Bird Watching has become one of the most popular hobbies for nature enthusiasts around the world and the huge number of bird species have made it easily accessible anywhere and during any season. According to many ornithologists, there are more than 10,000 bird species in the world and many of them are easy to spot because of their bright colors and diverse migration patterns. Wherever you are located, you are bound to see a plethora of bird species, some of them nesting, while others are resting during their long migrations.
But, just as there are certain cities which are more interesting or populated than others, some bird watching places are more dynamic, diverse and attractive than others. Knowing the best sites to go birding will provide you with the best experiences and will bring tremendous photo opportunities for your private album. (I personally have many, and plan to post more lists about nature here at top5best.net)
Here is a list of what we consider the top 5 best places to go bird watching that will leave you breathless:
Manu National Park, Cusco Region, Peru
One of the most important biosphere reserves in Latin America, Manu National Park is a paradise for any birdwatcher looking for the perfect photo opportunity. Covering more than 15,000 square kilometers (6000 square miles), the park is located in very remote area of Peru and is listed as a World Heritage Site, mainly because of its tremendous biodiversity.
The park extends over low areas with an elevation of 150 meters (500 feet) and all the way to the Andean wet puna, at an altitude of over 4,000 meters (12,000 feet). The area is accessible by a winding road that offers incredible views of the Amazonian rain forest.
With more than 1,000 bird species, many of them unique to the area, this park has more birds than the United States and Canada combined. Some of the most interesting species include the Andean cock-of-the-rock, numerous species of Macaws (especially the Red-and-Green Macaw) and the Spix Guan, a bird resembling a wild turkey.
Kaikoura Peninsula, South Island, New Zealand
When it comes to birdwatching, albatrosses are considered the most prized attraction and many ecotourists take trips to distant locations to spot them in their natural habitat. Nicknamed “the most legendary of all birds”, albatrosses have been referred to in numerous poems (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a symbol for the poet maudit in several poems by Charles Baudelaire), novels and ancient Maori songs.
This spectacular bird is one of the largest flying birds, having a wingspan of almost 12 feet (3.7 meters) and is characterized by its extreme efficiency during flight, using slope and dynamic soaring to cover great distances. While there are multiple locations where you can see this magnificent bird, such as Cape Town (South Africa) or Chile, the best place is by far the Kaikoura Peninsula in New Zealand, home to more than 10,000 albatrosses.
The colonies can be seen in organized trips across the ocean, or individually, while hiking along the coastline. For instance, the northern royal albatross colony, located near the Kaikoura peninsula, attracts almost 40,000 visitors per year, most of them traveling on specialized cruise ships. The Kaikoura area is home to 11 of the 22 species of albatrosses, the highest concentration of this bird family, and many of these species can be seen through their every phase of life, from hatching and nesting to brooding.
Many tourists particularly travel to this area to observe the small albatross chicks (an albatross family broods only one chick per year), safely guarded by both their parents, who take turns in the rearing process. The wonderful Kaikoura Peninsula is also home to other maritime birds related to the albatrosses, like petrels and shearwaters, and especially the Hutton’s shearwaters, who inhabit the inaccessible mountain slopes.
Coto Donana National Park, Andalucia, Spain
One of the main destinations for birdwatchers in Europe, the Coto Donana National Park is home to thousands of Harriers, wild ducks and a plethora of aquatic birds, like the Greater Flamingo. The entire region of Andalucia and Extramadura offers plenty of birdwatching locations, with impressive views of migrating raptors and storks, as well as other numerous local species.
Little and Great Bustards are easily seen in the steppe areas of the region, as well as the Azure feathered Magpie or the Calandra Lark. Other species include the Eurasian Eagle-Owls, Bonellis, Golden Eagles, Monk Vultures and Egyptian Vultures. All these birds are migrating across the straits of Gibraltar on their way to Central and Northern Europe.
Andalucia is also a great destination to bring a non-birding traveling partner, as it offers a huge variety of attractions, including a dramatic landscape, historical towns and a rich cultural background.
Israel, located in a “crossroads” location bringing together three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe), has consistently ranked among the top five birdwatching locations around the world, mainly for European birders.
Dubbed “The Jewel in The Crown” of Israel bird watching, the small town of Eilat is the main attraction and a great starting point in your birding adventure tour. This arid area located amid the Arabian Desert is used by hundreds of thousands of birds during their migration period, extending mainly from March to May. Also, the autumn period is very busy, with multiple species traveling across the sky.
Numerous groups of birds fill the sky in early spring, brought by the warm gusts of wind coming from Africa, making this place look absolutely astonishing, especially during the early morning hours or evenings. The main species that can be seen are: Black Stork (20,000 birds), Steppe Buzzard and Honey Buzzard (each with approximately 500,000 birds), Eurasian Crane (10,000 birds), Steppe Eagle (20,000) and many others.
The mountains around Eilat has smaller numbers of spectacular exotic species, such as Desert Lark, Blackstart, Little Green Bee-eater and Liechtenstein’s Sandgrouse. Also, Eilat is particularly impressive because it attracts species that can be rarely seen in other areas, such as the Sinai Rosefinch and the House Bunting species.
Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Located in the north-eastern area of the country, Cairns is a gateway to birdwatching around the Daintree Rainforest and the Atherton Tablelands, which are just a stone throw’s away. (Here is a video of the Rainforest!)
The area close to the city is home to more than 400 bird species and many of them can only be seen here. Also, the city is filled with thousands of shorebirds that gather to winter along the shorelines and the esplanade, bringing life to the sleepy streets. The bird species that make this area a great place for birdwatchers include the orange-footed Scrubfowl, the Southern Cassowary and the Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher.
Obviously, the flightless Southern Cassowary is the easiest bird to spot, but through patience, you might come across other spectacular bird species.