Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe

Sao Tome Scops Owl Otus hartlaubi ©Pete Morris Website
Birding Sāo Tomé & Principe

The Gulf of Guinea islandsNestling in the armpit of Africa the four islands of Bioko, Príncipe, São Tomé and Annobón have been virtually ignored by birders and have been the preserve of expeditions and the more ambitious bird-tour companies. This is surprising given that the islands offer some of Africa’s most spectacular scenery and, although you will not see hundreds of species, the number of endemics is truly impressive – 26 on São Tomé and Príncipe alone. These range from the incredible Giant Sunbird through to the São Tomé Short-tail, a bird unlike any other with its own genus. Several species, including the Dwarf Olive Ibis, São Tomé Fiscal Shrike and São Tomé Grosbeak have been seen by less than ten living birders! However with a bit of adventure these species may be seen in the remote southwestern forests of São Tomé. Coupled with the birds the people are amongst the friendliest in Africa, the scenery is spectacular and the many beaches are wonderful. It is an ideal place to spend some time.

Geography and BiodiversityThese volcanic islands form a line of extinct volcanoes, starting with Annobón in the southwest and reaching up northeastwards to Mount Cameroon and beyond. The two middle islands in the chain, São Tomé and Príncipe, form the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe. Bioko, the biggest island and the closest to mainland, and Annobón, the smallest and more inaccessible, are part of Equatorial Guinea.

Bioko is part of the continental shelf and was only isolated from the mainland 11,000 years ago. It has, therefore, a rich fauna and flora of continental origin, but low levels of bird endemism although for it size it has one of the highest diversity of primates in the world. Príncipe, São Tomé and Annobón are oceanic islands and have never been connected to mainland or to each other. Their fauna and flora having evolved independently is characterised by high levels of endemism. Even the extremely small Annobón (9×3 km) has two endemic land birds, the Annobón White-eye and the Annobón Paradise Flycatcher, shares the endemic Bronze-naped Pigeon with São Tomé and Príncipe, and hosts a sub-species of the African Scops Owl. São Tomé and Príncipe are undoubtedly the stars of the pack, with more than twice the number of endemic birds that could be predicted by area alone.

AccessAll the islands can be visited, although access to Annobón is really only possible from mainland Equatorial Guinea or by private yacht charter from São Tomé. Access to São Tomé is via TAP Air Portugal flights, which depart from Lisbon, or with Air Gabon, which departs from Libreville. Libreville is connected to most African cities and to Europe, via Paris. Access to Príncipe is by air via São Tomé. Apart from two main local languages, Portuguese is widely spoken and French is the most spoken second language. English is spoken at hotels and by some guides.

All the islands can be visited, although access to Annobón is really only possible from mainland Equatorial Guinea or by private yacht charter from São Tomé. Access to São Tomé is via TAP Air Portugal flights, which depart from Lisbon, or with Air Gabon, which departs from Libreville. Libreville is connected to most African cities and to Europe, via Paris. Access to Príncipe is by air via São Tomé. Apart from two main local languages, Portuguese is widely spoken and French is the most spoken second language. English is spoken at hotels and by some guides.

A closer look at São Tomé and PríncipeBirding SitesMost of the endemics on São Tomé and Príncipe are easy to see and can be seen around the main towns. See Top Sites below for details of other sites.When to visitAll the endemics in São Tomé and Príncipe can be seen at any time of year. However, access to the southwestern forests in São Tomé will be difficult in the rainy season. The periods June to August and December-January are the best as they are the two drier periods.AccommodationAccommodation in São Tomé is varied but not necessarily cheap. It ranges from the up-market Marlin Beach Hotel and the Hotel Miramar to small pensions. In between there are several small, well-equipped establishments that cost half as much as the upmarket hotels including breakfast. For long stays, renting a place can be more economic.Accommodation in Príncipe is limited to the up-market Bom Bom Island Resort and a couple of pensions in town. Pensão Romar is recommended (US$1 per person per night including breakfast). It has a very special atmosphere, and friendly service. Its balcony bewitches most of those that have passed by. To top it all, Zôzô is an excellent cook (ask her for local dishes which she excels at).

HazardsMalaria is the main health concern in the islands. Follow the prophylaxis regime recommended by your doctor and take care to avoid mosquito bites especially at dusk. The use of repellent and a mosquito net at night is strongly recommended. The golden rule is to consider any difference in your physical well being as a possible symptom of malaria, and go and get it checked it in a clinic or hospital.The only other major hazard in the forest is black cobras. Initially introduced to reduce rat populations in the plantations, these snakes have spread into the forest. They generally get out of your way and there have been no reported cases of birders having problems. However, take care crossing fallen logs and dry streambeds where they like to bask in the early morning. Contact your doctor if you require advice on snakebites.As in any tropical area care should be taken with water consumption. When in towns drink bottled water or use sterilising tablets or drops of iodine to be safe. Water direct from rivers in the southwest is probably safe.

Birding and which field guides to useDespite being virtually unknown by birders, RDSTP and Bioko have their own field guides. The Christy & Clarke guide is the most up to date and the Sargeant bird-finding guide, although fairly old, still holds good. Abbé René de Naurois volumes cover both islands and are a summary of his 20+ years research on the island`s birds.

Further information, NGOs & LinksBy far and away the best resource for those interested in the different groups of plants and animals is the Gulf of Guinea Conservation Group. Here you can find information about the different islands, species lists and a whole host of information about living and working in the Gulf of Guinea. This web site is maintained from São Tomé and there is also an informal e-mail discussion list that can be joined. The travel agency Mistral Voyages ( ); with an office in São Tomé, can help you organise your trip.

This page is sponsored by Ashanti African Tours

Top Sites
  • Lagoa Amélia

    Satellite View
    In São Tomé, however, it is necessary to visit the high-altitude cloud forest at Lagoa Amélia to see species such as the Maroon Pigeon and Giant Sunbird as well as some truly spectacular forest.
  • Príncipe Ilhas Tinhosas

    Satellite View
    The seabird islets 20 km south of Príncipe, the Ilhas Tinhosas, are well worth a visit and boats can be hired through the Bom Bom Island resort. Sooty Terns, Black and Brown Noddies and Brown Boobies breed in many thousands in these tiny rocks. Do not land on the islets: besides being extremely dangerous it causes great disturbance to the birds.
  • Príncipe Southern Forests

    Satellite View
    On Príncipe, all the endemics (6 in all) can be seen on roads around the town, although a visit to the southern forests is recommended to see the Príncipe Thrush - a sub-species of the São Tomé Thrush that may be split in the future. The southern forests are also the strongholds of the African Grey Parrot breeding population, and its shores are the best place to see the Príncipe Seed-eater. Most of Príncipe can be explored on day-walks, but spending one night in the southern coast, bordering the rainforest is recommended: a small owl described by local people has still to be found by outsiders, and it is a good bet to try to spot the seldom seen Príncipe Olive Ibis…
  • São Tomé peak

    Satellite View
    For the pure scenery pleasure a two-day walk to the São Tomé peak (2,024 m); crossing different forest types, is a must. For the more intrepid, a visit to the southwestern forests is essential to see species such as the Dwarf Olive Ibis, the fiscal shrike, the short-tail and the grosbeak. Here, where it rains almost everyday even in the dry season, it will probably be necessary to spend 1-2 nights camping in the forest to ensure that all the endemics are seen.
  • Martim Melo


  • Phil Atkinson


Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 144

    (As at September 2018)
  • Number of endemics: 25

    Sao Tome Spinetail Zoonavena thomensis Sao Tome Scops-Owl Otus hartlaubi Maroon Pigeon Columba thomensis Sao Tome Pigeon Columba malherbii Sao Tome Green-Pigeon Treron sanctithomae Sao Tome Ibis Bostrychia bocagei Newton`s Fiscal Lanius newtoni Sao Tome Oriole Oriolus crassirostris Sao Tome Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrochalybeia Principe Starling Lamprotornis ornatus Sao Tome Prinia Prinia molleri Principe Speirops Speirops leucophoeus Sao Tome White-eye Zosterops feae Principe White-eye Zosterops ficedulinus Black-capped Speirops Zosterops lugubris Principe Thrush Turdus xanthorrhychus Sao Tome Thrush Turdus olivaceofuscus Sao Tome Sunbird Dreptes thomensis Principe Sunbird Nectarinia hartlaubii Newton`s Sunbird Nectarinia newtonii Principe Golden-Weaver Ploceus princeps Giant Weaver Ploceus grandis Sao Tome Weaver Ploceus sanctithomae Sao Tome Short-tail Motacilla bocagii Principe Seedeater Serinus rufobrunneus Sao Tome Grosbeak Crithagra concolor
  • iGoTerra Checklist

    iGoTerra Checklist
    Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
Useful Reading

  • Birds of Western and Central Africa

    By Ber van Perlo | Princeton University Press | 2003 | Paperback | 384 pages, 109 plates with colour illustrations; colour & b/w illustrations, 1500+ b/w distribution maps, colour maps | ISBN: 9780691007144 Buy this book from
  • The Birds of Sao Tomé and Príncipe

    By AP Leventis & Fábio Olmos | Editora Aves e Fotos (C) | 2009 | Paperback | 142 pages, Colour photos | Text in English & Portuguese | ISBN: 9788598153063 Buy this book from
  • African Bird Club

    These islands straddling the equator in the Gulf of Guinea are home to an impressive list of endemic species which should satisfy the requirements of most birdwatchers. These range from the incredible Giant Sunbird Dreptes thomensis, S
  • West African Ornithological Society

    The West African Ornithological Society grew out of the Nigerian Ornithologists

Abbreviations Key

  • Important Bird Areas

    InformationSatellite View
    Of the total 144 recorded species, 72 are breeding residents and 25 are endemic to the islands. Of the endemic species, 12 are of global conservation concern of which 8 are restricted to S
  • NP Obo

    InformationSatellite View
    The natural park was established in 2006 and is the country's only protected area at the national level. The park is known internationally amongst conservationists for its biologically rich dense virgin rainforests. It is also characterized by a wide range of biotopes, from lowland and mountain forests, to mangroves and savanna area, which contribute to its unique ecosystem. The park includes virgin Atlantic high altitude rainforest and secondary rainforest (known to locals as capoeira) which contains abandoned plantations. In 1988, scientists classified the forests of São Tomé and Príncipe as the second most important in terms of biological interest out of 75 forests of Africa; most of the species found in the islands are found in the national park. Birds include the São Toméan grosbeak (Crithagra concolor), São Toméan ibis (Bostrychia bocagei), São Toméan shorttail (Amaurocichlia bocagei), the Giant sunbird (Dreptes thomensis), São Tomé fiscal (Lanius newtoni), São Tomé oriole (Oriolus crassirostris) and São Tomé thrush (Turdus olivaceofuscus).
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Birding Ecotours

    Tour Operator
    With 75% of its area covered by rainforest, São Tomé and Príncipe (STP) is characterized by unspoiled, palm-fringed beaches, towering volcanic peaks, and a fascinating colonial heritage. Now with the recent discovery of large oil deposits in the Gulf of Guinea, STP is on the cusp of change. This is Africa’s second-smallest country, and it exhibits an enticing blend of African, Portuguese and Caribbean culture...
Trip Reports
  • 2016 [09 September] - Michiel de Boer - Gabon, Sao Tomé & Principe

    ...My personal targets for this trip were the Picathartes, Rosy and Black-headed Bee-eaters, White-bellied Kingfisher (one of the last of the African Kingfishers I needed) and Bare Cheeked Trogon. Priorities were a little different with my companion George Wagner. He had not been to Cameroon but had been to Ghana and had seen the Rosy Bee-eater...
  • 2018 [01 January] - Mark Van Biers

    PDF Report
    The tiny and little-known archipelago of São Tomé and Principe is Africa’s second smallest country and is positioned almost exactly on the equator in the armpit of Africa.
  • 2018 [02 February] - Erling Krabbe & Paulo Paixão

    PDF Report
    We did not find three endemics (the recently found and still not described Príncipe Scops Owl, the inconspicuous Príncipe White-eye and the São Tomé Grosbeak, one of the least observed birds in the world). Nevertheless, our birding trip was very rewarding overall, we had great fun and feel that the final balance is positive. We came out with a long bird list and managed to get goodphotos of most of the species.
Places to Stay
  • Bom Bom Island Resort

    Bom Bom Island Resort is such an attractive destination for fishermen, nature-lovers, escapists and honeymooners because it combines excellent facilities and luxury in an exotic location…
  • Hotel Miramar

    In the middle of a tropical flower garden lies the Hotel Miramar. This first-class hotel hotel, built between 1985-86, is located right at the beach promenade of the city centre of S
Other Links
  • Birds of São Tomé e Príncipe

    These islands straddling the equator in the Gulf of Guinea are home to a similar number of endemic species as the Galapagos Islands which should satisfy the requirements of the most discerning birdwatchers. These range from the incredible Giant Sunbird Dreptes thomensis, São Tomé Short-tail Amaurocichla bocagei, a bird unlike any other with its own genus, as well as the rare and little seen São Tomé Grosbeak Neospiza concolor and São Tomé Fiscal Lanius newtoni.

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