A guide to Malaysia’s hotspots for bird-watching
With its diverse tropical landscape from mangroves, lush lowlands, mountain rainforests to islands and beaches, Malaysia is a bird paradise. Home to 790 species of birds in both Peninsular and East Malaysia, 63 of which are endemic species and over 100 species of migratory birds, it is no surprise that the country is one of the most popular bird-watching destinations in South East Asia. Here are some of the hotspots.
This hill station is reported to be home to over 270 species of local and migratory birds. You can start spotting these winged beauties at the foot of the hill, to the abandoned The Gap resthouse and all the way to the top. From barbets feeding on fruits, various bulbuls, orange-breasted and red-headed trogons to an array of swallows, swifts, swiftlets and treeswifts, flowerpeckers, trogons, broadbills, raptors, sunbirds and flycatchers. Popular spots for birders to perch and wait for the perfect shot are at the reservoir at the foot of the hill, the Jelai Resort carpark and the Jeriau waterfall.
Taman Negara is one of the prime birding spots in the region, thanks to its large concentration of birds (over 450 species). If you are lucky, you can spots gems like the Malaysian Peacock Pheasant, the elusive Great Argus, Crested Fireback and Helmet Hornbill. Though birds are easy to spot the moment you enter Taman Negara through Kuala Tahan, especially on the boat taxi across the Tembeling River, there are a number of trails that birders must venture to get a good take on what the park has to offer, including the popular Jenut Muda Trail, Berkoh Waterfalls, Forest Loop Trail, Swamp Loop Trail, Tahan Hide Trail and the new Hornbill Valley trail.
Royal Belum Park
Known as the world’s oldest rainforest, the Royal Belum Park dates back 130 million years and is best known for being the home to all 10 species of Malaysian hornbills. It also hosts over 300 bird species including a large number of endangered species. Here, you will find rare birds like the Mountain Peacock Pheasant, Wallace’s Hawk Eagle, Masked Finfoot and the Bluebanded Kingfisher. Cruise on small river boats to spot waterbirds, and to get a good view of the hornbills as they feed on fruiting trees. In the rainforest, birders can see endemic species such as trogons, peacock pheasants, paradise flycatchers, small babblers, bulbuls, flycatchers, nectar feeders and leaf gleaners. The best time to visit is from July to October to watch mass flights of hornbills and other species.
With its rich diversity of ecosystems and habitats, a diverse collection of more than 250 bird species can be found on Langkawi; of which a third are migratory birds which visit between November to April. Some of the popular spots for birding include Gunung Machinchang Forest Reserve for rainforest and mangrove birds, Pantai Chenang for wetland, mudflats and shorebirds, Kilim Karst area for mangrove and scrubland birds, Gunung Raya Forest Reserve for rainforest birds, and Pulau Tuba or Dayang Bunting Area for mangrove, mudflats, wetlands and village birds. The highest peak in the island is home to the Great Hornbills and Wreathed Hornbills.
This fishing village is primarily known for the Kuala Selangor Nature Park, which is made up of coastal forest and mangrove forest. Home to over 150 bird species, it is noted for its unique mangrove birds such as the Mangrove Pitta, Mangrove Whistler, Mangrove Flycatcher and Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker, Lesser Adjutant and more. Just adjacent to the park sits Bukit Malawati where barbets, woodpeckers, sunbirds and raptors congregate. Nearby in the scenic paddy fields of Tanjong Karang, you will find an open field and water birds. During migration season between October and March, head for the coastline and mudflats of Bagan Pasir to the waders.
There are 688 species of resident and migratory birds in Borneo, 54 species of which is endemic to Borneo and 33 species endemic to Sabah. This bird paradise offers various locations for enthusiasts to go birding, from mountain regions, lowland areas to coastal forests. One of the most popular spots is Kinabalu Park where 17 endemic birds can be found. Other sites to spot endemic birds include Rafflesia Forest Reserve, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Poring Hot Springs and along the Kinabatangan River. Some of these include the Mountain Barbet, Kinabalu (Mountain Blue-Winged) Leafbird, the Bornean Bristlehead, Blue-banded Pitta and more.
With more than 20 Important Bird Areas in Sarawak, birders are hard-pressed to not find a number of endemic species to Borneo. Not far from Kuching, the popular Kubah National Park is home to the Bornean Banded Kingfisher, Bornean Wren Babbler and Blue-banded Pitta. The Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre hosts many lowland birds including the rare Long-billed Partridge. Head up the Borneo Highlands for endemic submontane birds, including Pygmy White-eye, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Bornean Barbet, and Mountain Serpent-Eagle. At the Gunung Mulu National Park alone, there are 262 bird species including eight of the Bornean hornbills and over half of the island’s endemics such as Fruithunter, Hose’s Broadbill, and Whitehead’s Spiderhunter. At the Bako-Buntal Bay area in the Bako National Park, the largest group of Chinese Egrets can be found.