SUN, SEA, SAND AND BIRDS

Sri Lanka is often described as a destination with everything including natural beauty in abundance.  With miles of empty beaches surrounded by blue ocean, the island has lush rain forests, misty mountains, rushing rivers and is known to be one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots.

BIRD WATCHING IN SRI LANKA

The island’s national parks consist of lakes and rain forests that are teeming with exotic wildlife including hundreds of species of birds. Sri Lanka is home to over 400 species of birds. Over 200 are resident species including around 30 species that are recognised as endemic to the island. Most of the resident species are shared with the Asian mainland.

A further 198 species have been recorded as migrants to the country. The majority of these migrate to Sri Lanka during the northern winter and are present from about August – September to April – May.

In contrast, pelagic species of seabirds like Shearwaters, Petrels, Storm-Petrels migrate to Sri Lankan waters from southern oceanic islands during the southern hemisphere`s winter. Around 100 migrant species regularly visit the country. The rest are occasional visitors and vagrants.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME FOR BIRD WATCHING

Any period between October to late April or early May is best for visiting birders. This period is best because all the winter visitors to the country are present and there is a very good chance of seeing a load of wintering waders and some spectacular migrants such as Indian Pitta, Pied Thrush, Kashmir Flycatcher, Orange-headed Thrush etc. If the visitor is not so much interested in the migrants, May, June, and July are also good time to arrive on the island.

WHAT ARE THE ENDEMIC BIRD SPECIES OF THE ISLAND

Sri Lanka is currently known have around 30 species of endemic birds:

Sri Lanka Spurfowl Galloperdix bicalcarata, Sri Lanka Junglefowl Gallus lafayettii, Sri Lanka Woodpigeon Columba torringtonii, Pompadour Green Pigeon Treron pompadora, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot Loriculus beryllinus, Layardas Parakeet Psittacula calthropae, Red-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus, Green-billed Coucal Centropus chlororhynchos, Serendib Scops-Owl Otus thilohoffmanni, Chestnut-backed Owlet Glaucidium castanonotum, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill Ocyceros gingalensis, Yellow-fronted Barbet Megalaima flavifrons, Sri Lanka Small Barbet Megalaima rubricapillus, Crimson-backed Flameback Chrysocolaptes stricklandi, Sri Lanka Swallow Hirundo hyperythra, Sri Lanka Woodshrike Tephrodornis affinis, Black-capped Bulbul Pycnonotus melanicterus, Yellow-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus penicillatus, Sri Lanka Whistling-Thrush Myophonus blighi, Spot-winged Ground-Thrush Zoothera spiloptera, Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush Zoothera imbricate, Sri Lanka Bush-Warbler Bradypterus palliseri, Dusky-blue Flycatcher Eumyias sordidus, Brown-capped Babbler Pellorneum fuscocapillus, Sri Lanka Scimitar-Babbler Pomatorhinus (schisticeps) melanurus, Sri Lanka Rufous Babbler Turdoides rufescens, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush Garrulax cinereifrons, Legge’s Flowerpecker Dicaeum vincens, Sri Lanka White-eye Zosterops Sri Lankaensis, Sri Lanka Crested Drongo Dicrurus lophorinus, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie Urocissa ornata, White-faced Starling Sturnia albofrontata, Sri Lanka Hill-Myna Gracula ptilogenys

WHAT IS THE BEST BIRD WATCHING LOCATION

The best bird watching area on the island is arguably Sri Lanka’s largest tropical rain forest known as the Singharaja Forest Reserve. It is home to about 154 species of birds including around 20 species that are endemic to the island.

DENIYAYA WEATHER

The other leading locations to view birds include Bundala National Park, Yala National Park, Udawalawe National Park and Horton Plains National Park. These locations will give all the endemics plus some other spectacular species.

The other leading locations to view birds include Bundala National Park, Yala National Park, Udawalawe National Park and Horton Plains National Park. These locations will give all the endemics plus some other spectacular species.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW?

A two-week tour of the island will provide sufficient time to view about 225 species, if the visitor is with the right person who knows his birdcalls and places. Sri Lanka is also a destination where you can combine bird watching with a beach holiday.

For the benefit of dedicated ornithologists amongst our readers, we include a comprehensive list of locations to view birds around the island.

Abbreviations Key

AR = Avifaunal Reserve, BR = Biosphere Reserve, BiR = Bird Reserve, BS = Bird Sanctuary, BG = Botanical Garden, CA = Conservation Area, CP = County Park, CvP = Conservation Park, EBA = Endemic Bird Area, ER = Ecological Reserve, FP = Forest Park, FR = Forest Reserve, GR = Game Reserve, IBA = Important Bird Area, IPP = Interprovincial Park, IR = Island Reserve, LNR = Local Nature Reserve, MBS = Migratory Bird Sanctuary, MFP = Mountain Forest Park, MIR = Mainland Island Reserve, MNM = Marine National Monument, MP = Marine Park, MWR = Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, NA = Natural Area, NAR = Natural Area Reserve, NBCA = National Biodiversity Conservation Area, NBS = National Bird Sanctuary, NC = Nature Center, NCA = National Conservation Area, NERR = National Esturine Research Reserve, NF = National Forest, NFP = National Forest Park, NMS = National Marine Sanctuary. NNR = National Nature Reserve, NP = National Park, NPa = Nature Park, NPR = National Park Preserve, NPr = Nature Preserve, NR = Nature Reserve, NRA = National Recreation Area, NRCA = Natural Resources Conservation Area, NS = Nature Sanctuary, NTGP = National Tallgrass Prairie, NWA = National Wildlife Area, NWR = National Wildlife Refuge, PA = Protected Area, PNR = Parc Naturel Régional (Regional Natural Park),PP = Provincial Park, RCS = RAMSAR Convention Site, RNP = Regional Nature Park, RPPN = Private Natural Heritage Reserve, RSPB = Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Reserve, SF = State Forest, SNR = Strict Nature Reserve, SeNR = State Nature Reserve, SP = State Park, SPA = Special Protection Area, SeR = Seabird Reserve, SR = State Reserve, SSS = State Seabird Sanctuary, SWA = State Wildlife Area, SWMA = State Wildlife Management Area, SWR = State Wildlife Refuge, SWS = State Wildlife Sanctuary, TP = Transfrontier Park, TR = Tiger Reserve, WA = Wildlife Area, WBR = World Biosphere Reserve, WII = Wetland of International Importance, WMA = Wildlife Management Area, WRw = Wildfowl Reserve, WRf = Wildlife Refuge, WRs = Wildlife Reserve, WP = Waterfowl Park, WiP = Wilderness Park, WiRv = Wilderness Reserve, WeRv = Wetland Reserve, WS = Wildlife Sanctuary, WeS = Wetland Sanctuary, WoS = Woodland Sanctuary, WWT = Wildfowl & Wetlands Reserve

BR Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya

Out of 26 endemic birds of Sri Lanka, 20 of them can be seen in KDN forest complex. Sri Lanka spurfowl, Sri Lanka junglefowl, Sri Lanka grey hornbill, red-faced malkoha, orange-billed babbler, Sri Lanka blue magpie are some of them.

BS Kalametiya

Kalametiya is a coastal wetland area that has an especially rich biodiversity and is situated on the picturesque southeastern coast of Sri Lanka, in the district of Hambantota. It, along with Rekawa and Ussangoda, forms an area known as “Ruk,” a coastal belt of land of outstanding beauty littered with numerous bays, coves, lagoons, rocky outcrops and sandy beaches, stretching from approximately Tangalle to Hambantota.

BS Kokkilai Lagoon

It currently has an area of 1,995 ha (4,930 acres). Numerous varieties of water and wader birds are found in the sanctuary including cormorants, ducks, egrets, flamingoes, herons, ibis, pelicans, and storks. The sanctuary is a haven for birds migrating along Sri Lanka’s east coast.[9] Elephants are also found in the sanctuary.

NP Angammedilla

Sri Lankan elephant, Sri Lankan sambar deer, Indian muntjac, Sri Lankan axis deer, water buffalo, wild boar, and peafowl are common within the park. However, Sri Lanka leopard, sloth bear, grizzled giant squirrel and Sri Lanka junglefowl are sometimes seen.

NP Bundala (IBA)

Bundala National Park is an internationally important wintering ground for migratory water birds in Sri Lanka. Bundala harbour’s 197 species of birds, the highlight being the greater flamingo, which migrate in large flocks. 197 species of birds. The wetland habitats in Bundala harbours about 100 species of water birds, half of them being migrant birds.

NP Chundikkulam (BS)

Chundikkulam Lagoon and its surrounding area was designated as a bird sanctuary. Numerous varieties of water and wader birds are found in the park.

NP Flood Plains

Flood Plains National Park is one of the four national parks set aside under the Mahaweli River development project.[2] The park was created on 7 August 1984.[3] The national park is situated along the Mahaweli flood plain and is considered a rich feeding ground for elephants. The flood plains are especially important for the diversity and richness of their avifauna, particularly migrant birds. The rare species lesser adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus and variety of other species inhabit the park.

NP Gal Oya

More than 150 species of birds have been recorded in Gal Oya. The lesser adjutant, spot-billed pelican and red-faced malkoha are some of the park’s resident birds.

NP Galway’s Land (IBA)

Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka considers that the Victoria Park of Nuwara Eliya and the Galway’s Land as two of the most significant birding sites in Sri Lanka. Galway’s Land harbours about 20 rare migrant bird species and 30 native species.

NP Horton Plains (IBA)

Horton Plains National Park is a protected area in the central highlands of Sri Lanka and is covered by montane grassland and cloud forest. This plateau at an altitude of 2,100–2,300 metres (6,900–7,500 ft) is rich in biodiversity and many species found here are endemic to the region. Horton Plains contains 21 bird species which occur only on Sri Lanka. Four, Sri Lanka blue magpie, dull-blue flycatcher, Sri Lanka white-eye, and Sri Lanka wood pigeon, occur only in Horton plains, while other endemic species include Sri Lanka spurfowl, Sri Lanka junglefowl, yellow-fronted barbet, orange-billed babbler, Sri Lanka bush warbler, and Sri Lanka whistling-thrush.

NP Kaudulla

Large water birds such as spot-billed pelican and lesser adjutant visit the Kaudulla tank.

NP Kumana (BS)

Kumana National Park in Sri Lanka is renowned for its avifauna, particularly its large flocks of migratory waterfowl and wading birds. Kumana is one of the most important bird nesting and breeding grounds in Sri Lanka. 255 species of birds have been recorded in the national park. From April to July tens of thousands of birds migrate to the Kumana swamp area. Rare species such as black-necked stork, lesser adjutant, Eurasian spoonbill, and great thick-knee are breeding inhabitants.

NP Lahugala Kitulana

Many wetland birds found in Lahugala Kitulana include great white pelican, purple heron, painted stork, lesser adjutant, Anas spp., white-bellied sea eagle, grey-headed fish eagle, common kingfisher, stork-billed kingfisher, white-throated kingfisher. Spot-billed pelican, Asian openbill and woolly-necked stork are also recorded visiting the wetland.

NP Madhu Road

Numerous varieties of birds are found in Madhu Road including Alexandrine parakeet, ashy-crowned sparrow-lark, ashy prinia, ashy woodswallow, Asian koel, Asian palm swift.

NP Maduru Oya

The importance of the park’s fauna is its richness, which includes several endemic species. The park’s diverse aquatic avifauna includes painted stork Mycteria leucocephala, white-bellied sea eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster, grey pelican Pelecanus philippensis, great cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo , and little cormorant P. niger. Notable forest species are endemic Sri Lanka junglefowl Gallus lafayetii, the rare broad-billed roller Eurystomus glaucurus (possibly the only dry zone haunt), common tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius, shama Copsychus malabaricus, black-hooded oriole Oriolus xanthornus, and woodpecker Dendrocopos nanus. Endemic red-faced malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus) also occurs. The reservoirs harbor several species of bird including Oriental darter Anhinga melanogaster, spot-billed pelican Pelecanus philippensis, Asian openbill Anastomus oscitans, black-headed ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus, and Eurasian spoonbill Platalea leucorodia

NP Minneriya (IBA WS)

The reason for declaring the area as protected is to protect the catchment of Minneriya tank and the wildlife of the surrounding area. The national park’s faunal species include 24 species of mammals, 160 species of birds, 9 species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish, and 75 species of butterflies. The Minneriya reservoir is an important habitat for large water birds such as lesser adjutant, painted stork, and spot-billed pelican. Minneriya is a dormitory for many resident as well as migrant bird species. Flocks of 2000 little cormorants have been reported. Great white pelican, ruddy turnstone, and grey heron are the other water birds here. Among the endemic birds are Sri Lanka junglefowl, Sri Lanka hanging parrot, brown-capped babbler, Sri Lanka grey hornbill, black-crested bulbul and crimson-fronted barbet. The number of threatened birds recorded from this national park is 11.

NP Sinharaja Forest Reserve (BR)

Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a national park and a biodiversity hotspot in Sri Lanka. It is of international significance and has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The reserve is only 21 km (13 mi) from east to west, and a maximum of 7 km (4.3 mi) from north to south, but it is a treasure trove of endemic species, including trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Birds tend to move in mixed feeding flocks, invariably led by the fearless Sri Lanka Crested Drongo and the noisy orange-billed babbler. Of Sri Lanka’s 26 endemic birds, the 20 rainforest species all occur here, including the elusive red-faced malkoha, green-billed coucal and Sri Lanka blue magpie.

NP Somawathiya (NR)

Including Trikonamadu Nature Reserve. The importance of ecology of the park is due mainly to the wide occurrence of elephants Elephas maximus estimated at about 400 within the protected area and adjacent surroundings and the rich avifauna. Around 75 migrant species winter in the marshes. Usual migrants include garganey Anas querquedula, marsh sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis, wood sandpiper T. glareola, pintail snipe Gallinago stenura, whiskered tern Chlidonias hybridus, and black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa. Resident birds are painted stork Ibis leucocephala, openbill stork Anastomus oscitans, little egret Egretta garzetta, cattle egret Bubulens ibis, pond heron Ardeola grayii, pheasant-tailed jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus, purple gallinule Porphyrio porphyrio, white ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus, and black-winged stilt Himantopus himantopus. Within the forest area the following birds are seen, crimson-fronted barbet Megalaima haemacephala, common peafowl Pavo cristatus, Malabar pied hornbill Anthracoceros coronatus, thick-billed flowerpecker Dicaeum agile, common iora Aegithina tiphia, junglefowl Gallus lafayetii, and golden-fronted leafbird Chloropsis aurifrons. While barred buttonquail Turnix suscitator frequents the open areas, marshy northern area is visited by woolly-necked stork Ciconia episcopus, crested hawk eagle Spizaetus cirrhatus, grey-headed fish eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus, pied kingfisher Ceryle rudis, crested serpent-eagle Spilornis cheela, and painted stork Ibis leucocephala.

NP Udawalawe

The national park was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River, as well as to protect the catchment of the reservoir. The reserve covers 30,821 hectares (119.00 sq mi) of land area. Endemics such as Sri Lanka spurfowl, red-faced malkoha, Sri Lanka grey hornbill, brown-capped babbler, and Sri Lanka junglefowl are among of the breeding resident birds. White wagtail and black-capped kingfisher are rare migrants. A variety of water birds visit the reservoir, including cormorants, the spot-billed pelican, Asian Openbill, painted stork, black-headed ibis and Eurasian spoonbill. The open parkland attracts birds of prey such as white-bellied sea eagle, crested serpent-eagle, grey-headed fish eagle, booted eagle, and changeable hawk-eagle. Landbirds are in abundance, and include Indian roller, Indian peafowl, Malabar pied hornbill and pied cuckoo.

NP Ussangoda

The park borders the Kalametiya Wildlife Sanctuary in the east.

NP Wasgamuwa

The number of bird species recorded from the park is 143. This includes 8 endemic species. Endemic red-faced malkoha is a resident bird in this national park. Sri Lanka junglefowl is another endemic bird inhabits the park. Lesser adjutant, yellow-fronted barbet, and Sri Lanka spurfowl are the species that visit the reservoirs and streams of the national park. Peafowl, painted stork, black-headed ibis and Eurasian spoonbill are the park’s other aquatic birds. Rare Sri Lanka frogmouth can be found here. Another rare species, chestnut-winged cuckoo, is seen near the Mahaweli river.

NP Wilpattu

The unique feature of this park is the existence of “Willus” (Natural lakes) – Natural, sand-rimmed water basins or depressions that fill with rainwater. Located in the Northwest coast lowland dry zone of Sri Lanka. The park is located 30 km west Anuradhapura and located 26 km north of Puttalam (approximately 180 km north of Colombo). The park is 1,317 square kilometers (131, 693 hectares) and ranges from 0 to 152 meters above sea level. Nearly sixty lakes (Willu) and tanks are found spread throughout Wilpattu. Wilpattu is the largest and one of the oldest National Parks in Sri Lanka. The painted stork, the open bill, little cormorant, Sri Lankan junglefowl (Gallus lafayetii) along with many species of owls, terns, gulls, eagles, kites buzzards are to be found at Wilpattu National Park.

NP Yala (IBA WS)

Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka, bordering the Indian Ocean. The park consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public, and also adjoining parks. The blocks have individual names such as, Ruhuna National Park (Block 1), and Kumana National Park or ‘Yala East’ for the adjoining area. Yala is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka. Of 215 bird species of the park, seven are endemic to Sri Lanka. They are Sri Lanka grey hornbill, Sri Lanka junglefowl, Sri Lanka wood pigeon, crimson-fronted barbet, black-capped bulbul, blue-tailed bee-eater and brown-capped babbler.

NR Hurulu Forest Reserve

The forest reserve is an important habitat of the Sri Lankan elephant. The Indian star tortoise, Sri Lanka junglefowl, Sri Lankan elephant, Sri Lanka leopard and rusty-spotted cat are among the endangered species of the forest reserve.

WS Giant’s Tank Sanctuary

Giant’s Tank is surrounded by rice paddies and dry scrub forest. Numerous varieties of water and wader birds are found in the sanctuary including the Eurasian wigeon, garganey, knob-billed duck and pygmy goose.

WS Udawattakele

Udawattakele is a famous birdwatching site. About 80 bird species have been recorded in the sanctuary. The endemic bird species are Layard’s parakeet, yellow-fronted barbet, brown-capped babbler and [Sri Lanka hanging parrot]. The rare three-toed kingfisher Ceyx erythacus has been observed occasionally at the pond. Common hill myna, golden-fronted leafbird, blue-winged leafbird, spotted dove, emerald dove, Tickell’s blue flycatcher, white-rumped shama, crimson-fronted barbet, brown-headed barbet crested serpent eagle, and brown fish owl are regularly seen and heard in the forest.

Wetlands

Sri Lanka currently has 6 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites), with a surface area of 198,172 hectares.

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