Northern Thailand lies on the Eastern Asia Flyway, a major flight path for migrating birds. Thailand boasts some 10 percent of the world’s bird species, 380 of which have been recorded in the hills around Chiang Mai. Most of these are migratory birds that have flown south in winter to the warmer climes of Thailand’s forested hills. Steps have been introduced to protect bird habitats under threat from deforestation. But many sites in the north, especially Doi Suthep and Doi Inthanon national parks, still provide a habitat for numerous bird species.
Black-crowned night-herons are nocturnal birds. They have a black crest, nape, and back, whitish underparts, and gray wings. Resident in various countries, they migrate to low altitudes in Northern Thailand.
Red-wattled lapwings, named for the red patch of skin in front of the eye, reside near streams and in open forest. When alarmed they emit a loud, shrill call.
Silver pheasants live at various altitudes, typically over 2,300 ft (700 m). Their red feet and long tail distinguish them from other types of pheasants. They are also bred in captivity to be sold for food – because of their depleted numbers, pheasants are protected.
Pheasant-tailed jacanas have long legs, toes, and claws that enable them to walk on leaves in lowland rivers, foraging for food.
Long-tailed broadbills, so called for their short heavy bill and long tail (unique in broadbills), live at high altitudes in Northern Thailand. They feed on insects, probing for them in trees or catching them while in flight.
Asian paradise flycatchers can be resident or migratory, nesting on upper slopes. The females and immature males have a brown body and a black head. Fully developed males are more stunning in color, with a white tail and a blue beak.
Siberian rubythroats migrate to the upper slopes of Northern Thailand’s evergreen forests. The characteristic red patch on the throat is present only in the male.
Greater racket-tailed drongos are resident at medium-range elevations in Northern Thailand. They feed almost entirely on insects, flying out repeatedly from the same branch, often in small groups. Their long tails are tipped with a vane or “racket” that ripples as the bird flies.
Bird Habitats at Different Altitudes
Deciduous dipterocarp trees clothe the foothills of Northern Thailand. Here, teak forests provide a habitat for kalij pheasants, wagtails, and parakeets, and migratory wetland birds such as herons. Higher up the slopes, bazas, hornbills, hill mynas, and shikes are drawn to mixed evergreen and deciduous forests. Oaks and epiphytic plants, such as ferns, thrive on the hilltops, where arctic warblers, owls, and other small birds live.
Tips for Bird-watching
The best time to see birds is during the “winter” months, from January to April, when resident birds are mating and most migratory species arrive. Avoid the wet season (June–October), when heavy rain and leeches can be a problem.
National park headquarters provide leaflets detailing birdwatching trails. Guided trips can often be arranged.
Take binoculars, plenty of water, insect repellent, and a compass. Try to wear dark green or inconspicuous clothing.
Many birds are shy, so be patient. Walk quietly to avoid rustling leaves, and do not walk straight toward the bird.