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Our top birding destinations

by Corinne Homer

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Nothing beats the satisfaction of seeing a rare animal in the wild, and birds are no exception. In many cases birds are intrinsically linked to the identity of a nation - for example Iran’s shimmering peacock, Peru’s swooping Andean Condor, or Japan’s elegant red-crowned crane. There are around 10,000 bird species in the world and only a handful of birders have seen more than 8,000... perhaps you are one of them?

Crowned cranes in Hokkaido, Japan

If you’re partial to a spot of twitching when you travel - or if it’s the whole reason you travel in the first place - these bird-rich locations should offer the perfect inspiration for your next feather-brained adventure.

The Falkland Islands

The Falklands are a birders paradise. The archipelago is scattered with an incredible array of birdlife - over 70% of the world's population of black-browed albatross nest here and rare, inquisitive striated caracaras will nick your possessions if you're not careful as you pause to observe them.

Striated Caracara in the Falklands

There are also four species of penguin to be found on these wild, wonderful shores: King, rockhopper, Gentoo and Magellanic. Unfettered access to the wildlife of the Falklands is one of its main attractions, as you can walk (respectfully) through the nesting colonies, getting first-rate views of remarkable creatures in their natural habitat.

Person observing penguin on the falkland islands

While you explore the islands, you should also keep your eyes peeled for endemic species such as Cobb’s wren or the Falklands' flightless steamer duck.

Flightless steamer duck of the Falklands

Senegal

This beautiful West African nation is home to sun-splashed beaches, a friendly francophone population and some truly spectacular birdlife. Keen birders should head straight to UNESCO recognised Djoudj National Park - a haven for migratory birds and the third largest bird sanctuary in the world.

White pelicans in Djoudj National Park Senegal

Located in the Senegal River delta, it is one of the first green areas that birds arrive at having crossed the inhospitable Sahara Desert. Covering over 16,000 hectares comprising of a large lake, streams, ponds and backwaters, you can find over 1.5 million birds within its boundaries including the white pelican, African spoonbill, purple heron, great egret and the cormorant. You may also spot some lesser-seen birds such as the Allen’s Gallinule delicately wading through the shallows...

Allen's Gallinule wading bird

Sri Lanka

Over 430 species of bird can be found in Sri Lanka, and of these 233 are resident and 26 are endemic to the country. There are ample national parks and reserves scattered across the island, but the best places to see the birds are Yala National Park (which has plenty of other fabulous wildlife too such as leopards and Asian elephants) and the UNESCO listed Sinharaja Forest Reserve.

Little green bee-eater bird in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Sinharaja is a luscious area of tropical rainforest where over 60% of the trees are endemic and many of them are considered rare, providing a vital habitat for much of Sri Lanka's native flora and fauna.

Malabar trogon in Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka

The birdlife here is spectacular (there are 21 endemic species) and whilst spotting birds such as Ceylon hanging parrots, Ashy-headed laughing thrushes and the endangered Sri Lankan blue magpie, you can also expect to see an incredible array of butterflies, mammals, reptiles and endangered amphibians.

Sri Lankan blue magpie in tree

Costa Rica

Home to twice as many bird species as the US and Canada combined, the tiny nation of Costa Rica is an incredible avian biosphere due to its neotropical climate. With parrots, hummingbirds and toucans aplenty it is home to some of the most unusual and effervescent birds in the world, including around 80 endemic or near-endemic species.

Bird in the forest of Costa Rica

Head to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, a diverse ecological reserve, for an early morning birding tour. The biggest tick on your birding list should be the resplendent quetzal - a gorgeous green and red specimen synonymous with Costa Rica.

Resplendent queztal in Costa Rica

The Pantanal, Brazil

With such proximity to the Amazon rainforest and the unrivalled birdlife of Central America, Brazil’s breath-taking south western wetlands make for a twitcher’s paradise. Covering an area of between 140,000 and 195,000 sq km the Pantanal is the largest floodplain in the world, drawing all kinds of flora and fauna including 740 bird species.

Birds on the Pantanal floodplains, Brazil

It’s largely submerged during the rainy season (November – March), so for birding it’s best to visit July to September, when the waters have receded and travel is relatively easy. With parrots’ squawks as your audible accompaniment, keep an eye out for blue and yellow macaws, crested caracaras, the emu-esque greater rhea, the heavily hunted bare-faced curassow, and the endangered hyacinth macaw - the world’s largest flying parrot.

Hyacinth Macaw

The Galapagos Islands

Situated off the Ecuadorian coast and with rich biodiversity, it’s no wonder this volcanic archipelago was famously studied by Darwin. Its 20 islands, 50 islets and around 250 large rock formations provide the perfect home for some unique bird life, with lots to offer the seasoned birder.

Magnificent frigate bird Galapagos

The renowned blue-footed booby, often regarded as the bird of the Galapagos, can be spotted on numerous islands, while the Galapagos albatross, Galapagos penguin, rare American flamingo and the swallow-tailed gull - the world’s only nocturnal gull - can all be found with the right guide to accompany you.

Blue footed booby on Galapagos Islands

Uganda

It may be famous for its magnificent silver-backed gorillas, but with looming, mist-topped mountains, impenetrable forests and vast lakes, it’s not really surprising that Uganda is also home to over 1,000 species of bird. Perhaps the most sought-after spot is that of the rare shoebill stork; a prehistoric-looking bird with an all-round menacing expression.

Shoebill stork in Uganda swamp

Head to Murchison Falls to catch sight of one, beginning with a boat trip on the Victoria Nile. Other birds to spot include Uganda’s national bird - the grey-crowned crane, and the Goliath heron - the largest heron in the world.  

Uganda's grey crowned crane

South Africa

The great infrastructure and magical presence of other majestic animals make South Africa one of the best birding spots on the continent. Kruger National Park is well known for its bird abundance, with over 500 species inhabiting its varied wilderness areas. Kruger is best tackled on any number of guided walks.

bateleur eagle in South Africa

Among the more prominent raptors you’ll hope to see are the bateleur eagle, brown snake eagle, and tawny eagle; while  colourful species include lilac-breasted rollers, bee-eaters, kingfishers and starlings. The best time to set off is from October to March - the bird population swells by around 200 at this time, as migrant birds cross the borders from elsewhere in Africa, Europe and Asia. For the penguin-lovers, Boulders Beach just south of Cape Town is a must-visit destination...

Penguins on Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

Make it happen

Grab your binoculars and brush up on your birding lists with our local experts. To send an enquiry simply click on the location links above, or to talk to someone in the TravelLocal office, call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.

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