Malaysian Birds

Birding Essentials

There are a total of 6 major zoogeographic regions in the world and Malaysia lies within Oriental Region. The Oriental Region includes all of Asia south and east of the Himalayan Mountains (India and South East Asia), as well as southern China and the Islands of Indonesia and the Philippines. Although the Himalayas form a clear boundary with much of the Paleartic region there are some overlapping of species with China where the barriers are not so clearly defined.

Likewise there is some mixing occurring in the south where Indonesia meets the Australasia Region. This particular area is known after the famous English explorer-naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. The Oriental region is mostly tropical and sub-tropical, much of it in rainforest, although there are small areas of dry forest, scrub, savanna, and desert. In future (2009) our company will offer tours to much of the Oriental region including Wallacea in Indonesia. At present we at Bird Malaysia offer bird watching tours to Malaysia mainly because we know this country like the back of our hands so to speak and most importantly pleasurable.

There are a over 720 species recorded in Malaysia and birding in Malaysia is relatively easy, safe, law abiding with English widely spoken throughout the country. It offers a very good range of hotels from grand deluxe to simple home-stays, infrastructure and communication are one of the best in Asia and medical services are of a high standard.

Below is a selection of the birds Malaysia has to offer, namely:

Rails, Swamphens, and Crakes

One of the most widely distributed families of terrestrial birds, this group includes some of our most familiar birds as well as some of our most secretive and difficult to observe species. Most are small to medium size ground dwellers and are distinct thus rather easy to identify in the field. However because of their secretive nature, Rails and Crakes can be difficult and requires patience.

Rails inhabit dense relatively difficult to get wetland vegetation. Usually a sighting involves a brief glimpse as the bird runs. jumps or swim or is accidentally flushed out. Swamphens tend to be less secretive and often frequent open water or reed lands edge, while the White breasted waterhen is often seen at rice paddies as well.

Langkawi is home to a good variety of such birds among them are the Purple Swamphen, White-browed Crake, White-breasted Waterhen, Slaty-breasted Rail, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Watercock, and Common Moorhen.

Bitterns, Herons and Allies

One of the most distinct and most graceful birds families, most species nest colonially, bitterns being the exception ,nightly roosts may contain a few thousands individuals of several species. the various species use several foraging strategies that vary greatly by species. Many stand in or near water and let prey to pass by – usually fish, little snakes, small crustaceans, frogs and other invertebrates. Others walk slowly, perhaps also stirring up the water with their feet to flush out prey while the Cattle Egret follow domestic cattle and Water Buffalo and take the prey that are flushed out by these animals.

Among the common species seen here on Langkawi are the Yellow Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern, Von Schrenck's Bittern, Little heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Purple heron, Grey Heron, Chinese Pond Heron, Javan Pond Heron, Little Egrets, Chinese Egret, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Pacific Egret, and Cattle Egret.

Kingfishers

In general, Kingfishers sit on low perches over water watching for prey below them. their flight are direct and strong with rapid wing beats. There is a great variation in size within the family. most species are solitary except during the breeding season. They are brightly colored birds with both male and female showing similar colors. they inhabit mangrove forest, rice paddies, lakes and rivers and their prey can include fish, frogs, crabs and insects.

Here on the island of Langkawi there are 8 species including the resident Browned-winged Kingfisher, White-collared Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Banded Kingfisher and the winter migrants are Common kingfisher, Black-headed Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher and the passage migrant the Black-backed Kingfisher.

Hornbills

There are 54 species of hornbills in the world confined to Africa and Asia only, of which 33 are in Asia, while here in Malaysia there are 10. These fairly large and magnificent birds are mostly monogamous and will nest in hollows of trees, in which the females will plaster themselves in with regurgitated fruit. Through her confinement her mate will feed her. Being rather large birds, they require large hollows and therefore large trees and vast tracts of rainforest to sustain their population and gene pool.

These birds make ideal biological indicator species for the health of the rainforest. Unfortunately these birds are most threatened with loss of their habitat. Even selective logging may not be enough to protect these magnificent birds most of the larger trees are taken, which are potentially the trees with the ideal sized hollows for nesting.

Some of the best places to see these birds are in the peninsular, in particular Kenyir lake area in the state of Trengganu. There are nine species found within the area and they are quite easy to see, they are the Great Hornbill, Whreathed Hornbill, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Helmeted Hornbill, Black Hornbill, White-crowned Hornbill, Bushy-creasted Hornbill, Wrinkled Hornbill and Oriental Pied Hornbill. One of the most rarest species is the Plain-pouched Hornbill which can be see in just two places on the peninsular namely the Royal Belum Park in the state of Oerak and the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve in the state of Kedah.

The Plain-pouched Hornbill can be seen in very large numbers of over 1000 -2000 individuals around the month of June and July every year. These large congregations are simple and awesome event not to be missed and can be combined with the annual International Bird Race held at Fraser's Hill every year in the country.

Bee-eaters

Bee-eaters are brightly colored birds with long slender beaks. They catch stinging bees, wasp, ants flycatcher like, beating them to remove the venom before eating them. Most nest in burrows in the ground and some are cooperative breeders and live in complex societies. Among the species that we fin here in Malaysia are the Red-bearded Bee-eater, Chestnut-headed bee-eater, Blue-tailed Bee-eater and blue-throated Bee-eater.

Broadbills

If there any bird that was designed by a committee it must be the broad bills because they must be the strangest bird of all. Found throughout the Old World tropics, these birds are stocky, brightly colored with large wide, colorful bills. They occur in a variety of forest and scrub habitats and feed by grabbing insects from foliage or out of the air. Some species are large enough to take large grasshoppers and lizards. Broadbill nest are elaborate, pear shaped bags, camouflaged with many tendrils, plant fibers, spider webs and lichen hanging below them like a beard. They are often hung from an inaccessible vine or branch across an open space or above water.

There are 7 species of Broadbills in Malaysia including the Green Broadbill, Black-and-Red Broadbill, Black-and-Yellow Broadbill, Dusky Broadbill, Silver-breasted Broadbill and Long-tailed Broadbill with the latter 2 species found in the highlands. The best places to see these birds are Fraser's Hill, Maxwell Hill, Taiping, Sedim, Taman Negara and Kenyir Lake.

Pittas

These are secretive birds, stocky birds of the forest floor with long legs and short tails. Many are brightly colored below and cryptic above. Pittas use their heavybills to catch a variety of insects, worms, leeches and snails. They have been observed to frequent the areas where wild pigs have disturbed the ground the night before.

These are difficult birds to observe in the field and to often arrive in many areas to nest during the rainy season. It during these times they are best observe but much care must be made not to disturb it. Some Pittas often seen are Blue-winged Pitta, Mangrove-winged, Banded Pitta, Gurney Pitta and Garnet Pitta with the latter two seen and recorded in Ulu Muda but some of the rest seen in Taman Negara and Langkawi.

Leafbirds and Asian Fairy Bluebird

Leafbirds and Fairy Bulebirds make up the Irenidae, a family of songbirds endemic to the Oriental region. The Leafbirds are Oriole-sized and mostly greenand yellow, feeds mainly on insects and fruit. The one representive of the Bluebird here in Malaysia is the Asian Fairy Bluebird. It is a brilliant blue and black plumage of the males, are slightly larger, feeding mainly on figs, other fruit and insects.

Langkawi is a great place to observe the Asia fairy Bluebird, while for the leafbirds the lowlands and highlands are the best places to find them with good sightings of the Orange-bellied Leafbird and Blue-winged Bluebird at Fraser's Hill and Maxwell Hill. The best locations for Lesser Leafbird, Golden-fronted Leafbird and Greater Green Leafbird found at Taman Negara, Kenyir, Taiping, Ulu Muda and Perlis State Park.

Barbets

Asain barbets are one of just 3 families endemic to the oriental region. they wer once placed in the same family as the African barbets and South American barbets. These are small birds with stout bodies and large head and bills. Many are green with red, blue or yellow markings. It has prominent rictal hairs at the base of its bill and are characteristic of all Barbets, nd give them their common name. They have an unusual toe arrangement in that two toes point forward and two back. All have distinctive calls. Frugivorous and insectivorous lowland rainforests and open and disturb forest, they excavate nest holes in dead trees.

Taiping, Maxwell Hill, Kenyir Lake and Taman Negara are some of the best place to find our barbets. Some commonly observed barbets are Golden-throated Barbet, Black-browed Barbet, Yellow-crowned Barbet, Blue-eared Barbet, Coppersmith Barbet and Brown Barbet.

Ioras

The ioras are one of the three endemic families that occur within the Oriental region. There are only 4 species in the family and in Malaysia we can find 3 species namely the Common Iora, Green iora and Great Iora. The Common Iora can occur up in the highlands as well as the lowlands while the latter two is found mostly in the lowland up to 900 meters. They are small, arboreal songbirds that search leaves and often in dense foliage, for insects. Males of some species perform eloborate courtship displays with vertical leaps and parachuting flights. 

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