If you’re seized by the spirit of adventure and want to go birding in tropical climes, here’s a guide to nine of the best places to choose for some truly exotic species and an all-round unforgettable tropical birding tours.
Photo credit: Matthew Matthiessen, Livingstone African Safaris, Gray Crowned Crane
More than half of all Africa’s bird species make up Uganda’s impressive list of more than 1,000 (not bad for a country that is very similar in area to the UK). The 34 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are spread across massively diverse habitats, from classic African open savannah to the rainforests that are the target for every visitor who wants to see Mountain Gorillas. Top of every visiting birdwatcher’s most-wanted is the mighty Shoebill. Nothing compares to seeing it in its native wetlands. This sighting is backed up by such treasures as Green-breasted Pitta, Rwenzori Turaco, Black Bee-eater and African Green Broadbill, and that’s just scratching the surface of the 1,000 birds on offer. Read More: Birding Africa: 8 Incredible Birding Tours in Africa
Tour operator that can arrange for you to see birds and gorillas:
Photo credit: Kolibri Expeditions, Marvellous Spatuletail
The very term ‘northern Peru’ does little to address the sheer diversity of terrain and the vast variety of birdlife associated with this centre of biodiversity and endemism. A trip from the Amazon rainforest in the east, then following renowned birding passes across the changing altitudes of the Andes to the dry forests and ‘desert’ of the west, encompasses a huge range of habitats, each with a corresponding suite of bird life. It is simply one of life’s great birding experiences. There you can see more tanagers and hummingbirds than there are known colours and shapes to describe them. You can hope for everything from Andean Condor to three of the great hummingbirds of South America: the highly localised Royal Sunangel, the Sword-billed Hummingbird and, best of all, the legendary, must-see, Marvellous Spatuletail.
Wildlife Specialist Tip
In northwest Peru, there is the famed “Tumbesian zone” that encompasses mangroves and the bird-rich tropical rainforest of the Reserva Nacional de Tumbes, as well as the dry forests in Piura, Lambayeque, and La Libertad. At least 55 species can only be found in this area. That is why the “Tumbesian zone” is one of the three most important centres of endemism in the world.
- Birding in Peru: Where to Go and the Best Times to Visit
- Why Peru is the ultimate birding destination
- Endemic Hummingbirds of Peru
- Nine Top Bird Watching Destinations for 2019
Tour operators that specialise in a Peruvian birding experience:
Photo credit: Benedicto Grijalva, Birding Expeditions, Resplendent Quetzal
Guatemala has a wide range of habitats – nine different biomes that range from sea level to over 4,000 metres – so the opportunities for seeing some interesting tropical bird species are virtually limitless. The different types of forest alone yield a mouth-watering variety. The dry forest region on the Pacific coast supports birds such as the Giant Wren and White-bellied Chacalaca. The Resplendent Quetzel, the national bird of the country, is found in the montane cloud forests that stretch all the way from Mexico to Panama, and it is joined there by the Horned Guan and many species of hummingbirds, including Rufous Sabrewing. Apart from tropical birds, Guatemala also offers many interesting mammals and reptiles such as jaguars, ocelots, coatimundi, alligators and peccaries.
Tour operators who can introduce you to the many Guatemalan habitats:
The national bird of Honduras is that classic children’s storybook parrot, the Scarlet Macaw, that lives in damp evergreen forests. It is one of 766 species of birds that inhabit this central American country. The habitats there are similar to those found in Guatemala, another top tropical birding spot, and so it shares many of its bird species with its neighbour. However, there is one endemic – the Honduran Emerald Hummingbird – that makes a trip there worth the trouble. It is one of a mind-blowing 43 different types of hummingbirds that inhabit Honduras’ forests, many of which make themselves very accessible to the keen birdwatcher by coming to feeders. However, the hummingbirds are rivalled in numbers by the flycatchers, of which there are 61 species!
Tour operators who can show you a feast of hummingbirds and flycatchers:
Photo credit: Charles Clarkson, Antbird Tours, Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo
Panama must surely top the poll of bird species in central America, with a possible stonking 1,000 to be found there. The best-known area for birdwatching has to be the Pipeline Trail in Soberanía National Park. An unused petroleum pipeline carves a wide furrow nearly 18 kilometres long into the jungle making all kinds of amazing animals accessible only 45 minutes from Panama City. Further afield there is Los Quetzales Trail where you can hike through cloud forest to find quetzels (as the name implies) and many species of hummingbirds. The wetlands of Las Lajas are home to a large number of wading birds such as Wood Stork and Giant Cowbird. Panama has become famous for its coffee and the plantations producing it are also fruitful places to find a good number of interesting bird species living in and around the coffee bushes.
Tour operator who can guide you to the best Panamanian tropical birding areas:
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea
PNG is, of course, the eastern half of the giant island of New Guinea, which itself is home to more than 700 species of bird (and more than 800 spoken languages!). There are Australasian avian species such as cassowaries, frogmouths, parrots, bowerbirds and megapodes, as well as a wealth of birds more associated with Asia. But the real stars of the show are the nearly 40 species of birds of paradise. Some are relatively straightforward to find, others wonderfully tricky. But that is part of the excitement and challenge of this incredible place. And if you happen to be an English speaker, English is an official language of PNG so you can tap into local knowledge wherever you go.
Photo credit: Wilderness Explorers
Easily forgotten when thinking about South American countries, English-speaking Guyana is a little smaller than the UK, but it has a population of fewer than 800,000 people (of which 200,000 live in the coastal capital of Georgetown) and nearly 800 birds on its country list. The interior is forest, wonderful forest; more than three-quarters of the country remains forested! And these forests absolutely abound with life. The birds include the magnificent sloth- and monkey-eating Harpy Eagle, with legs as thick as your arm. Then there are cotingas, such as the orange, glow-in-the-dark, filigree-adorned Guianan Cock-of-the-rock. The waterways have caimans and Giant River Otters, the savannah holds Giant Anteaters. Everything is magical and abundant. Read More: Seven Remarkable Birds Of Prey
Tour operator that can arrange for you to see Guyana’s wildlife:
Taiwan Blue Magpie
An island nation, only a seventh of the size of the UK, straddling the Tropic of Cancer, Taiwan offers some of south-east Asia’s very best tropical birding. Most of the human population lives in the plains of the west coast, while most of the interior is covered in wonderful mountainous forests. There are between 17 and 50-odd endemic birds, depending on which classification you follow. Some, like the Taiwan Barbet or Taiwan Bulbul, are effectively garden birds, even found in the botanical gardens of the capital Taipei, others are found at higher altitudes, like the wonderful Flamecrest and Mikado Pheasant. Of course, everyone wants to see (and should see flocks of) the Taiwan Blue Magpie, plus the Taiwan Yuhina, Swinhoe’s Pheasant and Yellow Tit. There are a lot of birds to see at every altitude, and even an endemic primate in the Taiwan Macaque.
Photo credit: Walk With Jith, Chestnut-backed Owlet
The island nation of Sri Lanka boasts more than 30 species of endemic bird (out of a country list of nearly 450 species). About half of the endemics are named after the country, from Spurfowls to Scimitar-babblers, Bush-warbler to Blue Magpie. Of course, everyone wants to see the amazing Sri Lanka Frogmouth (which is not quite an endemic, also occurring in south India) and who would want to leave the country without even trying to see Leopards, Sloth Bears or the wild Sri Lankan subspecies of Asian Elephants. A trip out to sea will get you Humpback and Blue Whales, depending on the season and location, and a large number of interesting seabirds. The rich history of the country just adds to the delight!
Tour operator that can introduce you to the avian delights of this island:
Are you interested in discovering more birding tours worldwide? Check out our complete list of local wildlife specialists here.