Birding in Taiwan


Birding Stories


David Stirling


Macdonald Burbidge













Dr.Rob Butler


Karen Shih


Madelon Schouten



George Clulow


Bill Keay


Simon Liao


Yang Chung-Tse


Allan Ridley


Hue Mackenzie











The Beauties of Birding in Taiwan, November 7–16, 2005

Allan Ridley

San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Taiwan surprised me most with its spectacular mountain ranges. Much of the island consists of steep mountains that rise from the heavily populated, industrial and agricultural west coast region. A number of peaks exceed 18,000 feet, falling off abruptly to the less populated east coast. Our guide kept referring to the “good birds” we would find in our forays into these ranges, which we accessed on winding roads, frequently cut by landslides, the result of a particularly heavy summer typhoon season. Fortunately, large portions of these mountain areas are protected as national forests, national scenic areas, and national parks.


We visited Taiwan for nine days of birding in November 2005 during the “dry season,” when temperatures were very hospitable for this subtropical island. Arriving in the capital city of Taipei at 6:30 a.m., we met our Canadian cohorts, boarded our comfortable small bus, and headed up to the Huisun Forest Station. Our group of 11 eager visitors could not refrain from birding from the moving bus. After all, for many of us every bird was a new species. We spotted a Grey Heron in a roadside rice paddy, Black Drongos on the phone wires, House Swifts over the broad river floodplains, and White-bellied Yuhina in the trees by a rest stop.


At our first official birding stop we were no sooner off the bus than Simon Liao, our very personable and able guide, was calling out “good bird!, very good bird!”— a phrase we came to know well. We were most excited to observe three large blue birds with long, streaming, white-tipped tails dropping across the canyon before us: our first Taiwan endemic, the beautiful and dramatic Formosan Magpie. Exploring further we found the Black-browed (Muller’s) Barbet, a sturdy, robin-sized bird, green with blue, yellow, and red on the head, and a group of the Large-billed (jungle) Crows. Hearing the distinctive, loud call of the Rufous-capped Tree Babbler from a tangle of hanging lianas a few feet before us, with the help of our co-leader and excellent bird spotter, Ten-Di Wu, we pished and smacked and peered into foliage for a good 15 minutes before getting a brief, but satisfying, glimpse of this furtive species. “Good bird!”


Simon Liao, through media friends, had arranged for our group to serve as ambassadors of reason to calm rising hysteria regarding H5N1 avian flu. Reports appearing in the media advised teachers and parents to keep children away from wild birds and to wear protective masks, gloves, and hats while observing wild birds. The extensive press coverage of our trip reflected a growing national concern with the projected avian flu epidemic. Our group of birders from Canada and the United States spent every day seeking wild birds without fear of contracting avian flu. Although no avian flu cases had been discovered in Taiwan at the time of our visit, an outbreak was considered likely due to the location of the island on the coastal Asian migratory flyway. Our group appeared both on television and in the newspapers to inform the Taiwanese that they need not be concerned about avian flu while observing wild birds. The exceptional national interest in our small birding party was a recurrent novelty as we traveled in different regions of Taiwan.


Another one of these regions was the warm, lowland plains of Taiwan’s west coast, cut by streams and estuaries and historically developed into fish ponds and rice paddies. Ducks, herons, egrets, and shorebirds were delightfully abundant on the mudflats, along canal edges, and in agricultural stubble fields. Two days of birding here provided us with excellent opportunities for sorting through the shorebirds. Highlights (among many!) included Asian Dowitcher, Wood and Green Sandpipers, Pheasant-tailed Jacana (in its own preserve), and Crested Serpent-Eagle, plus good views of the elusive, beautifully patterned Greater Painted-snipe.


In Taiwan, as in many countries with rich natural resources, the prospective financial benefits of ecotourism are supporting local interest in and commitment to habitat conservation. On our visit to the Black-faced Spoonbill reserve at Tseng-wen River estuary, we observed a recovered, wintering population of nearly 400 individuals. Through the efforts of the Wild Bird Federation of Taiwan, the Tainan County Government designated the spoonbill wintering grounds an “Important Wildlife Area.” The Tseng-wen Black-faced Spoonbill Reserve, now part of a successful multi-nation conservation plan for the species, is a very popular destination for Taiwanese as well as international visitors.


Our nine days of birding produced a group list of 161 species, which included 10 of the 15 birds endemic to Taiwan, capped by a chance encounter with a small, busy flock of the tiny, but beautiful Taiwan Flamecrest. We enjoyed both the airy solitude of beautiful mountain reserves and the dynamic congestion and colorful nightlife of the cities of Tainan and Taipei. The exciting birding, comfortable accommodations, and exceedingly warm welcome by our Taiwan hosts made this a most memorable trip—and we have yet to explore the wild and scenic east coast of Taiwan. “Good Birds!”


Further details about our trip, including a full species list, excellent bird photographs, and a day-by-day trip report are posted on the informative website of the Taiwan International Birding Association:


Visit Allan Ridley's website on which he has posted some of his photos