With around 10,000 bird species to look at, it should come as no surprise that birdwatching (or ‘birding’) has become one of the more popular nature-related hobbies. Our feathered friends are generally easier to see than other animals, many are brightly coloured, and they can be encountered wherever you travel. Nevertheless, just as certain hotels stand out from a crowd of accommodations, some places are far better for birdwatching than others. The following is a list of the top ten places for birdwatching in the world. Some sites are easier to get to than others but all promise a fantastic birdwatching experience. In no particular order they are:
Over 15,000 square kilometres of pristine tropical forests that protect a variety of habitats and an astounding 1,000 plus species of birds puts Manu National Park on this list. Although much of the park is inaccessible, most of the birds can be seen along a road that descends from tundra-like habitats at 4,000 meters to lowland Amazonian rain forest at 150 meters above sea level.
Yes, you read that correctly. The southern tip of one of the most densely populated states in the USA also happens to be one of the best birdwatching places on Earth. Cape May earns this distinction by merit of being situated smack in the middle of a major migration flyway. As a result, millions of hawks, shorebirds, seabirds, and songbirds pass through Cape May every autumn.
The nearly 20,000 square kilometres of this game reserve provide savannah and grassland habitats for over 500 species of birds. Many of them are easy to see and include spectacular species such as glossy starlings, Southern Ground-Hornbill, and Martial Eagle. While watching hundreds of species of birds, visitors will also get their fill of African Elephants, White (Square-lipped) Rhinos, Lions, and dozens of other mammal species.
Ecuador, as a whole, has become one of the top destinations for world birders. The western part of Pichincha Province is especially popular for birdwatching, and with good reason. Easily accessible reserves and birder friendly lodging provide access to lush cloud forests with dozens of glittering tanagers and exquisite hummingbirds.
The extensive marshes and woodlands of Coto Doñana National Park in Southern Spain harbour some of the rarest bird species in Europe, in addition to thousands of Greater Flamingos, Harriers, ducks, and other aquatic birds. Other sites in Andalucia and Extremadura also provide birdwatchers with views of migrating storks and raptors, and a number of localized species.
The island of Borneo has a high level of biodiversity that includes hundreds of spectacular bird species. Shared by Indonesia, Malaysia, and The Sultanate of Brunei, the most accessible forests are in the north-eastern part of the island on Malaysian territory. This is where birdwatchers usually focus their efforts to look for hornbills, broadbills, pittas, storks, kingfishers, and nearly 40 species that occur nowhere else.
The high number of exotic and incredible looking birds that live in Papua New Guinea put this country on the top-ten list of places for birdwatching. Much of the forests are inaccessible but there are a few eco-lodges that provide outstanding birdwatching and the chance to see several species of Birds of Paradise.
Situated in north-eastern Australia, the city of Cairns is an excellent place to use as a base for watching birds in the nearby Daintree Rainforest and Atherton Tablelands. After looking for the 400 plus bird species that make their home in these ancient rainforests, birdwatchers can enjoy easy views of the thousands of wintering shorebirds that occur along the city’s esplanade.
Large areas of lowland rainforest are protected and left in place around the Panama Canal to help counter the effects of erosion. For the birdwatcher, they also provide a goldmine of biodiversity and fantastic rainforest birding close to Panama City. The Canopy Tower in particular has become one of the best known birding hotels in the world.
The forests that grow on the flanks of the Himalayan Mountains are one of the Earth’s biodiversity hotspots. Sadly, many areas have been deforested and it has thus become difficult for birdwatchers to access pristine habitats. The kingdom of Bhutan, however, protects large areas of primeval forest and the birding is absolutely fantastic.
(Image by luc.viatour on Flickr)