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Birder’s Guide to Borneo
Borneo is the third largest island in the world covering over 700,000km2 and is home to 673 bird species, including 358 resident birds, 59 of which are endemic species only found in Borneo. Here’s our guide to some of the resident species found across Borneo, from the iconic hornbill to the tiny Bornean blue flycatcher.
Many species that breed in the north of Asia, migrate south in September – November to Borneo and will return in March - May. Species that breed Iin Australia will migrate north in April - May and return in August - September, so there are plenty of species available for bird watchers all year round. So much so that Borneo now hosts its own bird-race every year, to promote the protection and monitoring of many species. Danum Valley is a nature conservancy that protects large areas of primary lowland rainforest in Sabah covering roughly 438km2. Danum is suggested to be one of the best birding spots in Borneo. It houses around 10 threatened bird species such as the storm’s stork, a scarce local resident due to its endangered status.
Danum Valley is home to all 8 species of hornbill including the endangered helmeted hornbill. These are picky breeders and require large territories of over 7km2 which makes Danum one of the most suitable areas for this particular species. Luckily hornbills have one of the most distinctive calls of any bird throughout Borneo, with a loud, deep, echoing call, often followed by a maniacal laughter. Keep your eyes peeled for long grey tail feathers with a white tip! Or if you’re feeling adventurous, trek to the nearest fig tree. Fig trees make up a large majority of all hornbills’ diets.
Danum Valley is also home to many kingfisher species, such as the sacred, chestnut-collared, collared, blue-eared, blue-banded, stork billed, Bornean banded and rufous backed.
To get a ‘bird’s-eye view’, visit the canopy walkway and get even closer to the wildlife. With 300 metres of platforms, with many seated viewing areas, it’s the perfect spot to wait quietly for the animals to come to you. Being 25 meters above the ground gives you an unobstructed up-close view of the 130 million year old virgin jungle’s canopy.
Danum valley is full of exciting bird species such as bulbuls, pittas, and barbets. The grid and waterfall trail is proven to provide good bird spotting results. If at first, the dense tropical jungle seems difficult to master, try the different trails and viewing points and you will be rewarded.
Being the national bird, and the emblem of the state of Sarawak, the hornbill is definitely Borneo’s most famous avian resident. But here’s our guide to some of the smaller and more colourful birds that can be found across Borneo.
Yellow-rumped flowerpecker (Prionochilus xanthopygius)
Fairly common across Borneo, the yellow-rumped flowerpecker is a beautiful bird, characterised by a bright yellow belly, flecked with orange, contrasting to the inky-blue plumage on its back. A small specimen, at only 9 cm long, these colourful members of the Dicaeidae family forage in the lower levels of the forest, feeding on flowers, pollen, stamens, nectar, ripe fruit pulp and buds of plants.
Whitehead’s trogon (Harpactes whiteheadi)
The Whitehead's trogon is a species of bird from the Trogonidae family. Named after the British explorer and naturalist John Whitehead (1860-1899), its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, preferring dark, wet and mossy areas. The Whitehead’s trogon is threatened by habitat loss, but the best place to spot them would be amongst the lowland forests of Mount Kinabalu.
Mountain wren-babbler (Napothera crassa)
The slightly unremarkable looking mountain wren-babbler belongs to the Pellorneidae family. Aptly named for its noisy nature, it is most commonly found amongst mountain habitats across Sabah, and is regularly sighted in the Kinabalu National Park. These little brown birds are often spotted in pairs, or small family groups of 4-5 individuals.
Golden-naped barbet (Megalaima pulcherrima)
The spectacular golden-naped barbet is one of the more colourful members of Borneo’s endemic bird species. Azure blue, acid green and yellow in colour, this little member of the Ramphastidae family can be found from the slopes of Kinabalu to the forests of Mulu. Listen out for its distinctive took-took-trrook call.
Bornean blue flycatcher (Cyornis superbus)
You are most likely to find these small blue birds in the Danum Valley Conservation Area. Normally spotted alone or in pairs, the Bornean blue flycatcher has a distinctive flash of turquoise on its head and tail feathers, contrasting with the cream underneath.
White-crowned shama (Copsychus stricklandii)
This particular member of the shama family can only be spotted in the state of Sabah. This characterful little bird has a melodious call, often heard throughout the jungles of the Danum Valley Conservation Area. To spot them in their forest habitat you’ll need to be stealthy, as they are shy and can flit quickly and effortlessly through the dense undergrowth.
Bornean crested fireback (Lophura ignita)
Members of the pheasant family, there are two subspecies of this colourful fowl – the lesser Bornean crested fireback (Lophura ignita ignita) and greater Bornean crested fireback (Lophura ignita nobilis). These relatively large birds are usually found in pairs on the forest floor, with the males being the more striking in appearance, with their cobalt blue faces and dark metallic blue plumage.
Black-headed pitta (Erythropitta ussheri)
Often considered the jewels of the forest floor, the black –headed pitta is only found across northern parts of Sabah. Favourites of bird photographers thanks to their colourful plumage and inquisitive faces, they are ventriloquial and can also be seen perched on low branches, so make sure you look up as well as scanning the forest floor!
Interested in getting up close and personal with some of Borneo’s brilliant birds?
Call our specialists on 020 3141 2850 for help planning a tailor-made trip.