Birds to look out for

For visiting birders, the birds of most interest will be the endemic species. For this reason, expanded accounts are provided in the text. In the case of a few highly sought after but ‘difficult to see’ birds such as the Ceylon Spur-fowl, details on the best places to see them are given in the text. The sections on the endemics are drawn heavily drawn from an unpublished manuscript  on finding the endemic birds. A carefully timed and planned itinerary with a local bird tour leader may succeed in seeing or hearing all of the endemics in as little as a week!

The island has a large number of endemic races (subspecies). Most are distinguished from the mainland forms by subtle differences such as wing length that are often not apparent in the field. There are, however, a number of races that are distinguishable in the field and are of particular interest to the birder as there is potential for some of them to be elevated to full species status. The birder is advised to pay attention to the following distinct races.

  • Common Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx varius ciceliae
  • Indian Blackbird Turdus simillimus kinnisii
  • Ashy Prinia Prinia socialis brevicauda
  • Jungle Prinia (Large Prinia) Prinia sylvatica valida
  • Tawny-bellied Babbler Dumetia hyperythra phillipsi
  • Dark-fronted Babbler Rhopocichla atriceps siccata and Rhopocichla atriceps nigirifrons
  • Yellow-billed Babbler (Southern Common Babbler) Turdoides affinis taprobanus
  • Black-throated Munia Lonchura kelaarti kelaarti


Threatened Species

To highlight the perilous state of many of the resident birds, the threat category has been shown based on Thilo Hoffmann’s Threatened Birds of Sri Lanka: A National Red Data List (1998). Hoffmann identified two threat categories. The category used in this book is what he considered as the threat category by the strict application of criteria laid by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). An empirical threat category employed by him often places the same bird in a less severe threat status. The threat category is in the context of a bird’s distribution in Sri Lanka.

For a country with a reasonable number of amateur birdwatchers surprisingly few quantitative surveys have been undertaken. The lack of monitoring may mask the actual decline of many species.

What will you see?

The birds you see at a given place will be determined by the type of habitat or habitats the site has to offer. A national park like Ruhuna (Yala) and Bundala will often comprise a mixture of habitats comprising wetlands, lakes, dry scrub, grassland and rivers. A day’s birding may yield over a hundred species. A rain forest like Sinharaja may throw up far fewer species, but they are likely to be more special. If you encounter a good mixed feeding flock, half a dozen endemics and a dozen other birds may be seen. To illustrate the diversity of bird life at different sites, actual examples of birds seen on field visits by the main author are reproduced below:

Uda Walawe National Park

dry zone scrub, grassland and lakes. The park is in the dry lowlands of Sri Lanka and comprises a varied mix of grassland, scrub jungle, tall forest and lakes. The list below is from a visit in April. A birdwatching trip could result in over a hundred species in a day, treble the list below.

Spot-billed Pelican, Little Cormorant, Indian Pond Heron, Intermediate Egret, Painted Stork, Woolly-necked Stork, Black-winged Kite, Whitebellied Sea-eagle, Grey-headed Fish-eagle, Crested Serpent-eagle, Indian Peafowl, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Black-winged Stilt, Whiskered Tern, Green Imperial-pigeon, Spotted Dove, Little Swift, Crested Treeswift, Common Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Black-capped Kingfsher, Little Green Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Coppersmith Barbet, Black-rumped Flameback, Jerdon’s Bush Lark, Brown Shrike, Black-headed Oriole, Common Myna, Indian Jungle Crow, Small Minivet, Red-vented Bulbul, Tawny- bellied Babbler, Yellow-eyed Babbler, White-browed Fantail, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Zitting Cisticola, Common Tailorbird, Oriental Magpie-robin, Indian Robin and Grey-headed Wagtail.

Talangama Lake

wet zone, suburban wetland Talangama Lake is a beautiful wetland on the outskirts of Colombo with great potential as an urban nature reserve. The list below is based on a late morning visit in December.

Lesser Whistling-duck, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Oriental White-eye, Indian Pygmy Woodpecker, Black-rumped Flameback, Asian Palmswift, Intermediate Egret, Yellow Bittern, Indian Shag, Little Cormorant,

Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Little Grebe, Pintail Snipe, Blackwinged Stilt, Black-headed Ibis, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Indian Pond Heron, White-breasted Waterhen, Purple Heron, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, White-browed Bulbul, Ashy Woodswallow and Brahminy Kite.

Morapitiya – lowland rain forest

Morapitiya is a tract of rain forest that adjoins the better known Sinharaja Man and Biosphere Reserve. A few species such as Ashyheaded Laughingthrush are confined to good quality rain forest. The visit was in January when forest migrants such as Brown-breasted Flycatcher were present.

Degraded habitat comprising a mixture of mature Jak trees, tea, abandoned paddy, rubber with pockets of secondary forest. Square-tailed Black Bulbul, White-bellied Drongo, Lesser Hill-myna, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Ceylon Small Barbet, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Green Imperial-pigeon, White-breasted Waterhen, Ceylon Hangingparrot, Brown-headed Barbet, Greater Coucal, Black-headed Oriole, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Yellow-billed Babbler, Black-rumped Flameback, Ceylon Grey Hornbill, Brown-capped Babbler, Black-capped Bulbul, Ceylon Swallow, Brown Shrike, Common Iora, Emerald Dove and Indian Swiftlet.

Good secondary forest Pied Flycatcher-shrike, Dark-fronted Babbler, Malabar Trogon, Greenbilled Coucal, Ceylon Crested Drongo, Ceylon Blue Magpie, Ceylon Spurfowl (heard), Orange Minivet, Crested Serpent-eagle, Brownbreasted Flycatcher, Ashy-headed Laughing-thrush, Ceylon Rufous Babbler and Ceylon Scimitar-babbler.


Sourced from published literature