The 10 Best Bird Watching Spots In The World
Whether you’re a birder or not, jetting off to an exotic location and seeing a myriad of colourful birdlife up close can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And with over 10,000 species of birds occupying every continent of the planet you could be spoilt for choice.
If you need some inspiration we’ve chosen 10 of the best birding locations in the world to add to your bucket-list that are guaranteed to take your breath away.
Bhutan is located in the eastern Himalayas and is almost completely mountainous. Unlike many other countries in the Himalayas, which have undergone massive deforestation programmes, the kingdom of Bhutan has protected large areas of forest which means many species of birds thrive here that do not elsewhere.
The forests of Bhutan are rich and diverse and range from the subtropical forests at the foot of the hills to the warm broadleaved forests higher up the mountains.
In these forests you will find birds such as the critically endangered rufous-necked hornbill, the beautiful nuthatch, emerald cuckoos and the mysterious chestnut-breasted partridge.
Higher up further still are the cool broadleaved forests, home to Blyth’s tragopan, Ward’s trogon and the hoary-throated barwing.
With a rich Buddhist culture, spectacular scenery and one of the most diverse ranges of birdlife on the planet including many species in danger of extinction such as the imperial heron and the black-necked crane, Bhutan truly is a bird watcher’s paradise.
The Gambia is just a short flight from the UK but its location between tropical rainforest to the south and desert to the north means that it has a large and varied number of birds with over 600 recorded species.
The Gambia River, which flows through the heart of the country, is lined with mangroves and within the brackish creeks you may spot pelicans and terns gathered on the muddy shoals or some of The Gambia’s more elusive species such as the African blue flycatcher or Pel’s fishing owl.
Abuko National Park, which lies just 25 km from the capital Banjul, was the country’s first designated nature reserve and offers a rich variety of birdlife. Among the estimated 300 species that inhabit the savannah and gallery forests are kingfishers, weaver birds, violet turacoes, yellow breasted apalis, purple glossy starlings and paradise flycatchers.
You won’t even need to venture far from your hotel to see birds in The Gambia. In the gardens of the hotel beach resorts you will find robin-chats, sunbirds and hornbills or take a stroll along the coastal strip to see rollers, raptors or even a pearl-spotted owlet perched in a tree.
Manu National Park
A biosphere reserve that is protected by the Peruvian government, Manu National Park boasts the highest biodiversity of any protected area in the world. There have been over 1,000 species of birds recorded, representing about 10% of the world’s species and more than the whole of the United States and Canada combined.
Although much of the centre of the park is out of bounds there are still many opportunities for bird watching along the edges such as the wetlands of Huacarpay where almost 60 resident species reside including rusty fronted canasteros, violetears and yellow-winged blackbirds.
The cloud forest is home to the Andean cock-of-the rock. A visit to a lek is a must as up to 20 males compete for a female’s attention. Here too are quetzals, tanagers, honeycreepers and conebills. Further down the mountains you will find the Amazonian umbrellabird, and enter the jungle to be amazed by the sights and sounds as parakeets, cotingas and ovenbirds dart among shafts of sunlight.
Along the banks of the Manu River are white sandy beaches where hundreds of black skimmers, sand-coloured nightjars and yellow-billed terns build their nests. In late July and August, many migrating birds make use of these beaches including egrets, herons and spoonbills.
At sunrise watch a macaw lick as hundreds of macaws, parrots and parakeets gather to eat clay in a truly astonishing spectacle.
The tropical wetlands of the Everglades National Park comprises a mix of environments, including swamps, hardwood hammocks, cypress, rocklands, marl prairies and marshes, and are home to a vast variety of birdlife.
Waders such as ibis, storks, egrets and herons gather on the flats of the estuaries to forage for food, while above, brown pelicans inelegantly dive for fish from the air, one of only two species of pelican to display this behaviour.
Look up to see birds of prey swooping overhead, including the smallest U.S. bird of prey, the sharp-shinned hawk. Other raptors include the turkey vulture, America’s national bird, the bald eagle, and the snail kite, an endangered species that feeds almost exclusively on apple snails that live in the shallow fresh water.
Make a trip to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, where you can pick up a boat and navigate through Ten Thousand Islands, a labyrinth of mangroves and waterways where magnificent frigatebirds and loons join gulls and terns overhead.
On Nine Mile Pond you will find roseate spoonbills, white-crowned pigeons and limpkins while Snake Bight Trail is home to the mangrove cuckoo, yellow-throated warblers, catbirds, white-eyed vireos and flamingos that come to feed near the boardwalk at high tide.
Bale Mountains, Ethiopia
Ethiopia is one of Africa’s birding hotspots, home to over 900 species of birds, 23 of which are endemic including the blue-winged goose, Harwood’s francolin and the yellow-fronted parrot.
The Bale Mountains on the south-east Ethiopian plateau are formed of ancient volcanic rock dissected by rivers and streams that have cut dramatic gorges over millions of years, resulting in stunning waterfalls in some places.
The mountains are home to a number of species you will not find anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa, including the black-headed siskin and the Abyssinian longclaw. Birds of prey such as the eastern imperial eagle, kestrels and lanner falcons live in the northern highlands of the mountains.
Take a trip to Sof Omar Caves, a maze of limestone pillars, domes and chambers to see an abundance of starlings, swifts and swallows as well as the endemic Salvadori’s seedeater.
Situated in the south of the Bale Mountains National Park, is the Harenna forest, one of the few remaining forests in Ethiopia, where you will find the yellow-bellied swee, the collared sunbird, and the aptly named red-billed oxpecker that perch on the back of cattle to feed on blood from ticks or even directly from open wounds.
There are also wetlands in the park, home to the Egyptian goose, African black ducks and northern shovelers.
A trip to the Bale Mountains not only allows you to enjoy some of Ethiopia’s natural beauty but also its rich history and culture, such as a traditional coffee ceremony or a visit to a local market where you can buy food, handmade baskets, carved furniture or even a camel or donkey.
The Aleutian Islands
During the summer, approximately forty million birds nest throughout the Aleutian Islands, a chain of 14 large volcanic islands and 55 smaller ones off the coast of Alaska. Vast flocks of waterfowl arrive to the ice free coastal waters and during the migration seasons strays from Asia regularly arrive at the islands.
Unalaska is home to puffins, guillemots and kittiwakes in the summer as well as the tiny whiskered auklet. Songbirds are also resident here including redpolls, snow buntings and the American dipper.
An impressive number of vagrants have been spotted on Adak, such as grey-tailed tattlers, white wagtails and the common cuckoo. Resident species include loons, parakeets and an endemic rock ptarmigan.
Bogoslof Island is uninhabited by humans but is a breeding site for hundreds of species of marine birds. Tens of thousands of tufted puffins, guillemots, red-legged kittiwakes and gulls nest here.
Attu is the largest and most westerly island. It was an important location in the world of competitive bird watching with many species found on the island that aren’t found anywhere else in North America but since the closure of the coast guard station is now virtually inaccessible. Highlights that have been recorded include the solitary snipe, the red-flanked bluetail and oriental greenfinches.
Take a cruise through the sea around the islands for the opportunity to spot the very rare short-tailed albatross, red-faced cormorant and the mottled petrel.
Although Europe doesn’t have the variety of exotic and colourful bird species seen on other continents, such as Asia or South America, there are still plenty of fantastic locations to see a rich variety of birdlife and Andalusia in Southern Spain, where continents, landscapes and seas merge, is one of the best.
The Gibraltar Straits is an important passageway for thousands of birds as they migrate between Europe and Africa with impressive flocks of storks and raptors, including white storks and honey buzzards, soaring overhead.
In Coto Doñana National Park you will find some of Spain’s rarest birds, such as the endangered Spanish imperial eagle, crested coots and red-necked nightjars. The wetlands are home to many waterbirds including flamingos, herons and egrets, as well as thousands of ducks during the migratory season and winter months.
Sierra Morena to the north of Andalusia is where you will find black vultures and turkey vultures as well as warblers, chiffchaffs and the great-spotted cuckoo during the summer.
Some of the most colourful birds include golden orioles and hoopoes, that can be found in orchards and woodlands, and the beautiful turquoise bee-eater that nests in colonies in sandy banks along the shores of rivers.
A visit to Andalucía is not complete without visiting the Fuente De Piedra Salt Lagoon, famous for its colony of greater flamingos and the only inland site in Europe where they breed, as well as an important nesting spot for avocets, black-winged stilts and red-crested pochards.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea may not be an obvious choice for a bird watching holiday but there are many fascinating species to be found among the island’s coastal regions, rainforests, grasslands and lowland rivers.
Due to its geographic isolation much of Papua New Guinea remains unspoiled and it is home to about 760 species of birds, almost half of which are endemic. It is particularly famous for its striking birds-of-paradise including the superb bird-of-paradise, Lawe’s parotia and the ribbon-tailed astrapia.
In the swamps and rainforest that surround the port town of Kiunga you will find a number of rare species including crowned pigeons, yellow-eyed starlings, flame bowerbirds and the large-fig parrot.
Varirata National Park covers an area of 1,000 hectares and is particularly rewarding for bird watchers with the chance to see a variety of kingfishers, dwarf cassowaries and Wallace’s fairywren.
In the dense jungle of the foothills of the Star Mountains lies the town of Tabubil, which has one of the highest rainfalls in the world and is home to jewel babblers, lorikeets, cuckooshrikes and the rare obscure berrypecker. Due to its extreme weather conditions the plants in Tabubil are much larger than usual and grow faster than they do elsewhere. You will also find giant snakes, spiders and moths.
A canoe trip up the Fly and Eleva rivers takes you to one of the greatest wildernesses of Papua New Guinea and here you can see some of the most spectacular birds including cockatoos, Blyth’s hornbill and the twelve-wired bird-of-paradise.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of picturesque islands situated in the Bay of Bengal. They are made up of 572 island, islets and rocks and are home to the Sentinelese people, the world’s only known Paleolithic population and who maintain no contact with any other people.
Due to their isolation the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have a number of endemic bird species including the Nicobar jungle flycatcher and the Andaman bulbul. However, the Nicobar Islands and tribal areas are currently off limits to tourists so a bird watching trip would only take in some of the Andaman Islands.
Mount Harriet National Park, a tropical evergreen forest near Port Blair, the main hub of the Andaman Islands, is home to 7 threatened species including the Andaman wood pigeon, the Andaman crake and the Andaman drongo. There is also the chance to see kingfishers, parakeets, sunbirds and the beautiful dollarbird, so-called because of the distinctive blue coin-shaped spots on its wings.
To the south of Port Blair are the marshy wetlands of Sippighat where you will see many waders and water birds. The Oriental scops-owl, Andaman hawk owl and white-bellied sea eagle also live here as does the edible-nest swiflet whose nest made of solidified saliva is used to make bird’s nest soup.
Chidiya Tapu is a patch of moist evergreen forest located to the south of Port Blair and is one of the best places to see the sunset on the islands. Chidiya Tapu is also known as Bird Island with an abundance of avian life including the white-headed starling, the olive backed sunbird and the Andaman treepie.
The small Caribbean island of Jamaica has more endemic species of birds than any other West Indian country and despite its reputation, is one of the most accessible and safest places to go bird watching. It is home to a beautiful and distinctive variety of avifauna with over 300 recorded species.
The Blue Mountains that sprawl across the east of the island are almost always shrouded in mist and the mountain forest is one of the largest migratory bird habitats in the Caribbean with hummingbirds, flycatchers, orioles to be found among the towering trees and lush vegetation.
The gardens of the Hotel Mockingbird Hill are mentioned in James Bond’s book, Birds of the West Indies, and are one of the best places to go bird watching in Jamaica. Enjoy a delicious breakfast of shrimps, callaloo, pancakes and plantain on the terrace and watch out for black-billed streamertail hummingbirds, yellow-billed parrots and rufous-tailed flycatchers as they dart amongst the beautiful flowers and plants of the gardens.
One of the most charming things about Jamaican culture is the imaginative names they have given to their birds such as the Old Man Bird (chestnut-bellied cuckoo), Little Tom Fool (sad flycatcher) and the national bird of Jamaica, the Doctor Bird (red-billed streamertail).
The Black River Morass is the island’s largest freshwater wetlands and home to herons, bitterns, rails, gulls and terns as well as the endangered West Indian whistling duck, while Yallahs Salt Ponds are an important spot for migratory birds including the greater flamingo and roseate spoonbill.