Do you know how many bird species are there in the world? The answer is more than 11,000 species (identified species) and the number continues to go up since bird taxonomists keep finding new species day by day. One study has estimated that there could be over 18,000 bird species in the world.
So, if you are a birder, you would want to see all the birds on the planet. I would love to do that too. Yet, it seems to be an over-ambitious target to have. However, if you can visit countries having a higher number of bird species, you will be able to cover many birds within a shorter time span.
Hence, for the benefit of all birders, I have listed 10 countries with the highest number of bird species according to their ranking by Birdlife international data zone information. Further, I mentioned the best seasons and a few top-ranked birding places in each country which you must include in your travel plan.
So, if you visit all the countries I listed here, you can easily complete more than 5000 bird species within a manageable travel time. Keep in mind to look for country endemics. The country endemics are the bird species that can only find within a particular country and nowhere else in the world. Six countries out of ten are in South America and they are bird diversity hotspots.
Here are the ten best countries for bird watching.
Colombia is a country with the highest bird species richness. It is getting first place when it comes to the number of bird species. As per statistics, it is home to 1884 bird species with 92 breeding endemics and 120 globally threatened birds.
Birdlife International has identified 126 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and 20 endemic bird areas within the boundary of Colombia. The bird with the widest wingspan (3.3 m) in the world, the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus), is the national bird of Colombia.
The best season to visit Colombia for bird watching is any month outside April – May, and October – November because weather conditions are quite stable in most of the other months. But you cannot avoid a few showers of rain once you are in a tropical rainforest.
Tatama national park, Rio Blanco nature reserve, Arrierito Antioqueño reserve, Rio Claro Nature Reserve, and Amacayacu National Park are a few of the best places which have attracted most bird watchers. In 2017, Colombia ranked as the second-best country to visit as a tourist destination by Lonely Planet.
Apart from bird watching, you can experience rich cultural diversity and historical sites as well. And also, it is a wise thing to consult a local bird expert guide to yield maximum results when you do bird watching outside your country.
Peru ranked as the country with the second highest number of bird species in the world. Being border to Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile it is not surprising to have such a high number of bird species in the country.
Currently, Peru is home to 1861 bird species with 138 country endemics and 108 threatened bird species. There are 116 IBAs and 20 Endemic bird areas according to Birdlife International.
The Andean cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruvianus) is widely recognized as the national bird of Peru. This bird is one of the remarkable species in the Peruvian Amazon and is the largest member of the Cotinga bird family.
The best season to visit Peru for birding is from June to September. However, it is always good to contact local experts on bird watching before you plan your visit as the seasons may vary a little depending on the locality (either Northern, Central or Southern Peru).
Few promising places to visit for birds in Peru are Cutervo National Park in northern Peru where you can see one of the most remarkable hummingbird species in the world, Marvellous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis), Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve where you can see the spectacle Macaws, Hoatzin, Pavonine Quetzal, etc., and Rio Abiseo National Park in central Peru where you can see critically endangered White-bellied Cinclodes with luck.
Being the largest South American country with most of its area under the tropics, there is no question on having 253 endemic birds which is the highest in South American region and 3rd highest in the world. It is home to 1817 bird species with 166 considered as globally threatened. There are 234 IBAs and 25 EBAs within the country.
The national bird of Brazil is Rufous-bellied Thrush (Turdus rufiventris).
One should not miss the southeastern Atlantic rainforest with the Serra do Mar Mountain range. This region itself holds the highest number of endemic birds more than 63% of the country’s endemics. Must visit national parks at this region are Itatiaia, Serra dos Orgaos, Tijuca, Serra da Bocaina, Aparados da Serra and Lagoa do Peixe.
In general, the best season to visit Brazil is from July to October within the dry season. These above-mentioned sites are most visited by bird watchers because of their closeness to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo cities.
Pantanal wetland complexes and Chapada are other famous sites for bird watching located in the western corner of Brazil. You can see remarkable Hyacinth Macaws and Golden collard Macaws in this area.
The city of Manaus is located in the heart of the Amazon rainforest and the Amazon River is another must-visit place for an international bird watcher. You can plan a birding by boat trip to this area with the help of a local expert in birding.
One of the unforgettable birds you would encounter in Brazil is the near-threatened Harpy Eagle, the largest and most powerful raptor found in the region.
Being the largest island country comprising over 17,000 islands, it is not surprising to have such a high number of bird species with the highest number of endemic birds.
The Indonesian archipelago is home to 1723 bird species with 506 country endemics (highest in the world). High endemism resulted due to the geographic isolation of many islands with limited dispersal between landmasses.
First place in Asia when it comes to the number of birds. According to Birdlife International Indonesia has 170 globally threatened bird species, 225 IBAs, and 38 EBAs. The national bird of Indonesia is the Javan hawk-eagle (Nisaetus bartelsi).
You can see hornbills, birds-of-paradise, crowned pigeons, Pittas and Pheasants are few of the many bird species in Indonesia.
Lore Lindu National Park, Karimunjawa, West Bali National Park, Puncak, Tangkoko National Park, Puar Lolo, and Kerinci Seblat National Park are a few birding spots that need to be included to your plan. There are many bird-watching tour operators and bird-watching local guides available for a reasonable price.
Even you can arrange a vehicle without a driver and visit most of the birding sites on your own. The best season to visit Indonesia is between April to October. But be aware that you could expect sudden typhoons and cyclones with severe weather conditions.
And lastly, do not forget to see a Komodo Dragon while you are in Indonesia.
In the ranking of bird species richness, Ecuador gets the fifth place. And it is bordering to Colombia and Peru which are the 1st and 2nd place holders in bird richness, respectively.
Currently, Ecuador is home to 1629 bird species with 42 country endemics. It also has 99 globally threatened bird species with 109 IBAs and 9 EBAs.
The world-famous Galápagos Island, a World Heritage Site, officially belongs to Ecuador where Darwin’s theory of Evolution was born. Galapagos itself holds 31 endemics on the Island and many bird watchers visit there.
And bird watching tourism is well established in the country to give the best experiences and services to the visitors. The Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) is the national bird of Ecuador as well.
Ecuador has two World Heritage Sites namely the Galapagos Island and Sangay National Park which is a continuation of the Amazon rain forest.
There are a few other national parks you must visit to see birds if you are in Ecuador. Those are Cuyabeno reserve, Yasuni National Park, Llanganates park, Sumaco-Napo-Galeras, Limonococha Biological reserve, Cotopaxi, and Cajas National Park.
The best season to visit Ecuador for bird watching is from October to December. But this may change according to what you want to see and which part of the country (Northern or Southern regions) you want to visit. Thus, it is important to contact a local bird-watching tour operator to consult for a tailor-made bird-watching trip.
A few species you must see during your Ecuador tour are the Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, many Antpittas, Hummingbirds, and many endemic Tanagers.
Bolivia is the only landlocked country on this list. Bolivia is home to 1439 bird species with 18 country endemics. Birdlife International has identified 50 IBAs and 9 EBAs within the country.
And also, Bolivia has 54 globally threatened bird species. With vast arrays of hot and humid rainforests, tropical riverine forests, grasslands, Bolivian dry Andes mountains, semi-inundated wetlands, and marshes, Bolivia is a bird-watching paradise.
Bolivia is the best country to get a first-hand experience of the essence of ecosystems and biodiversity which represent the entire of South America within a short time. So, I would first visit Bolivia before planning to visit the rest of the South American countries.
There are several National Parks you must visit in Bolivia including Amboro National Park which is the best place to cover sub-tropical forests, Madidi National Park with nearby Pampas grasslands, Eduardo Avaroa Reserve with Pink Flamingos, Chuchani Nature Reserve, Noel Kempff Mercado National Park with breathtaking waterfalls.
Several must-see bird species in Bolivia are Red-fronted Macaws, Blue-throated Macaw (one of the world’s rarest Parrots), Cochabamba Mountain-Finch, endangered Titicaca Grebe, Masked Antpitta, Palkachupa Cotinga, and large flightless Rheas in lowland savannas. The best season to plan your birding trip is during September and October.
Venezuela also serves as another best country to represent most of the cultural aspects of South America. Being the most urbanized country in South America, you can find almost all the modern facilities within it. But the current economic situation and standard of living there do not encourage tourists with low budgets to visit the country.
It is most famous for the World’s highest and uninterrupted waterfall, the Angel Falls. But bird diversity is also very high due to the diversity of ecosystems and climate. Currently, Venezuela is home to 1394 bird species with 51 country endemics. It also has 53 globally threatened bird species and Birdlife International has identified 76 IBAs and 7 EBAs.
If you plan on traveling to Venezuela, you can visit at least a few of these Endemic Bird Areas to tick many of the endemic birds of the country. The seven EBAs are Caribbean and Colombia boarders of Venezuela, Caripe-Paria region, Colombian east Andean region, Cordillera de la Costa Central, Cordillera de Merida, Orinoco-Negro white-sand forest and Tepuis region of Venezuela.
Canaima National Park where Angel falls is situated is one of the best places for bird watching. Henri Pittier National Park and Coro dessert are also good birding locations. Guatopo, Yurubi, Yacambu, and Cave de la Quebrada del Toro are several other places you should include on your wish list. But important to remember, in general, Venezuela is not a safe place for birding alone thus always go with a group and well-reputed birding guide accepted by the government.
Despite being the most populated country, China holds second place when it comes to bird species richness. China is home to 1289 bird species with 67 breeding endemics.
Birdlife International has identified 512 IBAs and 14 EBAs within China. China has 96 globally threatened bird species. Because of the political boundary spanning many biomes such as tropics, subtropics, temperate, tundra, vast grasslands, deserts, etc., you can see many birds with a wide range of habitats.
China is one of the best places to see many species of Pheasants, Bulbuls, Babblers, Laughingthrushes, Parrotbills, Leafbirds, and Cranes. The Red-crowned Crane is the national bird of China.
The best areas to travel regarding facilities linked with safety, logistics, transportation, and food is Yunnan province, Sichuan province, and Qinghai. Xishuangbanna county, Ailoshan mountains, and Goligong mountains are some of the spectacular places with beautiful landscapes as well located in Yunnan province.
Xishuangbanna is one of the best tourist attractions in southern China. Nonggang area in Guangxi province also will add more memorable experiences with many Limestone outcroppings.
A few endemic birds you shouldn’t miss in China are the Chinese Monal, Golden Pheasant, Cabot’s Tragopan, Sichuan Jay, Spectacled Parrotbill, and Blue-crowned Laughingthrush. Further, China is world-famous for being the best photographic spot for critically endangered Spoonbill Sandpiper, sometimes with counts exceeding 100 individuals, in Rudong, in Jiangsu province.
The best seasons to travel in China in the Southern part are during August and September and in the Northern part from June to August. Always remember to get an English-speaking native bird guide on your trip where even in the capital city, Beijing, it is hard to find an English speaker.
And also take care not to visit bordering areas where you have to undergo security checkups multiple times. China is a wonderful country with multicultural and diverse traveling opportunities.
India got third place in bird diversity. It has 1212 bird species with 75 breeding endemics. Birdlife International has mentioned about 554 IBAs and 12 EBAs with 94 globally threatened birds in India.
India is the best place of all the 10 countries mentioned here in terms of safety, travel feasibility, language, bird watching opportunity as well as financially acceptable rates. India also has many habitats which host breathtaking bird species, a few of those habitats are tropical forests in the Western Ghats, grasslands of foothills of the Himalayas, and Wetlands with many waterfowl. The National bird of India is the Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus).
You should visit Western Ghats Forest for bird watching where you can cover many of the endemic birds of India. Bengal Florican and Indian Bustard are two distinct species you shouldn’t miss in Indian grasslands.
The best places to visit for birdwatching are Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Goa, and Kerala. Chilka lake bird sanctuary in Odisha is full of Greater Flamingos and other water birds. Salim Ali bird sanctuary in Goa is a must-visit site.
The Nilgiri Hills, Anamalai Hills, and Periyar Tiger Reserve are a few in the Western Ghats region. The best season to visit India is between October to April when you can catch both resident and migratory species.
A country with the highest bird species richness in the African continent. The Democratic Republic of Congo is indeed a biodiversity-rich country in tropical Africa which holds the largest area of Congo rainforest and river basin.
Congo is home to 1108 bird species with 16 breeding endemics, but this number is quite doubtful due to the paucity of proper scientific expeditions and research within the country.
Birdlife International has identified 19 IBAs and 6 EBAs including 44 globally threatened bird species. Compared to the total land area of this country these numbers under-representing the actual situation.
A few of the most iconic bird in Congo is Congo Peacock (Afropavo congensis), Congo Bay-Owl (Phodilus prigoginei), Yellow-crested Helmetshrike (Prionops alberti), and Congo Sunbird (Cinnyris congensis). Most of these birds are threatened and with very little biological information.
Congo has five natural world heritage sites namely the Garamba, Kahuzi-Beiga, Salonga, Virunga, and Okapi wildlife reserves in Ituri province. However, the facilities developed for tourism are somewhat unsatisfactory and discourage visiting Congo when read about the available reports. Therefore, you should consult a native tour leader or tour operating company before your visit. But Congo is a country with a unique collection of birdlife as well as other wildlife.
Image credits: Tunki bird by Bill Bouton, Andean Condor by Pedro Szekely (flickr), Common Pheasant by pxfuel, Hyacinth Macaw by pxfuel, Greater Rhea by Quartl, Indian Peafowl by pxfuel, Great Hornbill by Lip Kee (flickr)