Birdwatching in Thailand - My Favorite Birds
The Amazing Birds of Thailand
I have been bird watching in Thailand since 1996 and it can be a most amazing experience due to the huge variety of species, although it can also often be frustrating due to the difficulty of seeing many of the secretive forest birds. Biodiversity is very high in tropical Asia and this is reflected in the fact that over one thousand bird species have been recorded in Thailand with new species being discovered every year.
I have been treated to some amazing sightings of some incredibly beautiful and sometimes strange birds in my time bird watching in Thailand; this lens highlights some of my favorite species of birds that I have seen whilst living in the Kingdom. Not all of these birds that I have chosen are rare or spectacularly beautiful, but they are all special to me for one reason or another.
I would imagine that other bird watchers who have been to Thailand, live in Thailand or plan to visit the country for bird watching purposes, would have some very different favorite species, usually rare or range-restricted birds, and they are free to comment on my selection in the comments section at the end of the page and let me know what their favorites are too.
If you are looking for places to watch birds when in Thailand please take a look at another one of my lenses; Where to Watch Birds in Thailand.
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Birds of Thailand Fieldguide by Craig Robson
This 2005 print of the Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand by Craig Robson is the most up to date guide for English speakers currently available which deals solely with Thailand. Unfortunately, since this book was written many species have been added to the Thai list and the book is a bit out of date.
Birdwatchers who have traveled the world a lot may also find this book rather tricky to use, but, once again, this is the most recently created English language field guide for Thailand.
This print is far better than the Princeton Press publication of the same book which has many misprints and mislabeled birds.
My Favourite Bird In Thailand: River Chat (White-capped Water Redstart)
River Chat is by no means the rarest or hardest to find of bird species in Thailand, but it is one of the most striking when it is seen. The colors of this bird are so contrasting that they light up even in the shady streams that it favors.
In Thailand River Chat is an uncommon bird that visits the north of the country in the dry season (November to April) but it is quite a widespread bird throughout the Himalayan region of Asia.
River Chat has been renamed as White-capped Water Redstart in order to more correctly reflect its taxonomic status, but in my opinion that is what the scientific names are for and I prefer to stick with River Chat, partly because it is less of a mouthful to say.
I have often seen River Chat at the base of Watcharitan Waterfall in Doi Inthanon National Park and in the small waterfall in the grounds of Ban Luang Resort at Doi Ang Kang. Both of these falls are a rather beautiful setting with their mists swirling around frond-like ferns, and to see a bird as stunning as River Chat in this setting is always a satisfying experience.
Silver-eared Mesia - Another Amazing Species That I Love
Well, who wouldn't love Silver-eared Mesia? You do not have to be a mad keen birder to appreciate this species. Just look at it, what amazing colors. If one were to sit down and try to design the most beautiful bird possible, it would surely end up looking something like this. Whenever I see this bird I am always struck by how my eyes are confused by all the colors, my brain hardly knows whether to look at the reds, yellows, black or silver feathering.
I have most often run into this species at Doi Ang Kang and Doi Inthanon, both of which are beautiful locations to see any bird in, and it seems that Silver-eared Mesia nearly always perches within dark green foliage as if to highlight its brightly colored plumage. Silver-eared Mesias are fast moving, though, and as they move along with flocks of other small birds they can be frustratingly hard to get a really clear view of. What a bird! I am always excited to see this one.
If you would like to see more photos of this stunning species take a look here: Silver-eared Mesia.
Great Hornbill - This Could Be Thailand's Greatest Bird
The Great Hornbill is great by name and great by nature; the impressive size of this bird is enough to turn anyone into a bird watcher after they have seen it. A number of non-birdwatchers have accompanied me to Khao Yai National Park and the atmosphere created by the "Gok Gok" call of the Great Hornbill, along with the awesome sight and sound of it in flight, has inspired them to go and buy a pair of binoculars.
I have purposefully described the call here as "Gok" because this sound is what gives the bird its Thai name Nok (bird) Gok (the sound of its call). The sound of its wings as the bird flies overhead has been mistaken for a helicopter by some but certainly the loud "whooshing" sound is a surprise to everyone the first time they witness it.
I have many happy memories of watching Great Hornbills at Khao Yai National Park and to me the one will always remind me of the other
A Great Hornbill at the nest in Khao Yai national park.
This video clip shows a male Great Hornbill feeding his mate - they usually supply a mixture of fruits, large insects and even small animals such as frogs and lizards. The female is sealed within the nest cavity and she will not emerge from this cavity until the chick is ready to leave the nest and take its first flight.
Another Of My Favourite Birds Of Thailand: Pied Kingfisher
Kingfishers are always high on most people's favorite bird lists and I think that this one is quite special even if it is widespread and quite common in many countries. It is not one of the rarest birds of Thailand but at the same time it is not a common bird in this country.
I have most often seen Pied Kingfisher at Bueng Boraphet, which is about a three hour drive north of Bangkok. Bueng Boraphet is a really nice place to have a relaxing boat trip and to see a Pied Kingfisher hovering above the water is a lovely experience. This kingfisher is quite a large bird, about the size of a pigeon, and this, along with its unusual behavior and black-and-white coloration, make it quite a noticeable bird - go and see it!
Find out more about Pied Kingfisher here: Pied Kingfisher
One Of Thailand's Most Wanted Birds: Gurney's Pitta
Back in 2007 I did a survey of bird watchers who were visiting Thailand to see which species was the most wanted of all. Gurney's Pitta was the winner at the time, although I suspect that this may have changed due to the species being rediscovered in Myanmar and not being as rare as it was thought then.
Pittas in Thailand are an enigmatic group of birds and very difficult to see, so any sighting is special and I have been lucky enough to see Gurney's Pitta on several occasions at Khao Nor Chu Chi in Krabi province.
As many as 20,000 pairs of Gurney's Pitta were discovered in southern Myanmar and unfortunately this has coincided with the rapid decline of the tiny population in southern Thailand and extinction in this country is now inevitable. What a terrible shame, particularly as conservation attempts have been made for several decades, only to be thwarted by a lacklustre effort from local authorities.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper - Sadly On The Road To Extinction
The Spoon-billed Sandpiper is a winter visitor to Thailand, arriving in October and departing for Siberia in March. With its distinctive bill and unique feeding action this is one of the most sought after birds in the world and its numbers are rapidly declining, partly due to problems on its breeding grounds and partly due to the destruction of feeding grounds along its migratory route; Spoon-billed Sandpiper is now classed as a critically endangered species.
This is a super bird and is most easily picked out from Red-necked Stints, with which it feeds, by its bright white forehead colouration and its bill shape. In Thailand it is regularly seen at Khok Kham and Pak Thale.
The world population of Spoon-billed Sandpiper has now become so low (only a few hundred) and decreasing at 26% every year that extinction within 5 years is very likely. However, a conservation effort to establish a captive population is underway and those who wish to support this can make a donation - Please Support Our Spoon-billed Sandpiper Appeal.
Another Beautiful Bird From Thailand: Black-throated Sunbird
Bird watching in Thailand's forests can be tricky at times which makes all sightings special but an encounter with this cheeky little guy is fairly common and always a welcome sight when in some of the higher altitude habitats around the country.
Black-throated Sunbird is a bird which really deserves to be looked at properly. When you get a quick view of it up in the canopy of the forest it looks vaguely black and white with a long tail, but when you see it in good light the plumage illuminates and the bird becomes all sorts of reds, purples and blues.
This is a bird with some character and I like the surprise it creates when visitors who are with me finally get a good look at this species and see its fantastic colors.
Pied Imperial Pigeon - Like A Ghost Appearing In The Forest
Pied Imperial Pigeon is one of my favorite species in Thailand just because of its snowy white plumage which contrasts against the dark leaves of the trees it perches in, plus the fact that it is an uncommon bird that I do not see on a regular basis.
This species is mostly found on offshore islands in the south of Thailand and it just adds another color to the blue of the sea and sky, the silvery sand and green foliage - whenever I see Pied Imperial Pigeon I know I am in a beautiful island paradise such as Ko Similan.
Pied Imperial Pigeon is quite a widespread bird in coastal areas throughout Southeast Asia but it does not need to be a rarity for me to add this species to this list.
Pheasant-tailed Jacana: A Weird And Wonderful Bird Species
If you are not impressed by Pheasant-tailed Jacana in full breeding plumage then I suggest that bird watching is not for you. With its contrasting colors, splendid tail and curious mewing call it is a very memorable species indeed.
Female Pheasant-tailed Jacanas will mate with several males, all of whom will have made nests to impress her. She will then deposit eggs in all the nests so that males will raise chicks that are not their own but for both the male and female this is a classic case of not putting all one's eggs in one basket.
This is not a particularly common bird in Thailand but I am lucky in that my local patch at Muang Boran Fishponds has them in abundance in "winter" and has one of the larger breeding populations in the country.
Olive-backed Sunbird - A Colorful Visitor To My Back Yard
Olive-backed Sunbird is one of the commonest birds in Thailand but what makes it special to me is that it is one of the few species that can be watched in almost any habitat due to its adaptability - that and the fact that a pair of these cute little birds visit my yard every morning to drink the nectar from the flowers.
This species of sunbird originates from mangroves, forest and forest edge but it is able to live alongside man in all sorts of unlikely places; gardens, parks, school playgrounds and even window boxes in heavily developed areas! For visiting bird watchers, Olive-backed Sunbird is easy to see in any of Bangkok's Parks; Suan Luang, Lumphini Park and Suan Rot Fai.
The Olive-backed Sunbirds that visit me in Bangkok are such colorful and amusing little characters that I have spent the time to give them their own lens: My Olive-backed Sunbirds in Bangkok - I hope they appreciate their fame.
Rhinoceros Hornbill - A Jewel Of The Southern Forests Of Thailand
Rhinoceros Hornbill is another amazing bird, so much more impressive in real life than any photo or illustration can show. In parts of Malaysia and Indonesia this bird is fairly common in top quality forests, but in Thailand it is restricted to a few habitat fragments, most notably Hala Bala in the far south of the country. At this location it is relatively common and a beautiful sight in the early morning for any bird watcher who has made the trip to this beautiful place.
Rhinoceros Hornbill is more or less the same size as Great Hornbill but slightly less bulky, but as it flies, its wings make a similar heavy flapping sound that lets you know that it is on its way.
Unfortunately, there is currently unrest in that region and as wonderful as it is, it is not worth risking traveling to that area right now, in my opinion, due to the ongoing violence.
Striated Grassbird - How Did This 'Little Brown Job" Get On The List?
For some reason Striated Grassbird is one of my favorite birds. It really shouldn't be as it is a fairly dull-colored, brown streaky bird with a cacophonous song, but it is in fact quite a large bird so does not actually qualify as the birders' "little brown job".
Despite its lack of fortune in the looks department I like Striated Grassbird as it sits out on very exposed perches, making it fairly easy to see, and launches itself into the air to give its song, virtually all year round. At my local patch at Muang Boran Fishponds this bird is unusually common and it is a great place to study the species.
In Thailand the Grassbird seems to favor areas with small clumps of emergent vegetation in wetlands - large areas of top quality habitat do not seem to hold this bird, only scrappy places like fishponds.
Golden Babbler - A Cute Member Of Bird Waves In The Mountains
Golden Babbler is a common forest bird in Northern Thailand but it is a real character. As well as being nicely colored, Golden Babbler is an inquisitive member of mixed bird flocks and it reacts quite aggressively if one mimics its call, coming to within a few feet of the origin of the call at times. This behavior makes it a nice bird to show visitors and makes getting good photos of it a little easier.
The jeep track at Km 37.5, Doi Inthanon and Mae Per forest trail at Doi Ang Kang are great places to find Golden Babbler, but it can be seen in the mountains in many locations. Golden Babbler is a common bird throughout much of Himalayan Asia but this does not stop it making my list.
Get a Free Checklist of the Birds of Thailand
The most up-to-date checklist of the birds of Thailand as compiled by the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand can be downloaded here: Checklist of Thai Birds.