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Guide to Bird Watching in Thailand

Thailand birding guide

Twitchers’ Guide: Discover Thailand’s Best Birdwatching Locations, Noteworthy Species and Essential Tips.

Thailand is a paradise for bird enthusiasts from around the globe. The country’s diverse geography, ranging from lush tropical rainforests and towering mountains to pristine beaches and extensive wetlands, offers a remarkable variety of habitats for birds. Its climate is characterized by a tropical monsoon weather pattern, which further contributes to the diversity of birdlife found in the region.

As a birding destination, Thailand is home to around 1,000 bird species, making it one of the most avian-rich countries in Asia. With its strategic location at the crossroads of several major migratory flyways, Thailand welcomes an impressive array of both resident and migratory birds throughout the year. From endemic species found nowhere else on Earth to rare and endangered birds that rely on the country’s unique ecosystems, Thailand’s avian treasures are bound to captivate any birder’s heart.

In this guide, we will explore the best birding locations in Thailand, delve into the noteworthy birds that call this country home, and provide practical tips and resources for an unforgettable birding experience. Whether you are a seasoned birder or new to the world of avian adventures, this guide aims to inspire and equip you with the knowledge you need to discover Thailand’s diverse and fascinating birdlife.

Birding in Thailand. Common species

Best Birding Locations in Thailand

Thailand’s vast and varied landscapes offer an abundance of birding opportunities that cater to enthusiasts of all levels. From the dense tropical forests in the north to the expansive wetlands and coastal areas in the south, the country boasts a multitude of habitats that support a remarkable array of bird species.

In this section, we will highlight some of the premier birding locations in Thailand, including national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, urban birding spots, and coastal areas. Each location offers a unique experience and a chance to observe and appreciate the incredible diversity of Thailand’s avian wonders. 

National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries

Thailand’s extensive network of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries offers unparalleled opportunities to observe the country’s rich birdlife in their natural habitats. These protected areas serve as crucial refuges for many bird species, including endemic, migratory, and endangered birds. Here are some of the most notable national parks and wildlife sanctuaries for birding in Thailand:

Doi Inthanon National Park: Often referred to as “The Roof of Thailand,” Doi Inthanon is the country’s highest peak and home to a wide range of montane bird species. The park’s diverse altitudinal range, spanning from lowland forests to the summit’s cloud forest, provides habitats for over 400 bird species, including rarities like the Green Cochoa, the Rufous-throated Partridge, and the endemic Ashy-throated Warbler.

Khao Yai National Park: Thailand’s first national park, Khao Yai, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that covers an area of over 2,000 square kilometers. With its extensive evergreen and deciduous forests, Khao Yai is home to more than 320 bird species, including the Great Hornbill, Silver Pheasant, and Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo. It is also one of the best places in Thailand to observe the elusive Siamese Fireback, the country’s national bird.

Kaeng Krachan National Park: As the largest national park in Thailand, Kaeng Krachan boasts a diverse array of habitats that support over 420 bird species. Its lush forests, waterfalls, and rivers provide excellent opportunities to spot species such as the Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Banded Broadbill, and Blue Pitta. The park is also a stronghold for the critically endangered Gurney’s Pitta and the rare White-fronted Scops Owl.

Khao Sok National Park: Located in southern Thailand, Khao Sok National Park features one of the oldest evergreen rainforests in the world. The park’s pristine habitat is home to more than 300 bird species, including the Helmeted Hornbill, Blyth’s Frogmouth, and the Chestnut-naped Forktail. The park’s stunning limestone cliffs and Cheow Lan Lake add to the area’s spectacular scenery and unique birding experience.

Thale Noi Non-Hunting Area: Situated in the southern province of Phatthalung, Thale Noi is a vast wetland complex that attracts thousands of migratory waterbirds each year. This Ramsar site is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with over 180 bird species recorded, including the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, Painted Stork, and the globally threatened Spot-billed Pelican. The area is also home to numerous waterfowl, waders, and raptors, making it an essential destination for birders exploring Thailand’s wetland habitats.

Birding in Thailand. Common species

Urban Birding Spots

While Thailand’s national parks and wildlife sanctuaries offer fantastic birding opportunities, you don’t always have to venture far from the bustling cities to enjoy birdwatching. Several urban areas in Thailand host a surprising variety of bird species, providing an accessible and convenient birding experience for those with limited time or those who prefer to stay within city limits. Here are some top urban birding spots in Thailand:

Lumphini Park, Bangkok: Located in the heart of the capital, Lumphini Park serves as a green oasis amid the urban jungle of Bangkok. With its large ponds, gardens, and trees, the park provides a habitat for more than 60 bird species, including the Coppersmith Barbet, Asian Koel, and Black-collared Starling. Early morning and late afternoon visits offer the best birding opportunities, as the park comes alive with the sounds of birdsongs.  Nearby the recently expanded Benjakitti Park also offers a surprising range of species.

The video below is an example of what can be seen in central Bangkok, without going to a park. 

Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai: The extensive greenery of the Chiang Mai University campus, including its serene lake and surrounding trees, makes it a great birding spot in the city. Over 90 bird species have been recorded on the campus, such as the Common Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, and the Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher. The campus also serves as a vital refuge for migratory birds, making it an exciting urban birding destination.

Bang Pu Nature Education Centre, Samut Prakan: Situated just outside of Bangkok, the Bang Pu Nature Education Centre is renowned for its large wintering population of seagulls. From November to March, thousands of gulls, including the Brown-headed Gull, Black-headed Gull, and Slender-billed Gull, gather at this coastal site, providing a spectacular sight for birdwatchers. The adjacent mangroves and mudflats also host a variety of waders, such as the Redshank, Greenshank, and Common Sandpiper.

Coastal and Wetland Areas

Thailand’s extensive coastline and numerous wetlands create vital habitats for a wide variety of bird species, particularly waterbirds and shorebirds. These areas are crucial for both resident and migratory species, providing feeding and nesting grounds, as well as stopover sites during their long migrations. Here are some outstanding coastal and wetland birding locations in Thailand:

Laem Pak Bia, Phetchaburi: This coastal area, located about 100 kilometers southwest of Bangkok, is well-known for its diverse array of shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Laem Pak Bia’s sand flats, salt pans, and mangroves provide ideal habitats for species such as the globally threatened Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank, and the Asian Dowitcher. The nearby King’s Project, an artificial wetland, is also home to several rare species, including the Painted Snipe and the Baillon’s Crake.

Krabi River Estuary, Krabi: The Krabi River Estuary, situated in southern Thailand, is a prime birding location for both waterbirds and mangrove-dwelling species. The area’s extensive mudflats attract a variety of shorebirds, including the Great Knot, Far Eastern Curlew, and the Lesser Sand Plover. The mangroves provide a haven for species such as the Mangrove Pitta, Brown-winged Kingfisher, and the rare Masked Finfoot. Boat trips along the estuary offer an excellent way to explore the area’s rich birdlife.

Pak Thale Shorebird Reserve, Phetchaburi: Pak Thale, located near Laem Pak Bia, is a critical site for the conservation of shorebirds and their habitats in Thailand. The reserve’s salt pans and mudflats support a remarkable diversity of waders, including the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, the Curlew Sandpiper, and the Red-necked Stint. Pak Thale is also an important wintering ground for the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill and a variety of other waterbirds.

These coastal and wetland areas provide unique birding experiences and are essential for the conservation of Thailand’s diverse and fascinating birdlife. Exploring these habitats will not only offer an unforgettable birdwatching adventure but also provide insight into the importance of preserving these ecosystems for the survival of numerous bird species.

Birding in Thailand. Common species

Noteworthy Birds of Thailand

With over 1,000 bird species recorded in Thailand, birdwatchers can expect to encounter a remarkable variety of avian species during their visit. Among these, certain species stand out due to their rarity, beauty, or unique characteristics. In this section, we’ll highlight some of the most noteworthy birds found in Thailand, including endemic species, migratory birds, and rare or endangered species.

Endemic Species

Endemic birds are those found exclusively within a specific geographical area. Thailand is home to several such species that birders will be eager to spot, including:

Deignan’s Babbler (Stachyridopsis rodolphei): This small, elusive bird can be found in the dense undergrowth of montane forests in northern Thailand, particularly in Doi Inthanon National Park.

Ashy-throated Warbler (Phylloscopus maculipennis): Another endemic species found in the montane forests of northern Thailand, the Ashy-throated Warbler can be spotted at high elevations in Doi Inthanon and Doi Pha Hom Pok National Parks.

Migratory Birds

Thailand’s strategic location on several major migratory flyways makes it a prime destination to observe a vast array of migratory birds. Some notable migratory species include:

Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea): A critically endangered shorebird, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper can be found at coastal sites like Pak Thale Shorebird Reserve and Laem Pak Bia during migration.

Chinese Egret (Egretta eulophotes): This rare egret breeds in eastern China, North Korea, and Russia, and migrates to Southeast Asia, including Thailand, during the winter months.

Rare and Endangered Species

Thailand is home to several rare and endangered bird species that are of particular interest to birders due to their conservation status:

Gurney’s Pitta (Hydrornis gurneyi): A critically endangered species, the Gurney’s Pitta is found in a few remaining patches of lowland rainforest in southern Thailand, such as Kaeng Krachan National Park.

White-fronted Scops Owl (Otus sagittatus): This rare owl species is found in primary evergreen forests in Thailand, with notable sightings in Kaeng Krachan National Park and Khao Yai National Park.

Siamese Fireback (Lophura diardi): As the national bird of Thailand, the Siamese Fireback is a sought-after species for birders. Its striking plumage and elusive nature make it a prized sighting, with Khao Yai National Park being one of the best places to spot this magnificent bird.

These noteworthy birds represent just a small sample of the incredible avian diversity that awaits birdwatchers in Thailand. With a keen eye and a bit of patience, birders have the chance to encounter some truly remarkable species during their visit to this birding paradise.

Birding in Thailand. Common species

Best Time for Birding in Thailand

Thailand’s tropical climate and diverse birdlife make it a fantastic birding destination year-round. However, certain periods offer unique opportunities to observe specific species or enjoy optimal birdwatching conditions. Here’s an overview of the best times for birding in Thailand:

Resident Bird Species

For resident bird species, the ideal birding season typically falls between November and March. During this period, the weather is cooler and drier, making it more comfortable to spend extended periods in the field. Additionally, many birds are in breeding plumage, making them more vibrant and easier to identify.

Migratory Birds

Migratory birds visit Thailand during the winter months, generally between October and April, with the peak season being November to February. This period sees a significant influx of migratory shorebirds, waterbirds, and forest-dwelling species, offering birders the chance to observe an even more diverse array of avian species.

Breeding Season

For those interested in observing birds during their breeding season, visiting Thailand between March and June may be ideal. Many species, including the colorful pittas, broadbills, and hornbills, are more active and vocal during this time, making them easier to locate and enjoy.

Rainy Season

The rainy season in Thailand, which generally runs from May to October, can be a challenging time for birdwatching due to heavy rainfall and increased humidity. However, it is also the period when some species, such as the rare and elusive Gurney’s Pitta, become more active and visible. For experienced birders who don’t mind braving the elements, the rainy season can offer unique birding experiences.

Thai Birding Map

(from Thaibirding.com)

Recommended Thai Birding Apps and Websites

Modern technology has revolutionized birding by offering a wealth of resources that can enhance your birdwatching experience in Thailand. These digital tools can help you gain valuable insights into Thailand’s avian diversity, plan your trip, enhance your bird identification skills, and connect with a community of local bird enthusiasts. Here are some useful smartphone apps and websites:

eBird: eBird is a valuable resource for birders around the world, offering a comprehensive database of bird sightings and an extensive library of bird calls and songs. You can use the eBird website or mobile app to track your personal bird lists, explore recent sightings in your area, and contribute to global bird conservation efforts.
Website: https://ebird.org/ 

Merlin Bird ID: Developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Merlin Bird ID is an intuitive and user-friendly app that helps you identify bird species based on your observations. By answering a few simple questions about the bird’s size, color, and behavior, the app provides a list of possible matches along with photos, sounds, and additional information. 

Birds of Thailand: This mobile app serves as a digital field guide, featuring over 950 bird species found in Thailand. It includes detailed illustrations, distribution maps, and bird call recordings, making it a handy resource for identifying and learning about the country’s diverse birdlife.

Thai Birding: This website is dedicated to birdwatching in Thailand, offering detailed information on the best birding locations, recent sightings, and trip reports. Thai Birding also provides a list of local bird guides, tour operators, and accommodation options, making it an excellent resource for planning your birding adventure in Thailand.
Website: https://www.thaibirding.com/

Nick Upton, who runs the Thaibirding.com site, also has an extensive Youtube channel which is definitely worth checking out. 

Xeno-canto: Xeno-canto is a global community-driven database of bird sounds. The website and app are particularly useful for identifying bird species by their vocalizations, which can be especially helpful in the dense forests of Thailand where visual sightings can be challenging.
Website: https://www.xeno-canto.org/

Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST): The BCST is a non-profit organization focused on the conservation of birds and their habitats in Thailand. Their website provides information on bird species, habitats, and conservation projects, as well as resources for birdwatchers, such as checklists and articles.
Website: https://www.bcst.or.th/

Oriental Bird Club (OBC): The OBC is dedicated to the conservation of birds in the Oriental region, which includes Thailand. Their website offers a wealth of information on bird species, conservation efforts, and research projects in the region. You can also find trip reports, articles, and resources for birdwatching in Thailand.
Website: https://orientalbirdclub.org/

In addition here are a couple of good Facebook pages which are regularly updated with the latest sightings which should be of interest: https://www.facebook.com/birdwatchingthailand , https://www.facebook.com/groups/512312855553527/(a group by the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand) and https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100057074395477 ( based in Chiang Mai)  

Guided Birding Tours and Local Expertise

While independent birdwatching can be a rewarding experience, enlisting the help of local experts or joining guided birding tours can significantly enhance your birding adventure in Thailand.  To find a reputable guided birding tour or local expert in Thailand, consider consulting websites like Thai Birding, local birdwatching clubs, or online birding forums for recommendations Here’s why you might consider incorporating guided tours or local expertise into your birdwatching plans:

Local Knowledge

Local bird guides and tour leaders possess extensive knowledge of the bird species found in Thailand, as well as their preferred habitats, behaviors, and vocalizations. Their familiarity with the country’s birdlife can greatly increase your chances of spotting sought-after or elusive species.

Access to Prime Birding Locations

Guided birding tours often have access to the best birdwatching locations, including lesser-known or restricted areas where certain species are more likely to be found. Local guides may also be aware of recent sightings and can take you to the right spots at the right time to maximize your chances of observing target species.

Cultural and Natural History Insights

Local guides not only offer expertise in bird identification but also provide insights into the cultural and natural history of the areas you visit. Their knowledge and stories can enrich your overall experience, offering a deeper understanding of Thailand’s diverse ecosystems and rich heritage.

Logistics and Planning

Organizing a birding trip in a foreign country can be challenging, especially when navigating unfamiliar terrain, language barriers, and local customs. Guided birding tours handle the logistics of transportation, accommodation, and permits, allowing you to focus on enjoying the birdwatching experience without the hassle of planning.

Birding Etiquette and Conservation

Experienced birding guides are well-versed in birding etiquette and responsible practices that minimize disturbance to birds and their habitats. By following their lead, you’ll be contributing to the conservation of Thailand’s birdlife and preserving these natural treasures for future generations.

Networking and Camaraderie

Joining a guided birding tour or connecting with local birders can provide opportunities to meet like-minded individuals, share experiences, and learn from one another. These connections can lead to lifelong friendships and a shared passion for birdwatching and conservation.

There are various companies offering birding tours in Thailand.  One of the best known is http://www.thaibirding.com/thailand-birdwatching-tours.htm  Nick, the site owner, offers day tours from Bangkok and longer trips to popular sites. Alternatively, a large tour company that runs tours worldwide for twitchers is  https://www.birdingecotours.com/destination/thailand-birding-tours/

Birding Equipment

Essential Gear for Birding

To make the most of your birdwatching experience in Thailand, it’s crucial to come prepared with the right equipment and resources. This will not only enhance your birding experience but also ensure your safety and comfort during your excursions. Here’s a list of essential gear for birding in Thailand:

Binoculars: A good pair of binoculars is arguably the most important piece of equipment for any birder. Choose a pair with suitable magnification (8x or 10x) and a wide field of view for the best results. Waterproof and fog-proof binoculars are also recommended, as they can withstand the humidity and sudden rain showers common in Thailand.

Field Guide: A comprehensive field guide to the birds of Thailand is invaluable for identifying the species you encounter. Be sure to select one with detailed illustrations or photographs, as well as information on habitat, distribution, and vocalizations.

Birding App: In addition to a physical field guide, consider downloading a birding app on your smartphone. Many apps offer features such as bird call recordings, customizable checklists, and GPS-based location tracking, which can enhance your birding experience.

Camera and Telephoto Lens: If you’re interested in bird photography, invest in a quality camera with a telephoto lens. This will allow you to capture stunning images of the diverse bird species you encounter without disturbing them.

Clothing: Dress appropriately for the weather and environment, opting for lightweight, quick-drying, and breathable fabrics. Long-sleeved shirts and pants are recommended to protect against insects and sun exposure. Additionally, choose clothing in neutral or muted colors to blend into the natural surroundings and avoid startling the birds.

Footwear: Comfortable and durable footwear is essential for navigating the various terrains you’ll encounter while birding in Thailand. Waterproof hiking boots or shoes with good ankle support are ideal.

Hat and Sunglasses: Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. This will not only shield you from harmful UV rays but also improve visibility when scanning the skies for birds.

Insect Repellent: Insect bites can be a nuisance during birdwatching excursions, especially in Thailand’s tropical environment. Bring along a reliable insect repellent to protect yourself from mosquitoes and other biting insects.

Notebook and Pen: Keeping a record of your sightings is an essential part of birdwatching. Bring along a notebook and pen or pencil to document the species you encounter, as well as any interesting behaviors or observations.

Daypack: A sturdy daypack is crucial for carrying all your birding equipment and personal items, such as water, snacks, sunscreen, and a rain jacket.

Tips for Identifying Birds

Identifying bird species can be both rewarding and challenging, especially in a country like Thailand with its diverse avifauna. To improve your bird identification skills and make the most of your birding experience, consider these helpful tips:

Observe carefully: Take your time to observe the bird’s appearance, behavior, and habitat. Pay attention to the size, shape, coloration, and markings, as well as any unique features such as a crest, long tail, or distinctive bill shape.

Listen to vocalizations: Bird calls and songs can be valuable identification tools, as many species have distinctive vocalizations. Familiarize yourself with the sounds of common and sought-after species in Thailand by listening to recordings or using birding apps like Xeno-canto or Merlin Bird ID.

Note the habitat: Different bird species prefer specific habitats, so take note of the environment where you spot a bird. Whether it’s a dense forest, open grassland, coastal mudflat, or urban park, the habitat can provide crucial clues to help narrow down the list of possible species.

Observe behavior: The way a bird behaves can also aid in identification. Some species may have unique feeding habits, flight patterns, or social behaviors that can help distinguish them from similar-looking birds.

Take photos or sketches: If possible, capture photos or make quick sketches of the birds you encounter. This will not only help you remember the details more accurately but also provide valuable visual aids when consulting field guides or seeking help from fellow birders.

Use field guides and apps: A comprehensive field guide or birding app is an essential tool for identifying birds in Thailand. Cross-reference the information and images in your guide with your observations to narrow down the list of potential species.

Ask for help: Don’t be afraid to seek advice from local birders, guides, or online birdwatching communities. Sharing your observations, photos, or recordings can lead to valuable insights and help improve your identification skills.

Practice and patience: Like any skill, bird identification improves with practice. The more time you spend in the field observing and identifying birds, the more adept you’ll become at recognizing different species. Be patient with yourself, as even experienced birders encounter challenges when identifying new or elusive species.

Here’s a great video by an amateur birder who started filming birds during her travels around Thailand without knowing what they were.  She then put together a short video.  The species you can see are: Asian Open-Bill Stork, Little Egret,  Javan Pond Heron,  Swan Goose, Spotted Dove,  Pink-necked Green Pigeon,  Asian Koel, Indo-Chinese Roller,  Oriental Magpie-Robin, Brown-Throated Sunbird,  Yellow-Vented Bulbul, Coppersmith Barbet and White-Vented Myna.  Enjoy . . .

Winging It: Final Thoughts on Birdwatching in Thailand

Thailand, with its diverse habitats and rich avifauna, is a true paradise for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. From the lush forests and national parks to the bustling urban parks and pristine coastal wetlands, the country offers a plethora of birding opportunities for both novice and experienced birders.

By planning your trip carefully, equipping yourself with the right gear and resources, and considering guided birding tours or local expertise, you’ll be well-prepared to fully appreciate the incredible birdlife that Thailand has to offer.

In addition to the sheer enjoyment of birdwatching, your exploration of Thailand’s avian wonders can also contribute to the conservation and understanding of these magnificent creatures. By practicing responsible birding etiquette, sharing your observations with the global birding community, and supporting local conservation efforts, you’ll play a vital role in preserving Thailand’s natural heritage for future generations.

So pack your binoculars, grab your field guide, and embark on a birding adventure in Thailand that promises to be an unforgettable and rewarding experience. Happy twitching!