Myanmar is mainland Southeast Asia's largest country, with a land area equivalent to that of Texas. North-south, it stretches 2,100km, a distance equal to that between Stockholm and Naples and its extensive land borders are shared with five other countries, Bangladesh, India, China, Lao PDR and Thailand.
Zoographically, it is a meeting point of four sub-regions. Most of the country lies within the Indochinese sub-region (of the Oriental region). However, the Rakhine (Arakan) and Chin Hills in the west form part of the Indian sub-region. The high mountains in the extreme north, with their typically Himalayan species, form part of the Palaearctic region and the forests of the Tanintharyi Division (Tennasserim) in the southeast contain many species with Malesian affinities. This zoogeographical diversity is reflected in the diversity of all organisms, including birds.
Physically, the country can be divided into four elongated north-south regions: the narrow Rakhine Coastal Strip, the Fold Mountain Belt, the Central Belt and the Shan Plateau in the east. Each has its own geological history with the Fold Mountain Belt (Chin Hills and Rakhine Yoma) considered to be a southward extension of the Himalayas and part of a 7000 km mountain chain that includes the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Java and Bali.
The Central Belt is home to the major centres of human population such as Yangon (Rangoon); Mandalay, Bago and Pathein. It was once submerged under an ancient sea known as the Burmese Gulf. Subsequently, the Ayeyarwady (Irrawady); Chindwin and Sittang Rivers have deposited millions of tons of silt on this region. This makes for extremely rich and fertile agricultural land. The Shan Plateau has an average elevation of 950 metres and is dissected by a series of deep and often spectacular gorges. A clearly defined fault line marks its western margin.
The climate is dominated by two sub-continental monsoons. The most important of these is the southwest monsoon which brings the majority of the country's rainfall. It generally lasts from June to October and defines the summer wet season, with the coastal and mountain areas receiving the majority of the rain. The northeast monsoon usually arrives in November and lingers until March. It is not characterised by significant precipitation. November to mid-February is Myanmar's cool season, while March and particularly April and May can be extremely hot.
Myanmar is often considered to be the last frontier of global biodiversity in mainland Asia. This diversity includes over 11000 flowering plants, with 841 species of orchid; 1014 species of butterfly (some 6% of the world's total); 92 species of bat (about 9% of the world's total) and 1017 species of bird, including 137 species shared with the UK. This makes Myanmar one of the most diverse bird faunas per unit area of any country in the world.
Although there is an extensive bird literature for Myanmar, with some 680 references, the vast majority of papers and books were written in the late 19th and first part of the 20th century. Relatively few bird watchers or professional ornithologists have visited the country in the past 50 years and the local bird watching scene is currently underdeveloped. This paucity of recent information offers great opportunities for in-country and international bird watchers alike, as there is an urgent need to revisit many former bird hotspots to reassess the diversity and estimate the population status.
To help the potential birder to chose their site, we have subdivided the country into 8 areas, loosely defined by geography and/or habitat type and climate. These appear in the Top Sites section below…
Parts of this report are extracted from Myanmar (Burma): an illustrated guide to the country and its wildlife by Si Si Hla Bu and Paul Bates; recently published and may be ordered from firstname.lastname@example.org
Ayeyarwady (Irrawady) Delta
Ayeyarwady (Irrawady) Delta is a vast complex of islands and waterways that covers an area equivalent to that of the Netherlands. Its size is constantly increasing, although its natural habitat, including swamp and mangrove forest is under threat from charcoal burners and rice cultivation. The delta includes two wildlife sanctuaries – one primarily for marine turtles, the other for crocodiles. The delta is rich in birds, especially from the end of the rainy season in September-October, when a huge wave of migrants fly south from their breeding sites in Central Asia and Siberia to winter in Myanmar. Many of the waders make their way to the paddy plains, coastal mud flats and tidal creeks of the delta. The delta is also one of the last refuges of the Eastern Sarus Crane.
The Chin Hills, with their cool climate and rich bird fauna of some 200 species the Chin Hills are an excellent place to go bird watching. The open pinewoods are home to a variety of colourful flycatchers as well as the Orange flanked bush robin, Chestnut-vented nuthatch and Fire-tailed sunbird. Black eagles patrol the skies. Rare and endemic birds on Mount Victoria (Natma Taung) include the Spotted wren-babbler, Brown capped Laughingthrush, Black-breasted Parrotbill, Yellow-breasted greenfinch & Myanmar`s most famous endemic, the White-browed nuthatch.
Myanmar has two principal coastal areas – the narrow strip of Rakhine (Arakan) in the west, with its forested hills behind and Tanintharyi (Tennasserim) in the south. Both are extremely beautiful but little explored in recent times. Southern Rakhine, with its exquisite coastline of rocky headlands, long empty beaches and clear blue sea is the most accessible. Much, but not all of Tanintharyi is out of bounds because of the security situation. However, it was formerly described by a British naturalist (A.O. Hume) as a province of the most varied physical configuration… one in which an hour`s walk may take you from the shimmering velvet of the rice plains to the inaccessible precipices of the limestone hills, from the feathery sea of the jungle to the still recesses of the primeval evergreen forests – a province teeming almost without parallel with wild fruit and flowers and insect life, and with an avifauna (birds) worthy of this glorious profusion and this marvellous diversity of physical surroundings.
The Dry Zone is usually associated with an area of central Myanmar, which receives less than 1,275 mm of rain each year. It comprises the plains of the Chindwin, Ayeyarwady and Mu rivers and is bounded by hills in all directions except the south, where it extends as far as Pyay (Prome). Although originally covered with acacia and dry monsoon forest, the area has been cultivated for many hundreds of years. The bird fauna is diverse and the long hot evenings of March and April are punctuated by the stone-on-ice call of the Indian nightjar, whilst the rippling sound of the Burmese barred owlet can be heard at dawn. The skies are patrolled by some of the 63 bird of prey species known from Myanmar, including the White-eyed buzzard eagle and White-backed vulture.
The Shan Plateau is comprised of a vast and complex series of rounded hills and plateaux, interspersed with many dried up depressions of former lakes. It has an average elevation of 950 metres and many spectacular gorges, such as that at Gokteik, and extensive cave systems. The western margin is famous for its hill stations, which offer in summer an opportunity to escape the stifling heat of the plains. These include Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo) and Kalaw. Pyin Oo Lwin was known to have a particularly diverse bird fauna in its oak and chestnut copses, although the current situation is unclear. One of the best areas to see birds is Inle Lake, especially in the winter season when it is home to a large number of migrants.
Teak Forests are Myanmar`s deciduous forests are home to the majority of the world`s teak reserves. These occur predominantly in a wide arc, sandwiched between the central Dry Zone and the mountains of the Rakhine Yoma, Chin Hills and the hills of Sagaing Division and Kachin in the north. One of the best places to see natural teak forest is Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park, which is situated some 180 km west-north-west of Mandalay. It is an area rich in wildlife and was recently described as a magically still, yet intensively alive Eden. To date, eighty bird species have been recorded from Alaungdaw including crested Serpent eagle, Shikra, Great hornbill, Kalij pheasant, Green imperial pigeon and Black-headed woodpecker – one of 40 species of woodpecker known from Myanmar.
Although relatively little visited, the North, which comprises northern Kachin and Sagaing Division, is an area of outstanding natural beauty and wildlife interest. Physically it borders two vast plateaux, the Yunnan to the east and the Tibetan to the north. In the past, extensive snowfields covered much of the area. Even today, there are many glaciers and permanent snow beds in the region, especially adjacent to Myanmar`s highest mountain, Mount Hkakaborazi (5881 metres). The North`s vegetation is dominated by vast areas of broad-leafed evergreen and semi-deciduous rain forest and include many familiar plants, laurels, rhododendrons, magnolias, oaks, willows, cherries and viburnum. A relict alpine flora is present on the highest pinnacles. The forests have an outstanding bird, butterfly and orchid diversity. Over 470 bird species were recorded in the 1930s from Myitkyina district alone and charismatic taxa include Eastern White and Spot-billed pelican, White-winged duck, Asian paradise flycatcher, Mountain Imperial Pigeon and a number of rare and beautiful pheasants.
In and around Yangon (Rangoon) – the best and most accessible site is Moyungyi wetland bird sanctuary. One hundred and twenty kilometers north of Yangon, it is well worth a visit. Bird species include the Spot-billed pelican, the Collared Falconet and many winter migrants.
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 1018
National Bird: Grey Peacock-pheasant (aka Chinquis) Polyplectron bicalcaratum
Number of endemics: 4
Hooded Treepie Crypsirina cucullata White-browed Nuthatch Sitta victoriae White-throated Babbler Turdoides gularis Rusty-capped Fulvetta Alcippe dubia
Fatbirder's very own checklists are now available through WebBirder
* Field Guides & Bird Song
For a comprehensive list of recommended titles covering Asia as a whole - please see the Asia page of Fatbirder
Birds of Southeast Asia
by Craig Robson. Hardcover - 504 pages. January 2000. Princeton University Press
ISBN: 1843307464Buy this book from NHBS.com
List of protected areas in Burma
The following are a list of National parks, wildlife sanctuaries and botanical gardens in Burma…
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
2005 [March] - Ralf Jahraus
This report is based upon a trip taken by Ralf Jahraus together with his wife Erma from 1st March to 25th May 2005. It was mainly a birding trips, combined with family visit on Java (Erma is native from Solo/Java) and some cultural interest. Especially some cultural sites in Myanmar should not be missed…
2011 [December] - Glen Valentine
Our Burmese birding adventure visited the dry, central plains around Bagan, the lush montane forests of Mt. Victoria, the mid-altitude broad-leaved and coniferous forests around Kalaw, the vast Inle Lake and an area of lowland forest around Yangon, scoring every single Burmese endemic species in the process!
2013 [April] - Dave Farrow
…It was a hugely enjoyable affair, and we saw all seven of the Burmese endemics – Hooded Treepie, Jerdon’s Minivet, White-throated Babbler, Burmese Bushlark, White-browed Nuthatch, Burmese Tit and Davison’s Bulbul (the ‘newest’ of the set). We also found six taxa that could be described as near-endemics - Collared Myna, Mount Victoria Babax, Striped and Brown-capped Laughingthrushes, Chin Hills Wren-babbler, and the recently split Buff-breasted Parrotbill…
2013 [January] - Bengt Legnell
… Some of us got to see the main target, the semi endemic (there is also a small population on the Thai side of the border) Burmese Yuhina. Other nice birds here were; 2 Bluebearded Bee-eaters, 2 Speckled Piculets, 4 Grey-capped Woodpeckers, 2 Slenderbilled & 4 Maroon Orioles, 3 Japanese Tits, 10 Red-vented, 2 Ashy, 10 Black & 5 Mountain Bulbyls…
2013 [January] - Peter Collaerts
…For a few of the specialities like Spotted Wren-Babbler and Spot-breasted Scimitar- Babbler, our guide only seemed to know one place. On these places, the birds were not responsive anymore, probably because of frequent use of soundrecordings in the past. The guide was not really looking for them anymore after we left the only place he knew. It was only due to our own initiative, that we found them on other places….
2013 [March] - Craig Robson
…We saw all eight potentially recognised endemics: Hooded Treepie, Jerdon’s Minivet, White-browed Nuthatch, Davison’s Bulbul (an upcoming split from Stripe-throated), Burmese Tit, White-throated Babbler, Mount Victoria Babax (a split from Chinese), and Burmese Bushlark…
2013 [November] - Erik Forsyth
…We enjoyed the remainder of the morning traversing the area around the Sitsana Temple in search of the four dry-country Burmese endemics plus a host of other good birds and our foray turned up several White-throated Babblers (our first endemic), hordes of Vinous- breasted Starlings, flight views of a single Rain Quail, the endemic Burmese Bush Lark, Pied Bush Chat, Zitting Cisticola, Jungle Myna and Crested (Oriental) Honey Buzzard….
2014 [December] - Frank Lambert
...These included great looks at Mrs Hume’s Pheasant, Brown-capped, Striped and Assam Laughingthrushes, Grey Sibia, Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Chin Hills Wren Babbler, Spot-breasted Parrotbill and Black-bibbed Tit..
2014 [March] - Craig Robson
…During our seventh tour to this amazingly bird-rich country, we saw all eight potentially recognised endemics: Jerdon’s Minivet, Hooded Treepie, Burmese Bush Lark, Davison’s Bulbul (an upcoming split from Stripe- throated), Burmese Bushtit, White-throated Babbler, Mount Victoria Babax (a split from Chinese), and White- browed Nuthatch. We also found six species that could be described as near endemics: Chin Hills Wren- Babbler, Striped and Brown-capped Laughingthrushes, Buff-breasted Parrotbill (split from Black-throated). Burmese Yuhina, and Collared Myna…
Guides & Tour Operators
Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…
Rockjumper Birding Tours
Myanmar is an ornithologically little explored nation that supports a wealth of endemic and range-restricted species. Our tour visits several key sites, including exploring the countries’ unique dry zone habitat for the four bird species endemic to region.
Our tour service has run the business for 15 years. We are also well known to local media as Thailand’s leading television programs, radio programs, and newspapers continuously request to conduct the interviews and make news scoops with us. Bird watchers and bird photographers from all around the world; whether private tour, group tour, tour agency, including leading international birdwatching tour operators also decided to use our tour service….
Birdwatching by boat: Yangon - Myitkyina - Bhamo…
Checklist - Birds of Myanmar
Harrison Institute – Myanmar Expeditions
Myanmar - regular expeditions for research and reconnaissance expedition to the western margins of the Shan Plateau with an optional extension to dolphin watch whilst travelling through the gorges and plains of the Ayeyarwady River. This expedition offers a hands on experience of working with wildlife as we visit the bat caves of the marble mountains of Mogok - famous for its ruby mines - and the forests of the nearby wildlife sanctuary of Shwe-U-Daung - described as an area scenically almost unequalled in Burma. En route we will visit Mandalay home of a great Burmese kingdom and stay in the British Raj hill station at Maymyo.
For bargain-hunters, Myanmar may be one of the best birding values around -- in dollars and in birds to view. Stretching from the Chinese border on the north to the Andaman Sea on the south, Thailand and Laos to the east and India and the Indian Ocean to the west, habitats run the gamut of mountains, forests, plains, dry zones, river deltas. I have visited Myanmar for the past two years and plan to go again as soon as my schedule will allow…