velvet-Purple Coronet

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Velvet-Purple Coronet

A highly iridescent species of hummingbird that has a quirk of holding its wings straight up for a moment after perching showing its chestnut axillaries. The velvet-purple coronet is attracted to hummingbird feeders but can also be found foraging on flowers near the canopies of humid forests. 

Where to see it
Colombia has more species of bird than any other country.Southwest Colombia has a variety of different landscapes from the wetlands and mountains of the Andes to the tropical rainforests of the Pacific coast. As well as hummingbirds look out for parakeets, tanagers, and waterfowl.

Wandering Albatross

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Wandering Albatross

Wandering albatrosses have the largest wingspans of all living birds measuring a massive 3.5 metres. They spend most of their life in the air only returning to land to breed and feed. During courtship they will put on impressive displays involving screams, grunts, whistles and bill clapping.

Where to see them
Wandering albatrosses have a large range across the Southern Ocean but one of the best places to see them is the island of South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean. Take a cruise from the Falkland Islands to also see colonies of penguins, albatrosses, petrels, shags, gulls, terns, pintails and pipits.

Xantus’s Hummingbird

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Xantus’s Hummingbird

Xantu’s hummingbird, named after John Xantus de Vesey, a Hungarian zoologist, is a distinctive, glittering green hummingbird, endemic to Baja California. Similar to other hummingbirds they are fantastic flyers and catch insects on the wing as well as using their long tongue and curbed bill to drink nectar from flowers.

Where to see them
As well as Xantu’s hummingbird, 4 other birds are endemic to Baja: the cape pygmy owl, Baird’s junco, the San Lucas robin, Belding’s yellowthroat and the gray thrasher. Baja has a range of habitats from forests and mountains, to beaches and deserts and is a beautiful area for bird watching enthusiasts.

Yellow-Crowned Parrots

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Yellow-Crowned Parrot

Yellow-crowned parrots are striking birds with bright green plumage and yellow at the top of their heads. They are native to tropical South America and Panama and can be found in a variety of habitats including tropical forests, woodland, mangroves and savannas.

Where to see them
Head to the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador to experience one of the most colourful sights of the avian world. Visit at dawn to see hundreds of parrots and macaws as they gather at the banks of the Napo River to lick clay. You will be treated to an incredible show as the birds swoop and call before settling on their favourite perches.

Zebra Finch

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Zebra Finch

Zebra finches are familiar to many as they are often the subject of research to investigate genetics, learning and memory. They are one of the most common finches of Central Australia, inhabiting grasslands and forests usually close to water.

Where to see them
The Larapinta Trail is one of Australia’s best bushwalking and trekking experiences through the Northern Territory. There is an abundance of native birdlife along the trail including zebra finches, honeyeaters, pied butcherbirds and, if you’re lucky, the elusive spinifexbird.

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