Asia

Birdwatching in Thailand — A Place to Experience the Exotic

As with many other tropical destinations, Thailand makes a great place for bird enthusiasts to enjoy these fantastic creatures. Known as one of the best birding destinations in Southeast Asia, Thailand has nearly 1,100 species of birds to look at and admire, including several endemic species. Thailand birds are some of the most spectacular creatures in the world, and it has an excellent infrastructure that makes it easy to access and explore all the different areas and ecosystems.

Map showing the location of ThailandIn addition, the tropical climate means that birdwatchers will have a great experience regardless of the time of the year they visit. Keep reading to learn more about the types of birds you’ll see during your visit to Thailand and how to make the most of your birdwatching trip in this exciting country.

The Unique Landscapes of Thailand

Thailand is a country of varied and exciting terrain and represents practically every significant habitat type. You’ll find everything from deciduous forests to the jungle, swamplands, coastline, and mangroves here. There are also many beautiful national parks where birds live in abundance, allowing you to not only birdwatch but also discover many of the country’s other national treasures. During your trip, you’ll also get to immerse yourself in the amazing culture and an incredible variety of food.

As far as shorebirds go, because of the country’s extensive coastline, Thailand offers some of the best shorebird watching opportunities in Asia.

Some of the top birdwatching sites in the country include the Doi Inthanon and Chiang Mai University in the North, Kai Yai National Park and Kaeng Krachan National Park in Central Thailand, and Sri Phang Nga National Park and the Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary in the Southern part of the country.

Nature Trail in Doi Inthanon National Park
Nature Trail in Doi Inthanon National Park

Of course, you can find birds in numerous other locations as well, so no matter which part of the country you visit, you’ll be able to check some incredible species off your list.

Thailand’s Endemic Birds

Although Thailand is home to many different species of beautiful birds, only a few of them are endemic to the country. If you are interested in setting your sights on the birds you can only find here, you’ll want to keep an eye out for these species.

Siamese Partridge

The Siamese Partridge lives only in the evergreen forest of the Cardamom Mountains in Southeast Thailand. You will need to visit the Khao Soi Do Wildlife Sanctuary and trek up the mountains to obtain access to it. Some scientists consider it a subspecies of the Chestnut-Headed Partridge, while others treat it as a separate species.

It has a medium brown body, a pale brown head, and a necklace of whitish spots on the chest. There’s also a black and white chevron pattern on the sides of the body and a prominent blackish beard.

Turquoise-Throated Barbet

The Turquoise-Throated Barbet lives only in the Khao Luang National Park, where you will frequently spot it at elevations of over 850 meters. However, since no roads lead up to that elevation, you will need to join an organized trek to access the area and catch sight of the unique bird.

They are green in color and have orange bristles that fringe their heavy bills. It is similar in appearance to the Blue-Throated Barbet but does not live in the same areas. Its song is also similar and resembles a hollow knocking series of notes.

White-Eyed River Martin

Although currently classified as Critically Endangered, the White-Eyed River Martin is, unfortunately, likely extinct. You will not likely catch sight of this bird with a deep black body and white tail. Its iris and eyelid are also white, which looks like a white-eye ring, suggesting its name.

Scientists don’t know much about its breeding habits, and the last known sighting of one (although unconfirmed) was in 1986. However, it has not officially been labeled extinct despite many signs that suggest it no longer lives in the wild.

Deignan’s Babbler

The Chiang Dao area is home to Deignan’s Babbler. Its taxonomic status is debatable, and many suggest that it is a Rufous-Fronted Babbler, making it a non-endemic species. This fact has to do with searches in the area that only turned up birds showing typical Rufous features. However, the Deignan’s Babbler shows some slight differences, and visitors to the area could encounter them.

Rufous Limestone Babbler

The Rufous Limestone Babbler is endemic to Central Thailand, and its population primarily resides around the Saraburi province, located northeast of Bangkok. You’ll find it in the Limestone Krast Forest, accessible at the temple of Wat Phra Phutthabat Noi.

Rufous Limestone Babbler
Rufous Limestone Babbler

Some find it similar to a Streaked-Wren Babbler, but it has a longer tail and is a bit larger. Its body is primarily brown overall but has a black-streaked throat and a white-streaked back. Look for it close to the ground, mainly around rocky crevices. The song sounds like a sequence of harsh-sounding whistled notes. Sometimes a pair of them will sing it together as a duet.

Other Bird Species to Look for During Your Trip

Although the endemic species are more challenging to find and concentrated in specific areas, you can still have an incredible birding adventure in Thailand even if you don’t visit those areas.

Some of the most exotic and colorful birds in the country that you may come across during your trip include the following.

Siamese Fireback

Male Siamese Fireback
Male Siamese Fireback

The Siamese Fireback is the Kingdom of Thailand’s national bird, even though it is not unique to Thailand. It is, however, endemic to Southeast Asia, so if you spot one during your trip, know that you won’t see it in any other part of the world. This pheasant is relatively common around Khao Yai National Park, particularly in protected areas. You’ll usually see males of the species surrounded by two or three females, but sometimes you will see a female one alone. It has a silver-grey body with a bright-yellow spot in the middle of their backs and a bright red-colored head and red feet.

Hume’s Pheasant

This large forest pheasant is found in the northern parts of Thailand and is considered to be on the near-threatened list of species. It has a greyish-brown head, red facial skin, a deep reddish-brown plumage, and a yellowish bill. The male appears more colorful than the female of the species. It can be pretty difficult to spot one, which makes a sighting even more exciting.

Crested Finchbill

Crested Finchbill
Crested Finchbill

With a grey-colored head and yellow-green body, the Crested Finchbill is a small bird that resides in large colonies within the middle of the forest. It has a friendly demeanor and can easily be approached by people, making it enjoyable to watch.

Gurney’s Pitta

Gurney’s Pitta is a medium-sized bird with colorful feathers. You will mostly find it in the Southern part of Thailand, and it is relatively rare and at one point thought to be extinct (until it was rediscovered in 1986). Many consider it one of the top birds to see when visiting Thailand. Your best bet to see it is to visit the Khao Nor Chu Chi area.

Great Hornbill

With its unique “Gok Gok” sound, this big colorful bird is a treat to see. You have a good chance of observing this exciting species in the Khao Yai area, as it is relatively common there. You’ll likely see it foraging in a fruit tree or flying high across the land. As of today, this species is considered Near Threatened and has vanished from several areas where it was once common.

Long Tailed Broadbill

This small bird has attractive bright green and yellow coloring that makes it stand out in the environment. It’s a pretty common bird in Thailand, so one that many birdwatchers in the country will get to check off the list. It can be a shy bird but tends to travel in small flocks. Look for it in many of Thailand’s national parks.

Of course, this list gives just a minuscule taste of the sights and sounds in the trees and skies of the country. You’ll likely encounter unique and beautiful birds everywhere that you turn. Many visitors have noted seeing more than 300 different birds during their wildlife exploration, so you will definitely want to keep track.

How to Make the Most of your Birdwatching Trip to Thailand

As you can imagine, in a country as diverse and beautiful as Thailand, narrowing down the types of birds you want to see, and the regions where you can find them can be overwhelming. Since no time of year is the wrong time to visit the country, you can plan a tour or list of sightings regardless of the month you visit.

A pocket guide or naturalist’s guide to the different birds can help you plan out your trip and assist with identification. Research ahead of time to find out the best areas to go to see the species that top your list. You can also look on Surfbirds for reports of what others have recently seen and where they saw it and also find tour operators. Many other online resources provide suggested itineraries as well.

Final Thoughts

Thailand is not only a beautiful place to visit for birding; it’s also an exciting country in many other ways. In fact, it’s an area that you may want to return to more than once since you will not experience all of its wonders in a single trip. With the country having about 10% of the world’s bird species inside of its borders, you’ll also get to check off many different birds from your master list.

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