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Bhutan Bird Watching

Bird Watching is the powerful force for nature conservation and is the fastest growing leisurely interest in the world today. Unlike other Himalayan countries, Bhutan has been enjoying the reputation as a birding paradise of the world with over 800 – 900 species of birds spotted throughout the kingdom. The raw natural environment of the country from the tropical plains right up to the alpine highlands the country upholds a largest proportion of land under forest cover with highest species of bird density. The richly intact forest continues to provide shelter for many birds and many birds have chosen Bhutan to be their home. Out of many bird species found in the country there are more than 106 water birds found in Bhutan with nearly 74 species water birds, which are enlisted as the special concern birds. About 50 species of known birds are winter visitors including ducks, waders, birds of prey, thrushes, finches, buntings etc. Bhutan also harbor more than 16 species of endangered birds worldwide including the white-belly heron, pallas fish eagle, Blyth’s king fisher, satyr tragopan, grey billed tragopan, ward’s trogaon, rumped honey guide, purple cochoa, rufous troated wren babbler, red headed parrot bill, chestnut breasted patridge, Blyth’s trogaon, wood snipe, dark rumped swift, rufous necked hornbill, gray crowned prinia and the beautiful nuthatch of all which breeds in Bhutan. 

The pleasure of birding in Bhutan is best done alone or joining a small group.

  • Private Customized Tour: Birding is more productive to go out with one or two friends.
  • Small Group Tour: Birds are wild animal and although some can be very confiding, but many do not tolerate the inevitable extra noise that large group of people make. To avoid disturbance of the birds and get best result our small birding group range between 4 – 12 members.  

The habitat of birds in Bhutan can be broadly divided into wetlands, scrubs, forest, grasslands, agriculture, alpine meadows.

  • Wetland: The country’s major rivers, streams, lakes, freshwater, village ponds, flooded forests and small marsh areas are particularly rich habitats for birds. This many areas provides both breeding and feeding ground for resident species and wintering ground for important water bird species along with migratory water birds, breeding water birds, endangered water birds like – White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis), habits lakes, rivers, mangroves feeding on fish and other water animals, near threatened water birds like – Ferruginous Pochard (Aythya nyroca) which habits in well-vegetated rivers and ponds with vulnerable water birds like Black-Necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) which breeds in high altitude lakes and winter on wet fallow, stubble, marshes feeding on grain and large insects. Among the many wetlands in the country, Phobjikha Valley in the western Bhutan is the most important wetland in the country supporting the globally endangered endemic breeding and wintering ground for the Black-Necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) with other spring and summer birds like – Ruddy-breasted Crake (Porzana fusca) and Black-tailed Crake.
  • Subtropical Broadleaf Forest: The plain and foothills lies at a lowly 985ft/300m to 4120ft/1200m. This area is dominated by tropical jungles of broad-leaf evergreen forest interspersed with some of the fertile terraced cultivation. In general the average rainfall in this foothills reaches up to 200 inches resulting to luxuriant vegetation particularly tropical forests with rich wildlife. The climate in this warm broad-leaf subtropical forest range from warm, humid, damp and misty in the hills providing rich species of bird habitats along with some of the globally threatened rare breeding bird species like – Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nipalensis) which primarily inhabits in the forest and feeding mainly on fruits. Nuthatch (Sitta Formosa) and Hill Patridge (Arborophila torqueola) which habits the ground of well-forested slopes. Other species confined to this subtropical broad-leaf evergreen forest are Warbler (Acrocephalus), White-naped Yuhina (Yuhina Bakeri), which habits middle levels of forest and actively feeds on invertebrates along with Thick-billed Warbler (Acrocephalus aedon), habits in low forest and often on grass feeding on vertebrates and Rufous-throated Wren Babbler
  • Cool Broadleaf Forest: This region is an amazing matrix of broad valleys with densely forested hillside climbing a staircase up from 1200 m to 3000m. This Himalayan cool broad-leaf temperate zone is the core of the country with magical forest thick with blue pine, conifer, oak, magnolia, maple, birch, rhododendron, willow, poplar, walnut and flowering dogwood with significant differences between west, central and eastern part of the zone. The forest cover under this variation zone is home to many bird species and apart from common resident bird species the globally threatened bird species like – Chestnit-breasted Patridge (Arborophila mandellii), which resides in the ground well-forested slopes feeding on seeds and invertebrates along with Blyth’s Tragopan (Tragopan blythii), a large, brightly colored with yellow face inhabiting mountain forest undergrowth on steep slopes.
  • Alpine Habitats: This region is the last major geographical zone lying above 3500m/11480ft with a large part of the area virtually cover with snow all year round. This alpine zone is represented with alpine meadows with dwarf bamboo, dwarf rhododendron, fir, juniper, and hemlock with a poor soil condition. The alpine scrub provides with only a handful of bird species and that few habitats are mostly occurs along the forest edges or tree lines, alpine wet grassy areas, rocky and stone slopes and alpine scrubs. Some of the bird species found in the alpine scrubs are Himalayan Snow cock (Tertraogallus tibetanus), which habits in the rocky ridges, slopes and meadows above snowline habitually feeding on shoots and roots. Snow Partridge (Lerwa lerwa), a plump high altitude bird with red bill and legs habiting steep rocks or grassy slopes near snowline feeding on ground seeds. Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris), a large and dark  with a permanent yellow bill-base habiting rocky pastures and cliffs feeding on ground and vertebrates. Rossy Pipit (Anthus roseatus), breeding in high altitude meadows. Plain mountain Finch (Leucostict nemoricola), a streaked brown or rosy finch habiting in edge of snowmelt and meadows feeding on ground seeds and invertebrates. There are other species found in this alpine scrubs.

Here are some lists of some regular breeding birds and others  

  • Local Breeding: Snow Patridge,Whiskered Tern,Black-shouldered Kite, Black Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle,  
  • Sacred & very Local Breeding: Satyr Tragopan, Temminck’s Tragopan, Great-thick Knee,
  • Locally Common Breeding: Black Francolin,Tibetain Patridge, Blood Pheasant, Himalayan Monal, Kalij Pheasants, Lesser Whistling Duck, Cotton Pygmy-Goose, Spot-billed Duck, Speckled Piculet, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape, Greater Flameback, Lineated Barbet, Golden-throated Barbet, Blue-throated Barbet, Fork-tailed Swift, Oriental Scops Owl, Collared Owlet, Asian Barred Owlet, Brown Hawk Owl, Savannah Nightjar, Snow Pigeon, Oriential Turtle Dove, Red Collared Dove, Pompadour Green Pigeon, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Greater Painted-snipe, Oriental Pratincole, Small Pratincole, Mountain Hawk Eagle,                               
  • Abundant Breeding: White-throated Kingfisher,Rose-ringed Parakeet, House Swift, Rock Pigeon, Spotted Dove, Eurosian Collared Dove, Black-winged Stilt, Red-wattled Lapwing, Oriental Honey-Buzzard, Black Kite, Shikra,  
  • Common Breeding: Great Barbet, Black-rumped Flameback, Common Hoopoe, Coppersmith Barbet, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Indian Roller, Pied Kingfisher, Green Bee-Eater, Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater, Common Hawk Cuckoo, Eurosian Cuckoo, Asian Koel, Greater, Coucal, Lesser Coucal, Slaty-headed Parakeet, Collared Scops Owl, Spotted Owlet, Brown Crake, White-breasted Waterhen, Purple swamphen, Common Moorhen, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana, Eurosian-thick Knee, River Tern, Brahminy Kite, Lammer Geier, Himalayan Griffon, Crested Serpent Eagle, Red-necked Falcon,  
  • Sacred Breeding: Rufous Woodpecker, Blue-eared Barbet, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Red-headed Trogon, Dollar Bird, Common Kingfisher, Oriential Dwarf Kingfisher, Crested Kingfisher, Blue-breasted Bee-Eater, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Indian Cuckoo, Plaintive Cuckoo, Drago Cuckoo, Green-billed Malkoha,  Vernal Hanging Parrot, Red-breasted Parakeet, Asian Palm Swift, Alpine Swift, Crested Treeswift, Barn Owl, Eurosian Eagle Owl, Brown Fish Owl, Jungle Owlet, Emerald Dove, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Slaty-breasted Rail, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Watercock, Black Baza, Grey-tailed Fish Eagle, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Besra, White-eyed Buzzard, Bonelli’s Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Collared Falconet, Peregrine Falcon etc. 
  • Fairly Common Breeding: Common Hill Patridge, Small Buttonquail, Barred Buttonquail, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Greater Yellownape, Streak-throated Woodpecker, Wreathed Hornbill, Great Hornbill, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Large Hawk Cuckoo, Alexandrine Parakeet, Tawny Owl, Grey Nightjar, Large-tailed Nightjar, Green Imperial Pigeon, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Swinhoe’s Snipe, River Lapwing, Crested Goshawk, Eurasian Sparrowhawk etc.  
  • Rare Breeding: Solitary Snipe, Ibisbill, Jerdon’s Baza, Rufous-bellied Eagle etc.
  • Summer Visitor: Blue-Tailed Bee-Eater, Pied Cuckoo, Oriental Cuckoo, Grey-Bellied Cuckoo, Osprey etc.  
  • Sacred Winter Visitor: Falacated Duck,Mallard, Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Common Merganser, Eurosian Wryneck, Long-billed Plover, Northern Lapwing, Palla’s Gull, Pied Harrier, Northern Goshawk, Common Buzard, Long-legged Buzzard, Upland Buzzard, Amur Falcon, Eurosian Hobby, Laggar Falcon etc.  
  • Locally Common Winter Visitor: Grey-leg Goose, Bar-headed Goose, Duddy Shelduck, Common Shelduck, Mandarin Duck, Gadwall, Eurosian Wagon, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Common Teal, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Black-capped Kingfisher, Short-eared Owl, Common Snipe, Wood sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Temminck’s Stint, Ruff, Pacific Golden Plover, Little-ringed Plover,  Grey-headed Lapwing, Brown-headed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, eurosian Marsh Harrier, Common Kestreletc.  
  • Fairly Common Winter Visitor: Eurosian Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Pied Avocet, Kentish Plover, Steppe Eagle etc.   
  • Vulnerable Birds: Black-necked Crane, Wood Snipe, Baer's Pochard
  • Endangered Birds: White-bellied Heron
  • Near Threatened Birds: Ferruginous Duck, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Black-necked Stork etc.
  • Globally Threatened Birds: Swamp Francolin, Blyth’s Tragopan, White-winged Duck, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Bengal Florican, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Grey-Headed Fish Eagle, White-rumped Vulture, Indian Vulture, Cinereous Vulture, Red-headed Vulture, Greater Spotted Eagle, Greater Adjutant, Lesser Adjutant etc.