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The state of Sabah, on the northern tip of Borneo, is renowned for its remarkable birds. This introduction to the best places to go birding in Sabah lists some of the exciting species you can encounter, along with a wealth of other fascinating wildlife.

With habitats ranging from montane forest to peat swamp, lowland rainforest to plains dotted with rice fields, birdwatching in Sabah is truly and excitingly varied. The area contains Malaysia’s largest floodplain and extensive coastal regions and islands with their own specialised birds.

Will you be attending the UK’s Global Birdfair in 2022?

If you plan to attend Global Birdfair (Friday 15th to Sunday 17th July) in Rutland, United Kingdom, why not visit the Sabah Tourism Board located in the Nightingale Marquee Stand N43.  Meet representatives from Sabah who can assist you in planning your next wildlife and birding adventure to Asia and tell you why this part of Malaysia is so special.

Global Birdfair tickets on sale here. Adults £12.50 per day. Children (18 and under) free entry.

Did you know that there are 688 species of resident and migratory birds and out of that 688 species, 54 species are endemic to Borneo and 33 species are endemic to Sabah? Birding or bird watching is an activity where you could explore more of these unique feathered friends of ours. Importantly, for anyone choosing the state of Sabah as a destination, 24 of these endemics are found on its hill slopes or in its montane forest. Mount Kinabalu, at 4,095m (13,435ft) one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia, is regarded as a prime location for all but one of Borneo’s montane birds.

What Birds Can be Seen in Sabah?

Want to go birding in Sabah?

The local specialist tour operators on Blue Sky Wildlife offer set departure or bespoke organised trips to Sabah. Enquire direct or book through Blue Sky Wildlife for the best deals and a holiday making memories you will treasure.

Some of the most sought-after endemic species of Sabah include the striking Blue-headed Pitta and the brightly coloured Bornean Ground Cuckoo, the rare and somewhat ungainly Bornean Bristlehead, the Golden-naped Barbet with its unmistakable trilling call, and Whitehead’s Trogon and Whitehead’s Broadbill. The latter two were named in honour of the Victorian naturalist and explorer, John Whitehead, who was the first recorded foreigner to reach the summit of Mt Kinabalu.

Stork-billed Kingfisher

Photo Credit: Stork-billed Kingfisher, Nelson Wong

Although the north of Borneo remains warm throughout the year, the weather – and consequently the birdlife – are influenced by the wet northeast monsoon from November until March or April. During this time, which is the northern hemisphere’s autumn and winter, birds escape the cold by migrating to Borneo via the island chain of the Philippines, returning home in springtime.

The majority of the migrants are waterbirds, but there are also raptors such as the Japanese Sparrowhawk, Eastern March Harrier and the less common migrant, the Peregrine Falcon. There are also migratory forest birds that include the Crow-billed Drongo, Siberian Blue Robin and the Blue-winged and Fairy Pitta.

The best locations for birding in Sabah are grouped below by type of geographical areas. All major birding destinations are easily accessible, thanks to a good transportation network, and comfortable accommodation is available in lodges, chalets and hotels.

Sabah’s Mountain Ranges

One of the premier birding destinations in Borneo is Kinabalu Park, home to many of Borneo’s endemic species. Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kinabalu Park is a protected area of 75,370 hectares. The Park encompasses a range of habitats, with lowland rainforest found in the region of Poring Hot Springs (around 550m [1,800ft] above sea level), and lower montane forest around Park Headquarters (1,500m [4,900ft]).

Bornean Bristlehead

Photo Credit: Bornean Bristlehead, Gary Albert

Around Mesilau Nature Resort, on the eastern side of the park (2,000m [6,600ft]), the area is covered by montane forest. If you travel higher up Mt Kinabalu, the montane forest eventually gives way to sub-alpine forest which peters out on the bare granite of the summit plateau.

The Crocker Range of mountains are home to the largest protected park in Sabah and also the Rafflesia Forest Reserve and the headquarters of the Keningau Head-Station, around which good birding sites are to be found.

Kinabalu Park

The richest bird community is to be found in the lowland rainforest of Borneo, with the number of species diminishing with increasing altitude. Nonetheless, Kinabalu Park offers many birds which are found only in mountainous regions, including 58 strictly montane birds, 17 of which are endemic Bornean species. In all, Kinabalu Park offers many local curiosities and specialties.

The most productive areas for birding in this part of Sabah are along the narrow roads and some of the trails around Kinabalu Park Headquarters. To a lesser extent there are also interesting species to be found within the Mount Kinabalu Botanical Garden, especially if you visit in the early morning or late afternoon when there are fewer visitors around. Birding along the roads makes it easier when it can be difficult to get a clear view in dense forest, unless there is a clearing or a river.

Borneo Eco Tours - Honey Sucker

Photo Credit: Temminck’s Sunbird, Borneo Eco Tours

In the early morning, it is possible to see birds that are attracted to the insects that have gathered around the street lights the previous evening, especially in front of the main Liwagu restaurant, opposite the chalets. Expect to see there the large Bornean Treepie, with its distinctive long tail, the Ashy Drongo, the Laughing Thrush, Short-tailed Magpies and flocks of birds such as Mountain Leaf Warblers, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, brightly coloured Temminck’s Sunbirds, various flycatchers and babblers.

Flowerpeckers and Sunbirds can often be seen from the verandah of the Balsam Café, near the Park entrance. Another good place is the verandah of the Rock Hostel.

Kinabalu’s Trails

Exploring the forest trails quietly in the early morning or late afternoon, especially along the Liwagu River, it is possible to spot the Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Bar-winged Cuckoo-shrike, the Sunda Whistling Thrush and the iridescent green Whitehead’s Broadbill. Other species which might be seen include the Black Laughing-thrush, Kinabalu Leafbird and various barbets, woodpeckers and bulbuls.

The fortunate birdwatcher may also catch sight of Whitehead’s Trogon. The male, with its scarlet crown and breast and fine wing bars, is particularly striking. The equally dramatic, chocolate brown, striped-breasted Whitehead’s Spiderhunter can occasionally be seen foraging for insects and berries near the forest edge, although it normally prefers the forest canopy.

Black-crowned Pitta

Photo Credit: Black-crowned Pitta, Noor Hirzan Abdillah

The best trails for birdwatching are the Silau Silau, Bukit Ular and Kiau View trails. Climbing up the summit trail will almost surely provide opportunities to spot the Kinabalu Friendly Warbler and the Mountain Blackeye, although the Kinabalu Friendly Warbler is easier to hear than to see.

Because there can be a large number of climbers along the summit trail, it is important to look for a smaller trail off the main pathway to wait quietly for the birds. Interestingly, though, most of the montane species are not afraid of humans and it is relatively easy to view and photograph them.

Mesilau Nature Resort

Although the number of birds around Mesilau Nature Resort is fewer than around the Park Headquarters, due to its higher altitude, it is far less frequented by visitors and offers even more dramatic views of the mountain peaks.

The road leading up to the resort restaurant and the one that ends in front of the Nature Centre, as well as the verandah of the Sabah Parks office at the start of the summit trail, are the best places to catch sight of birds. Following the stream that runs in front of the chalets (taking care around the huge boulders) may also give good sightings.

Tabin Wildlife - Wildlife - Borneon Crested Fireback

Photo Credit: Bornean Crested Fireback, Tabin Wildlife

Some of the species regularly seen around the Park Headquarters include the dusky Borneo Whistling Thrush, the endemic Bornean Stubtail and the easily identifiable Chestnut-hooded Laughing Thrush are often seen on the ground near the accommodation at Mesilau. Along the forest trails, it may be possible to spot the Crimson-headed and Red-breasted Partridge, the Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Whitehead’s Trogon, the Flavescent and Ochraceous Bulbul and the White-browed Shortwing. The Black-breasted Triller, which ranges up to almost 3,000m (9,800ft), the Mountain Blackbird and Borneo Whistling Thrush, as well as several species of montane babbler may also be seen.

Poring Hot Springs

The lowland rainforest in the Poring Hot Springs area provides a dramatic contrast with the vegetation of Kinabalu Park Headquarters for birding in Sabah. Located around 550m (1,800ft) above sea level, this site within Kinabalu Park is 40km (25 miles) by road from the Headquarters and is known for its hot mineral baths.

Birdwatchers will find the area close to the hot springs too busy with visitors for good sightings, so enthusiasts prefer to trek along the trail towards the Langanan Waterfall, although it can be steep. They may be rewarded for their efforts by such species as the Banded Broadbill, Diard’s Trogon, Gold-whiskered Barbet, Pygmy White-eye, several species of bulbul and even a Blue-banded Pitta. The Banded Broadbill and the Bornean Striped Tit-babbler have also been recorded along this trail.

Borneo Nature Tours - Christina Lam - Borneon Clouded Leopard

Photo Credit: Bornean Clouded Leopard, Christina Lam, Borneo Nature Tours

Early morning and late afternoon near the accommodation, when the number of visitors is at a minimum, birders may find a good range of species. The White-bellied Woodpecker, Brown Barbet, Thick-billed Spiderhunter and two endemics – the White-crowned Shama and the Dusky Munia – have all been spotted there, together with several sunbirds feeding on nectar among the flowering plants.

Crocker Range National Park

A range of steep-sided mountains known as the Crocker Range divides the coastal plains of the west coast of Sabah from the fertile valleys of the interior. To protect the flora and fauna of these forested mountains, which act as a water catchment for the west coast, the Crocker Range Park was created in 1984 and covers an area of almost 140,000 hectares. This makes it the largest protected park in Sabah.

The mountain range, which forms a striking backdrop to the city of Kota Kinabalu, has two areas frequented by birdwatchers, the Rafflesia Forest Reserve and the headquarters of the Keningau Head-Station of Crocker Range.

Rafflesia Forest Reserve

The Rafflesia Forest Reserve is located on the road to Tambunan, on the eastern side of the mountain range and several kilometers down from the Sinsuron Pass (around 1,650m [5,400ft]). This is a good location for a day trip, being about 1 ½ hours from Kota Kinabalu.

Crab-eating macaque

Photo Credit: Long-tailed Macaque, Borneo Eco Tours

Trail leading to sites where the strange parasitic flower, the Rafflesia, grows offer the opportunity to spot typical birds of the lower montane forest. The forest close to the edge of the road can also sometimes be rewarding, and the small fruiting trees close to the information centre attract birds such as the Sunda and Chestnut-hooded Laughing Thrushes as well as the endemic Mountain Barbet. Whitehead’s Broadbill, the Bornean Barbet, Cinnamon-rumped Trogon and Blyth’s Spiderhunter may all be found in this location.

Keningau Head-Station

A road leading from the coastal village of Kimanis, about an hour by road south of Kota Kinabalu, climbs steeply up the mountainside, eventually crossing the pass and leading down to the Crocker Range Park Keningau Head-Station. This represents Sabah Parks, the organisation that manages all the parks and reserves within the state. A range of accommodation makes this a good place to spend the night and the busy town of Keningau, just 12km (7-8 miles) away, offers a good range of restaurants.

Highlights within this area of the Crocker Range Park include several species of hornbill, the Great Argus Pheasant (more often heard than seen), the endemic Golden-naped Barbet and the world’s smallest raptor, the White-fronted Falconet, found only in the far northwest of Borneo. The Falconets can often be seen sitting in a pine tree in the grounds of the Sabah Parks office and accommodation, watching for prey.

Tabin Wildlife - Wildlife - Gould's Frogmouth

Photo Credit: Gould’s Frogmouth, Tabin Wildlife 

At the present, there is only one trail near the Keningau station. This leads mostly through disturbed forest, so a better option for birdwatching is to wait along the road edge between the station and the pass in the early morning. The hills drop abruptly into a deep valley with the forested range rising on the far side. Several large fig trees prove irresistible to many species of bird during the fruiting season, especially hornbills.

Birding in Sabah’s Lowland Rainforests

The richest habitat with the greatest number of bird species in Borneo is the lowland rainforest where you can find eight species of hornbills. The two prime birdwatching areas are the Danum Valley Conservation Area and Tabin Wildlife Reserve, both located in eastern Sabah. Less well known but easily accessible for visitors is Sandakan and the Rainforest Discovery Centre in the Sepilok Forest Reserve, which can be surprisingly rewarding.

Danum Valley Conservation Area

The Danum Valley Conservation Area, a protected area of virgin forest within the huge forest concession of the Sabah Foundation, is a Mecca for birdwatchers. It features a 260m (850ft) long walkway strung high above the valley floor and offering an excellent view of the forest canopy. There is also a good network of trails through the forest, with is a strong chance of seeing a male Great Argus Pheasant in its dancing ground not far from the trails and near the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. The striking Crested Fireback Pheasant is also often seen nearby.

The Borneo Bristlehead is another must-see bird sometimes sighted at Danum. Pittas are yet another attraction, especially the Giant Pitta, Blue-headed Pitta, Black and Crimson Pitta and Banded Pitta. The Chestnut-necklaced Partridge can sometimes be spotted on the forest floor.

Borneo Eco Tours - Borneo Pygmy Elephant

Photo Credit: Borneo Pygmy Elephant, Borneo Eco Tours

Other birds that might be seen include the Red-bearded Bee-eater, Red-naped, Diard’s and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, the Blue-rumped and Blue-crowned Hanging Parrots, various babblers including two endemics, the Bornean and Black-throated, the Fiery Minivet and several flycatchers including the Bornean, Large-billed and Malaysian Blue.

As one might expect in the lowland rainforest, Danum is rich in hornbill species including the Bushy-crested and the dramatic Rhinoceros Hornbill with its stunning red and orange casque. At night, expect the Buffy Fish Owl and Brown Wood-Owl, both of which are often seen near the lodge.

Tabin Wildlife Reserve

The largest reserve for birding in all of Sabah, Tabin Wildlife Reserve is a vital conservation area for local flora and fauna, particularly the critically endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros, the Orangutan and the Bornean Pygmy Elephant. At least 260 species of birds have been recorded in Tabin, which is dominated by secondary rainforest. Perching birds are easier to see as the trees are shorter and secondary forest allows more light to penetrate, making identification and photographing birds easier than in primary forest.

Tabin is particularly good for hornbills, broadbills, babblers and raptors. It also has eight endemic species including the Bornean Bristlehead, the Bornean Blue Flycatcher, the Blue-headed and Blue-banded Pitta, the Dusky Munia, two Wren-babblers, (the Black-throated and the Bornean), and Bulwer’s Pheasant.

A road separating part of the Tabin Wildlife Reserve from adjacent oil palm plantations near the Resort affords clear views of forest species during the day. And on a night drive various owls, including the Brown Wood-owl and Buffy Fish-owl, can usually be seen. Crested Serpent Eagles are the most abundant raptors and are often sighted perched in trees.

Borneo Nature Tours - Christina Lam - Bornean Gibbon

Photo Credit: Bornean Gibbon, Christina Lam, Borneo Nature Tours

A road leading into the virgin forest Core Area of Tabin is an excellent location for viewing a wide spectrum of open forest bird species including the Thick-billed, Long-billed and Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, the Yellow-rumped and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Purple-throated and Plain Sunbird, Black-naped Monarch, Olive-backed Woodpecker, Red-naped and Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Storm’s Stork and the tiny endemic raptor, the White-fronted Falconet.

Close to the resort itself, you can find many colourful small birds including sunbirds, the Ashy Tailorbird, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and the Stork-billed and Black-backed Kingfisher. Even the Rhinoceros Hornbill can sometimes be spotted.

Rainforest Discovery Centre

The Rainforest Discovery Centre sits in beautifully landscaped surroundings by a lake at the edge of the Sepilok Forest Reserve where the famous Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is located. Beyond the lake, well-marked trails through the surrounding lowland rainforest offer sightings of numerous of birds, but enthusiasts normally head for the canopy walkway and observation tower. These spots afford a clear view of the forest canopy, which is rare in the rainforest, making them ideal for both viewing and photography.

This is the most reliable location to see the endemic Bornean Bristlehead, high on everyone’s list of trophy species on a birding trip to Sabah. Many strikingly coloured birds are often seen, including two beautiful kingfishers, the Banded and the Rufous-collared. There are also Hooded and Black-and-Crimson Pittas, Scarlet Minivets, Red-bearded Bee-Eaters, Banded Broadbills and Diard’s Trogons. The large, often noisy hornbills with their distinctive calls are a feature of Borneo’s lowland rainforest, and at the Discovery Centre there is a chance of seeing all eight species found in Sabah.

Chestnut-bellied malkoha

Photo Credit: Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Amy Ajak

Sabah’s Freshwater Swamps and Floodplains

The largest freshwater swamp or floodplain in Malaysia is along the Kinabatangan River. This begins high in the mountains of central Sabah and flows for 560km (348 miles) down to the Sulu Sea. The Lower Kinabatangan, especially the stretch between the village of Batu Putih and the tiny settlement of Kampung Abai not far from the river mouth, is one of the richest wildlife areas in Southeast Asia.

Kinabatangan River

The Lower Kinabatangan with its tributaries, oxbow lakes and a few trails leading into the forest, is an excellent birdwatching area. Travel by open boat permits a clear view of the species perching in the trees along the river or flying across the water. Because of its popularity as a nature destination – with visitors coming to see its famous Proboscis Monkeys, Bornean Pygmy Elephants, Orangutans, langurs or leaf monkeys, macaques, crocodiles, otters and numerous other species – there is a wide range of lodges along the river, particularly in Sukau.

There is also a lodge slightly downriver in Tomanggong, a luxurious lodge at Melapi, homestays and simple lodges at Kampung Bilit (upriver from Sukau) and the basic but rewarding Uncle Tan’s Jungle Camp at Danau Girang oxbow lake, downriver from Batu Putih.

Among the many striking birds seen along the river are the hornbills – Rhinoceros Hornbill, Helmeted Hornbill and Wrinkled Hornbill – the rare Storm’s Stork and the endangered Oriental Darter, which has disappeared from the freshwater swamps of Peninsular Malaysia. Raptors are frequently seen, especially near the oil palm plantations, and include the Crested Serpent Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Lesser Fish Eagle, Jerdon’s Baza, the Buffy Fish Owl (usually seen at night), the soaring Brahminy Kite and even the little White-fronted Falconet.

Tabin Wildlife- Crowned Hornbill

Photo Credit: White-crowned Hornbill, Tabin Wildlife

The slender white Great Egret glides like a ballerina above the water, while different species of kingfisher (the glorious Blue-eared, Black-backed and Stork-billed) perch silently on branches on the riverbank. Along the Menanggol River, near Sukau, is one of the most reliable sites to see Bornean Ground Cuckoos, and the endemic Bornean Bristlehead has also been sighted there. The vivid Black-and-red and Black-and-yellow Broadbills and the Asian Paradise Flycatcher with its waterfall of white tail feathers are among the dozens of remarkably beautiful birds that can be seen along the Kinabatangan.

Gomantong Caves

The best-known limestone outcrop in the Lower Kinabatangan, this area features around nine caves. It is the home of literally millions of swiftlets and bats. Entering the caves is to venture into a world of perpetual darkness with its own ecosystem containing a range of curious creatures, from dung beetles to mites and the bizarre Scutigera centipedes. It offers an extra experience to your birding in Sabah holiday!

A boardwalk runs around the sides of the main chamber of the Simud Hitam caves and the inside of the cathedral-sized main cave is the home of the Edible-nest, Black-nest, Mossy-nest and Glossy swiftlets, each on their differing breeding perches. The Chinese have believed for centuries that these nests have medicinal properties but the harvesting of the nests is strictly controlled by Sabah Wildlife Department to ensure their sustainability.

At dusk, clouds of bats in their millions emerge from the caves. It is a spectacular sight in its own right, but also notable because several Bat Hawks are always there, on the look out for a meal, so it is a reliable place to see this elusive raptor. A dark local race of Peregrine Falcons are also usually seen catching bats there.

Rhinoceros Hornbill

Photo Credit: Rhinoceros Hornbill, Amy Ajak

Birding in Sabah’s Coastal Regions

Likas Lagoon

One of the most accessible and popular coastal regions where it is easy to see a number of waterbirds is the Likas lagoon, a mere 3km (1.8 miles) from downtown Kota Kinabalu. Despite being beside the busy Coastal Highway, this shallow lagoon offers a good habitat for species such as Wandering Whistling-Ducks, the shy Cinnamon Bittern, Schrenck’s Bittern, White-browed Crake and Purple Heron. Dozens of egrets can also be seen there. And, according to a local birding expert, the number of Pacific Reef Egrets around Kota Kinabalu has increased greatly in recent years.

Sabah’s Plains and Rice Fields

Although large areas of paddy fields are found around the district of Paper, about 50km (31 miles) south of Kota Kinabalu, one of the most interesting places for birdwatchers is the Tempasuk plain, the flat land between the base of Mount Kinabalu and the sea. Just north of the town of Kota Belud, the area is designated as the Kota Belud Bird Sanctuary, although there is no infrastructure such as trails and hides, nor indeed any signage to indicate the location of the Sanctuary. Although birds in this area are protected, agriculture (mostly rice fields) is permitted.

Wing-banded (Buff-banded) Antbird

Photo Credit: Wing-banded (Buff-banded) Antbird, Amy Ajak

Viewing is best done beside the road, away from the several small villages that dot the plain, and from the dirt roads alongside the canals. Species that can be spotted there include the Cinnamon Bittern, White-browed Crake, Black-winged Stilt, the plum-coloured little Rufous-necked Stint, the streaky-plumaged Wimbrel, migratory Oriental Pranticole, the Pacific Golden Plover and the long-legged Marsh Sandpiper.

Birding on Sabah’s Islands

Many interesting and rare species can be found on the islands dotting Sabah’s almost 1,500km (930 mile) coastline. One of the closest islands to Kota Kinabalu is Pulau Tiga. This can be reached by road to Kuala Penyu, about 1 ½ hours’ drive south of Kota Kinabalu, followed by a 20-30 minute boat ride. There is a resort on the southern side of the island that is under the protection of Sabah Parks.

Pulau Tiga

Although there are a number of forest birds on Pulau Tiga, as is typical with islands the profusion of species is much less than in the mainland rainforest. Hornbills can sometimes be seen, and the White-bellied Sea Eagle and Frigatebirds, but Dollarbirds and Magpie Robins seem to be the most common species. The main avian attraction is the Common Megapode or Tabon Scrubfowl, a bird somewhat like a domestic hen which lays its eggs on the sand and covers them with a mound of rotting vegetation and sand, leaving them to incubate in the heat resulting from the decomposition of the organic matter.

Pulau Mantanani

Pulau Mantanani, to the northwest of Kota Kinabalu, is reached by road via Kota Belud and Rampayan and then an hour’s boat trip. It is known for the Mantanani Scops Owl, found only on this island and in the southern Philippines. Just south of the main island, Mantanani Besar, is the small rocky islet of Lingisan and Mantanani Kecil island, which are protected as a bird sanctuary. These two spots are home to Lesser Frigatebirds and Christmas Island Frigatebirds, which fly to this Indian Ocean island to breed each year. A dramatic spectacle can be seen at dusk as thousands of huge black frigatebirds come in to roost in the trees on Lingisan.

Tabin Wildlife - White-crowned Shama

Photo Credit: White-crowned Shama, Tabin Wildlife 

Semporna Islands

The Semporna islands encompass the large Bodgaya and Bohey Dulang to Pandanan, Mataking (home to a luxurious dive resort) and on south to Mabul Island and the famous dive island of Sipadan. This area is protected as a marine park by Sabah Parks and offers several interesting bird species. These islands are the only places in Sabah to find the Nicobar Pigeon, the White-vented Whistler and the Pied Imperial Pigeon. Other species to look out for include the Lesser Frigatebird and the Black-naped Fruit Pigeon, the Common Megapode, or Tabon Scrubfowl, and the Rufous Night Heron.

Pulau Layang Layang

Reached by small plane, Pulau Layang Layang is an atoll some 300km (186 miles) northwest of Kota Kinabalu, close to the Spratly Islands. To support a dive resort and a Malaysian Navy Base, the original reef was built up into a small rocky island that has been claimed as a safe breeding ground for migratory sea birds such as the Brown Booby, Great Crested Tern and Little Tern. Many thousands of birds flock there to lay their eggs on the sand or among the rocks, with the original landing strip for planes moved to ensure the protection of the nesting birds and their chicks.

When to Go Birding in Sabah

Generally speaking, the time when most birds breed in the Sabah region is April and May. Many residents nest at the end of the monsoon season. At this time, waterbirds’ nest are protected by their favoured trees being surrounded by water. And, taking advantage of a peak period for insects, insectivorous birds also breed at the end of the northeast monsoon. From May to October, when many forest trees are bearing fruit, frugivorous birds breed, while birds of the open country and paddy fields produce their young during the driest time of year, usually April.

Lowland Sabah has a pleasant tropical climate with daily temperatures ranging from 23 deg C to 32 deg C. The relative humidity, especially in forested regions, is quite high, although in coastal areas a cooling breeze ensures comfortable conditions except during the hottest part of day from around noon until 3.00 to 4.00pm.

Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker

Photo Credit: Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, Tabin Wildlife 

Montane and lower montane and forest, such as found in Crocker Range Park and Kinabalu Park, are several degrees cooler, especially at night and during December and January. At Kinabalu Park Headquarters the temperature ranges between a spring-like 15 deg C and 22 deg C.

The northeast monsoon from November to March brings frequent heavy downpours, although these are usually confined to late afternoon or evening. Regions such as Danum Valley, Tabin and Kinabatangan River can be very wet during the height of the monsoon in December to February.

What to Take on a Birdwatching Holiday in Sabah

A pair of good quality, waterproof binoculars is essential. If you are using a camera, be sure to bring a tripod as the low light of the rainforest makes this necessary for clear images.

Cool, loose clothing in cotton or special tropical weight fabrics, in beige, light brown or green are to be recommended. A hat and poncho are also important.

Bring a rain cover for your camera bags and camera to protect them both from light drizzle or thick morning mist. An umbrella, water-resistant bags and a moisture absorber such as a Thirsty Hippo will reduce moisture in both binocular and camera bags.

A small light towel is invaluable for mopping your face and neck when the going gets sweaty or for covering your camera if you do not have a special rain cover.

Recommended Books on the Wildlife of Sabah

  • A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, And Bali by John MacKinnon and Karen Phillips; Oxford University Press
  • The Birds of Borneo 4th edition by Betran W Smythies, revised by Geoffrey W H Davison; Natural History Publications
  • Pocket Guide to the Birds of Borneo compiled by Charles M. Francis (from 3rd edition of Smythies’ Birds of Borneo); The Sabah Society
  • A Field Guide to the Birds of South-east Asia by B King, M Woodcock and E Dickinson; Collins
  • The Birds of Mount Kinabalu, Borneo by Geoffrey W H Davison; Natural History Publications (Borneo)

Organising a Trip to Go Birding in Sabah

The specialist local tour operators on Blue Sky Wildlife can offer organised or bespoke trips to Sabah. Book with them direct or through Blue Sky Wildlife for the best deals. There is an enquiry form on their pages that will put you in touch direct for all your questions and requests.

Proudly sponsored by the Sabah Tourism Board

Sabah Tourism Board

Originally Published: 13th June 2022

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