Vanuatu, formerly known as the New Hebrides, is a Melanesian island nation in the southwest Pacific Ocean with about a dozen significant islands and many smaller islands extending between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. It is a faunal crossroads where the three main streams (Papuan, Australian and Polynesian) of colonisation in southwest Pacific birds meet. With about 121 species recorded, Vanuatu does not have a great number of birds but it is a unique and little known region. Vanuatu and the Santa Cruz islands are an Endemic Bird Area. Vanuatu has 21 Restricted Range Species and isolation has led to the development of 9 endemics. Vanuatu hosts 11 Globally Threatened Birds, 7 of these are resident and one, the Santa Cruz Ground-Dove Gallicolumba santaecrusis, is endangered. Vanuatu also has 4 near threatened birds. There is some upside potential in the Vanuatu list – seabirds and shorebirds have been mostly overlooked.
Vanuatu is situated on the western leading edge of the Pacific tectonic plate. Most of the islands are formed from the summits of volcanic mountain ranges rising from the ocean floor and many are less than three million years old. Volcanic activity and uplift continue to change the landscape. Heavy rainfall, exceeding 2000 millimetres a year, leads to the erosion of steep mountain valleys and, on some islands, gorges. Vanuatu's islands are typically mountainous and rugged. The biggest island, Espiritu Santo covers 3900 square kilometres and rises to 1879m above sea level. Vanuatu's climate ranges from wet tropical in the north to sub tropical in the south. The hottest and wettest months are November to April and this is also the season for Tropical Cyclones.
Vanuatu is mostly covered by forest. Evergreen tropical forest is found in the lowlands and hills on the windward sides of the islands. Semi-deciduous forests, fire induced savannahs and grasslands may be found on the drier leeward slopes. Evergreen cloud forests grow on the high mountains. Vanuatu's coasts are mostly rocky and exposed and there are only a few sheltered estuaries. Its flora and terrestrial fauna have fewer species than neighbouring countries which indicates the isolation and young age of the islands. On the other hand, the coral reefs and inshore waters support a very rich marine fauna.
There's very little bird watching going on in Vanuatu today and no specialist tour operators in the country. In Vanuatu you have to find you own birds and there are many unknown sites and other discoveries waiting. Birding on oceanic islands is different to continental birding. Populations of terrestrial birds on different islands are isolated to some extent which results in irregular distributions and changes in habitat preferences between islands. The central islands are more bird rich and several species do not occur south of Efate. Smaller islands have less habitat diversity and support fewer number of bird species.
Duviara Conservation Area - Ambae
Set up in 1996, Duviara Conservation Area reserves 26 hectares of Ambae's cloud forest. It's small but there are large expanses of similar, untouched forest around Ambae's summit. Compared to west Santo, Duviara presents a relatively easy opportunity to experience Vanuatu's cloud forest and see some montane bird species. The crater lakes in the summit caldera are also worth a visit.
Loru Rainforest Protected Area - Santo
The Loru Rainforest Protected Area covers 220 hectares of lowland rainforest on the east coast of Vanuatu's largest island of Santo. It is one of the last areas of representative forest on the east of the island. Loru is not well known and often overlooked by visiting birdwatchers. Compared to Vatthe Conservation Area, also on Santo, it's relatively easy and inexpensive to visit with similar forest birding. Loru's guide, Kalsakau Ser knows the bird names and is experienced in looking after bird people.
Nagha mo Pineia Protected Area - Northwest Malekula
Nagha mo Pineia Protected Area conserves the natural resources of more than 1000 hectares of lowland and hill forest and coastline on northwest Malekula. The diverse range of habitats in this conservation area include savannah, thickets, semi-deciduous forests and, at higher elevations, rainforests. The diverse range of habitats supports many different bird species.
Vatthe Conservation Area, Big Bay - Santo
The Vatthe Conservation Area protects 2,276 hectares of lowland alluvial rainforest located at the southern end of Big Bay on the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. Vatthe is a good habitat for lowland rainforest birds and Vanuatu's largest river, the Jordan River, runs through it. It's said that something like 80% (around 60) of Vanuatu's land and freshwater bird species have been recorded at Vatthe.
Wantok Environment Centre, Santo, Vanuatu
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 139
Number of endemics: 9
Vanuatu Scrubfowl Megapodius layardi Chestnut-bellied Kingfisher Todiramphus farquhari Tanna Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus tannensis Baker`s Imperial-Pigeon Ducula bakeri New Hebrides Honeyeater Phylidonyris notabilis Buff-bellied Monarch Neolalage banksiana Mountain Starling Aplonis santovestris Yellow-fronted White-eye Zosterops flavifrons Royal Parrotfinch Erythrura regia
Fatbirder's very own checklists are now available through WebBirder
Birds of Melanesia: Bismarcks, Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia
By Guy Dutson | 447 pages | 75 colour plates | colour photos | colour maps | black & white illustrations | tables | Christopher Helm | Softcover | 2011
ISBN: 9780713665406Buy this book from NHBS.com
Field Guide to the Birds of the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
by Chris Doughty, Nicholas Day & Andrew Plant Softcover. A&C Black, 1999.
ISBN: 071364690XBuy this book from NHBS.com
Guides & Tour Operators
Local birders willing to show visiting birders their area…
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.
2006 [11 November] - Dave Sargeant
The expanding itinerary of this trip resulted from a mixture of opportunity, timing, weather and, most importantly, both international and domestic flight schedules…
2010 [02 February] - Duan Biggs
My visit was a sight-seeing trip to my first Pacific island and live volcano (Mt Yassur on Tanna) as well as to find as many of the endemics as possible. Efate, particularly the area around Villa is well developed….
2011 [09 September] - Phil Gregory
2012 [09 September] - Phil Gregory
…we saw one of the P & O cruise ships in port and had a look at the market, ate lunch at a very nice little local cafe, and did some birding up in the hills beyond the waterfall where we found Tanna Fruit Dove and the Vanuatu White-eye as our first endemics…
2013 [09 September] - Phil Gregory - New Caledonia, Fiji & Vanuatu
…The flight schedules left us with a 6-hour layover in Port Vila, so I again hired a van at the airport, and we had an exploration of the town- we saw one of the huge P & O cruise ships in port and had a look at the market, ate lunch at a nice little local cafe, and did some birding up in the hills beyond the waterfall where we found Tanna Fruit Dove and the Vanuatu White-eye as our first endemics, and had my first Vanuatu Peregrine with a pair flying over…
2015 [07 July] - K. David Bishop - Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu & New Caledonia
...we were warmly welcomed and after whiling away time by enjoying fine views of our first Collared Kingfisher, a very confiding Red-bellied Fruit Dove and our first Vanuatu White-eye, we discovered the girls had prepared a very respectable luncheon on the clubhouse verandah.
Places to Stay
Our aim is to promote low impact tourism that will contribute in a positive way to the lives of rural people in Vanuatu and encourage sound natural resource stewardship…
Bokissa Nature Reserve
Bokissa's nature reserve includes the entire coral reef shelf surrounding the island. Coral reef researchers say that the Bokissa reef is the best developed, most accessible coral reef complex in Vanuatu…
Loru Conservation Area
Loru Rainforest Protected Area covers 220 hectares of beautiful and pristine lowland rainforest, located on the island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, in the Western Pacific…
Vatthe Conservation Area
The Vatthe Conservation Area is located at the southern end of Big Bay, on the island of Santo in Vanuatu. It is a 2,276 hectare area of lowland alluvial rainforest owned by the villages of Sara and Matantas and managed by the Vanuatu Environment Unit. The Vatthe Conservation Area Project (CAP) was initiated in 1994…
Wantok Environment Centre
The Wantok Environment Centre (WTEC) is a national environmental non-government organisation incorporated in Vanuatu as a charitable association. Its mission is the care and protection of Vanuatu's natural environment, recognising its importance for all forms of life, for present and future generations and in the sustainable development of the country.
Photographers & Artists
Photographer - Sarah Koschak
Gallery with some truly stunning photographs…