Bird watching in Nepal is an astounding opportunity to see some of the rarest birds in the world. While some areas in Nepal are known to provide easier views of birds, others are not as easily accessible or convenient. The bird watching in Nepal suits both types of bird watchers; those who are sort in time as well as those who aren’t.
There are numerous bird-watching areas in Nepal, explored and unexplored, protected and unprotected, convenient and non-convenient. This is precisely what brings birdwatchers from around the world to Nepal – the chance to explore remote areas for birdwatching. There is a possibility of new discoveries in every forest, grassland, and rocky mountain all over Nepal. Over the last 10 years, 11 new bird species and two new subspecies have been discovered in Nepal. BirdLife International through Bird Conservation Nepal has identified 27 Important Bird Watching Areas in Nepal, some of the most important and accessible are listed below:
Shivapuri National Park is one of the densely forested areas in the Kathmandu valley. The park has several entry points, the closest in Kathmandu is the army checkpoint at Gairigaon, north of the Budhanilkantha Temple. The park shelters around 318 species of bird. The high number of bird count is not the only reason for bird watching in Shivapuri. The relatively unexplored forests, especially the northern side opens up to the potential for discovering new species in Shivapuri making is one of the important bird watching destinations within Kathmandu.
The forest is a sanctuary to three of the restricted-range bird species: the Spiny Babbler, (Nepal’s only endemic bird), the Hoary-throated Barwing and the White-throated Tit. The park has diverse vegetation; the lower slopes are now reduced to scrub, the upper slopes are covered in temperate forests. This diversity is reflected in the species of birds in the area, which includes the Hill Partridge, Mountain Scops Owl, Great Barbet, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, Kalij Pheasant, Nepal Fulvetta, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, and Grey-winged Blackbird.
Birds of prey include various eagles, and a variety of robins, warblers and laughing thrushes. Two globally threatened birds, the White-rumped Vulture and Hodgson’s Bushchat can also be observed at the Shivapuri national park.
Shivapuri is a delight to all bird watchers who have an eye for exploration. A ‘must visit’ for bird watchers.
Perhaps the most well-known recommended and visited bird watching destination around Kathmandu- Phulchowki is located in the southeast of the city. The forests in Phulchowki cover the upper slopes of the Phulchowki hill, the lower slopes and extends into the Godavari.
Phulchowki holds a great density of birds counting to around 300 species. Thus, one can observe the highest number of birds in a single day from this place.
Although its vegetation composition is similar to the other forests in the valley, Phulchowki is widely regarded as the best place to observe birds locally. As per Nepali ornithologists, birds are easier to spot at Phulchowki than anywhere else around the valley.
Rufous gorgeted flycatcher
Bird watchers in Phulchowki will get to observe a wide species of birds such as the Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Yellow-browed Tit, Greater Yellownape, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Nepal Cutia, Ultramarine Flycatcher, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Red-billed Leiothrix, Whiskered Yuhina, Besra, Bronzed and Racket-tailed Drongos, and Black-winged Cuckooshrike.
Other species include various types of warblers, babblers, and thrushes. One can also spot different eagle and vulture species, such as the White-rumped Vulture, the Slender-billed Vulture, and the Cinereous Vulture. One can also see Blue-naped Pitta, one of the rare birds in the area. Occasionally, Spectacled Finch, a passage migrant, also appears around this place.
Sometimes during winter, it snows on Phulchowki hill which results in an altitudinal migration of many birds to the lower slopes.
Phulchowki is an exciting and time-saving bird-watching destination in Nepal within Kathmandu valley.
Godavari Botanical Gardens
The Godavari Botanical Gardens, situated at the foot of Phulchowki is a site well suited for bird watchers who hate climbing hills. The garden contains exotic local flora, making it something close to the ‘Garden of Dreams’ for birds and bird watchers alike.
The Godavari area is a popular picnic location. Thus, during weekends and public holidays, this place is crowded, reducing the chance of seeing timid birds. So, it's advisable to visit during working days in order to observe birds in their habitat.
In and around the Godavari, the same species of birds on the lower slopes of the Phulchowki hills can be observed. Besides, Flocks of Tibetan Serins are common around the Godavari during winter.
West of Phulchowki is Bajrabarahi, a 20-hectare forest of broad-leafed trees. It is a popular religious site, but lesser-known as a bird-watching site. The area shelters 40 species of birds, including the Asian Barred Owlet, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Spot-bellied Eagle Owl, Chestnut-tailed Starling, and the Steppe and Bonelli’s Eagles. The Lesser Kestrel is a rare species of the area. Bhattedanda, about eight kilometers south of Bajrabarahi, can be included in the day’s bird watching.
A perfect getaway from the hectic city and regular tourist spots, Taudaha is the only natural lake in the Kathmandu valley. Taudaha Lake, right on the foothills of Chobhar holds religious and mythological importance in Nepal.
Situated near Kathmandu, its proximity to the capital city makes it a very popular destination for worshippers, families, young couples seeking privacy. Besides, it is a migratory bird haven perfect for birdwatchers. The lake is a stopover for numerous migratory bird species such as cormorants, Ruddy Shelduck, Serpent eagle, common teal. During December- January birds fly to Taudaha as far as from Siberia. The common coots are found throughout the year.
The Nagarjun hill forms the northwestern boundary of Kathmandu valley. The forests of Nagarjun a former royal retreat therefore was and remains a protected area. While the slopes facing the city have sparse forests, its northwestern slopes still contain dense forests that are less explored and makes for the great bird-watching destination. The area does not hold as many species as the other hilly areas in the Kathmandu valley, but it's unexplored areas most probably hold great surprises.
The Nagarjun area hosts birds such as the Maroon Oriole, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Northern Eagle Owl, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Long-tailed Mountain Thrush, Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater, and Eurasian Woodcock. The Brown Wood Owl has also been spotted here.
The slopes facing the city are ideal for a couple of hours of bird watching. If one wants to explore the area more thoroughly, an entire day is needed. The area can be covered on foot, though motorways are also present.
Other Notable Bird Watching Sites around Kathmandu
Kathmandu is well known for its bird watching areas of national importance. But, nowhere else in Nepal is the conflict between humans and birds escalating at such a harrowing rate. As the forests shrink, the concrete jungle grows. Despite the scenario, few forests still remain intact, providing shelter to the rare birds within the valley.
Rani Bari is a small forest located between Samakhushi and Lazimpat. It is one of the last remaining forests within the city. Previously, Nepal Bird Watching Club used to bring people on bird watching trips thus this patch of forest survived. While the area does not receive much birdwatching visitors, the area still retains a considerable number of bird species such as warblers and eagles. Occasionally, thrushes can also be seen during their migration.
Among the best refuges for birds are in the vicinity of religious sites. The forests in the Pashupatinath area, though anything but near their former sprawling self, are worth a visit. The Swayambhunath area also draws a good number of birds. The large pigeon population attracts birds of prey such as the Peregrine Falcon.
The Gokarna forests also offer something more leisurely – golf. If you cannot sink a birdie’ at golf, you can seek solace in the birds of the surrounding forest. Relinquishing the golf club for a pair of binoculars may provide a glimpse of the Lesser Yellownape, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Long-tailed Minivet, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Ashy Wood Pigeon and the Brown Fish and Brown Wood Owls.
The Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is an assortment of habitats; its 17,500 hectares of the area include grasslands or phantas, riparian vegetation, ox-bow lakes, marshes, and sparse forests. To its south is the Koshi Barrage area, a seven-kilometer by five-kilometer strip of land, more than half of which is covered in water. In 1987 the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve became the first protected wetland in Nepal under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands signed at Ramsar, Iran in 1971.
The Koshi Tappu and Koshi Barrage areas are of international significance for birds and birders alike. More than 170 species of birds can be seen there in a single day. The largest heronry in Nepal was recorded from the area, comprising of nearly 26,000 nests of 12 species of waders. There are records of 20 globally threatened species from the area in which 11 of them visit the area frequently. The area’s reputation as a bird haven is further supported by the fact that it shelters 13 of Nepal’s 22 near-threatened bird species among which 8 of these are wetland birds.
A large number of Nepal’s birds, especially the ones in the country’s threatened list, are found in the lowlands. 55 percent of the country’s threatened species are found in the lowlands, within the altitudinal range of 75 to 1000 meters.
A single day’s bird count conducted in February of 2003 recorded an astonishing 9,800 birds. The total bird species in the area add up to 485. The Baer’s and Ferruginous Pochards, Bengal and Lesser Floricans, Black-bellied Tern, Indian Skimmer, Pallas’s and Grey-headed Fish Eagles, White-tailed, Indian Spotted, Greater Spotted, and Imperial Eagles, four species of vultures, Pallid Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Laggar Falcon, Darter, Black-headed Ibis, Black-necked Stork, Greater and Lesser Adjutants, Spot-billed Pelican, Hodgson’s Bushchat, Bristled Grassbird and Yellow-vented Warbler are a few names on the area’s bird roster. The Swamp Francolin, a globally endangered species has its highest numbers in this conservation area.
A week-long Bird Festival is organized annually by the people living around the reserve, commencing on the 2nd of February, which is the International Wetlands Day. During the festival, indigenous cultural programs are organized along with bird watching trips that are free of cost for everyone, including tourists.
The Chitwan National Park is the country’s first national park, established in 1973 which covers an area of 972km2. The park’s vegetation is mainly comprised of Sal (Shorea robusta), a hardwood tree, small areas of grasslands, tropical and pine forests.
The national park is a sanctuary to about 59% of threatened species of Nepali birds, whose existence depends on the survival of the forests. More than half of Nepal’s total bird species are found in Chitwan, which provides shelter to around 540 species of birds. This number includes approximately two-thirds of the country’s globally threatened bird species.
The endangered grassland species, the Bengal Florican is a resides in Chitwan. Likewise, The Grey-crowned Prinia, Slender-billed Babbler and the Lesser Adjutant also inhabit the Chitwan grasslands. To this date, Chitwan National park is the only place where one of the rare birds- Slender-billed Babbler is found and is believed to shelter the largest population of this species in the Indian subcontinent.
Similarly, The Indian Spotted Eagle, an endangered species breeds in Chitwan. In addition, the park also contains 15 out of 22 Nepal’s near-threatened bird species which is the highest recorded until now. It includes Ferruginous Pochard, Great Hornbill, Black-bellied Tern, Grey-headed and Lesser Fish Eagles, White-tailed Eagle, Cinereous and Red-headed Vultures, Pallid Harrier, Laggar Falcon, Darter, Painted and Black-necked Storks, Rufous-rumped Grassbird and Yellow-breasted Bunting. Other birds include Sarus Crane, Bengal, and Lesser Floricans, Indian Skimmer, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Jerdon’s Babbler and curlews. The Bar-headed Goose, a trans-Himalayan migrant, is also occasionally seen near the Narayani river.
Thus, Chitwan National Park was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983. Some of the birds observed during the Chitwan wildlife tour are found nowhere else in Nepal. Due to the largest tract of lowland forest in the country and the exceptionally high number of birds, Chitwan is a bird haven for all birdwatchers.
Pokhara, a half-day’s drive west of Kathmandu, is a popular bird-watching destination. The Pokhara valley’s numerous lakes and forests offer a chance to witness diverse species of birds. The valley’s proximity to the highlands to its north, its location in a valley lower than that of Kathmandu combined with its many large lakes attracts birds found both in the lowlands and highlands, as well as migrants seeking water bodies.
The forests in the western and southern ends of the Phewa Lake are rich in birdlife. The regularly seen species in these forests include Besra, Kalij Pheasant, Ashy Bulbul, Black-backed Forktail, Puff-throated Babbler, Red-billed Leiothrix, Crimson Sunbird, Maroon Oriole, Red-thighed Falconet, Spiny, and White-browed Scimitar-Babblers, Red-billed and Green Magpies.
In the winters the area is visited by Long-tailed Mountain Thrush, Chestnut-headed and Grey-bellied Tesia, Chestnut-crowned Warbler and Snowy-browed Flycatcher. The lake is occupied by wintering and passage migrant ducks like Falcated Duck and Goldeneye. The nearby Naudanda area is one of the best areas for observing vultures in the country, which includes Himalayan Griffons, and Red-headed and Eurasian Black Vultures.
Pokhara is a gateway to the most popular destination for trekkers in Nepal – the Annapurna region. This hill and mountain in this region was protected in 1986 and is now widely known as the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACAP).
The ACAP is often regarded as the richest reserve of biodiversity in the world. The area includes the Kali Gandaki Valley, which is taken as an avian dividing line between two Himalayan regions, the east and the west. A trek north from Pokhara takes you to the Annapurna Sanctuary, a basin of the Modi River. The area is covered with sub-tropical and temperate forests, which is home to rare birds such as Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Golden Babbler, Golden-breasted Fulvetta and Fulvous Parrotbill. Lammergeier and Himalayan Griffon Vultures can also be seen soaring in the Annapurna region.
The area is home to a total of 486 bird species. The Cheer Pheasant- (one of the eight globally threatened species), Satyr Tragopan and the Yellow-rumped Honeyguide inhabit this region. Some other near-threatened birds include Ferruginous Pochard, Pallid Harrier, Red-headed and Cinereous Vultures. Likewise, a good number of six restricted-range species from the Western and Central Himalayan Endemic Bird Area, the Spiny Babbler, Nepal Wren-Babbler, and the Hoary-throated Barwing also reside here. It is the only place in Nepal where the Spectacled Finch is seen during winter.
The Kali Gandaki Valley in the northwestern part of ACAP is visited by 40 migrant species on the way to their winter home in India every year. The Demoiselle Crane was also spotted in the area. Large numbers of birds of prey, over 8,000 individuals of 20 species have been recorded in a single season in this region. The two locations, Khare on the southern edge and Upper Kali Gandaki on the east, identified as internationally important raptor migration sites in Nepal are also located within the ACAP.
Similarly, ACAP is the only protected area in Nepal where all six species of Nepal’s Himalayan pheasant are found. The small Pipar Pheasant Reserve on the forested south slopes of Machapuchare peak (visible from Pokhara) is widely known as prime Himalayan pheasant habitat, perfect for birdwatchers keen to observe these majestic beauties.
Langtang and Gosainkund
The Langtang National Park is another major area that protects bird species of the Himalayan temperate forests. Langtang is also the breeding shelter for a globally threatened bird species- The Wood Snipe. This area is also inhibited by different species birds such as Satyr Tragopan, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Nepal Wren-Babbler, Hoary-throated Barwing, Pallid Harrier, Red-headed and Cinereous Vultures, Great Spotted and Imperial Eagles.
Gosainkund in the Langtang National Park also doubles as a trekking destination and a bird-watching area. Gosainkunda flaunts birds such as Lammergeier, Snow Partridge, Himalayan Monal, Smoky Warbler, as well as choughs and finches. In summer, this trekking area receives visitors such as the Rosy Pipit, Altai and Alpine Accentors and Golden Bush-Robin.
Related tour package: 10-days Langtang valley trek
Bardia and Suklaphanta
Bardia National Park and Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in the western Terai are well noted for their population of grassland and forest bird species. Bardia National Park shelters 426 species of birds while Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve has 373 species. Both of these protected areas conserve large stretches of grasslands. The survival of some of the world’s endangered grassland birds, like the Bengal Florican, depends upon the survival of the grasslands in these two areas.
Suklaphanta holds the world’s largest population of Bengal Florican and is the only regular winter shelter for Hodgson’s Bushchat. These two areas are also important places for Swamp Francolin, Ferruginous Pochard, Great Hornbill, Sarus Crane, Lesser Florican, Black-bellied Tern, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Grey-headed and Lesser Fish Eagles, White-tailed, Indian Spotted, Great Spotted, and Imperial Eagles, Darter, Painted and Black-necked Storks, Rufous-rumped Grassbird, Jerdon’s Babbler and Finn’s Weaver.
The appealing spectrum of bird watching lies in the fact that it goes well with other activities such as wildlife safari, pilgrimages and trekking are some that go well with bird watching. Contact us for birdwatching combined with other sightseeing activities. We specialize in customized and responsible tours anywhere within Nepal.
Ref: (ECS (2010) Birdwatching in Nepal, BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet, IBISBILL(2013) Journal of Himalayan Ornithology, and BCN(2010) the state of Nepal’s birds.)