State of Eritrea

Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti ©David W Karr
Birding Eritrea

Eritrea is a wonderful birdwatching destination. Despite its small size and the relative scarcity of visiting birders, nearly 580 species have been recorded here. It shares nearly 20 of the prized Abyssinian ‘endemics’ with Ethiopia, including Wattled Ibis, Rouget’s Rail, Ruppell’s (Black) Chat, Ethiopian Oriole, Black-winged Lovebird, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Banded Barbet, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, White-backed Black Tit and White-billed Starling.The country can be split into three basic ecoregions. To the east of the highlands are the hot, arid coastal plains stretching down to Djibouti in the south. The cooler, more fertile highlands split the country in two, reaching up to 3000m. Habitats here vary from the sub-tropical rainforest at Filfil Solomuna to the precipitous cliffs and gorges of the southern highlands. To the west of the highlands, the gently sloping plains of Gash Bark fall into the Sudan-Guinea biome, home to many species typical of Sahel savannah.

Eritrea also happens to lie on one of the major migration routes into Africa, guaranteeing excellent birdwatching in both spring and autumn, concentrated along the coastal plain, and the eastern escarpment edge of the highlands. Large numbers of raptors pass through Eritrea on their way to their wintering grounds in central and southern Africa. The country is poor, and bureaucracy is strict, but the people are kind and very friendly, and travelling within the permitted areas it is safe but do NOT venture off road or into other areas as there are still extensive minefields from the war. Crime is very low by African standards, as is street hassle. A good guide is necessary to get you to all the best locations and to help with the bureaucracy but in a week it is easily possible to visit the hotspots, see most of the endemics and take home about 200 species.

Key SpeciesMany Abyssinian endemcis can be found here. In the right habitat, Ruppell’s (Black) Chat, Wattled Ibis, White-cheeked Turaco, Black-winged Lovebird, White-billed Starling, White-collared Pigeon, White-throated Seed-eater, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Banded Barbet, Ethiopian Oriole and Ethiopian Cisticola (C. Lugubris) are all common breeding species. Rarer, but still regularly recorded are White-winged Cliff Chat (Mocking Cliff Chat is common throughout the highlands), White-backed Black Tit, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Thick-billed Raven and Blue Saw-wing (Psalidoprocne pristoptera). There are also a large number of near-endemics (birds which are native to the Horn of Africa): Erckel’s Francolin, Blanford’s Lark, White-headed (Cretschmar’s) Babbler, White-rumped Babbler, Abyssinian Black Wheatear, Somali Starling, Swainson’s Sparrow, Ruppell’s Weaver, African Citril and Brown-rumped Seed-eater.Eritrea’s extensive coastal mangrove forests are the only place in Africa where White-collared Kingfisher breeds, and a recent study* found that the Eritrean Red Sea islands are of international importance as breeding sites for a number of sea and shorebirds, including White-eyed Gull (33% of the world population), Crab Plover (20% of world population), Lesser Crested Tern, Brown Noddy, Eurasian Spoonbill, Brown Booby, Greater Crested Tern, White-cheeked Tern and Bridled Tern. The threatened Socotra Cormorant is also suspected to breed on the southern islands.*Dawit Semere et al. The Status of Breeding Seabirds and Waterbirds on the Eritrean Red Sea Islands; ABC Bulletin Vol. 15 No. 2, September 2008

Eritrea has plentiful raptor species (59 recorded). Lammergeier are still fairly frequent in the southern highlands, along with Ruppell’s Vulture and Griffon Vulture (winter). Verreaux’s Eagle, Tawny Eagle and Long-crested Eagle are resident, and large numbers of esp. Aquila eagle species can be found either on passage or throughout the winter, including Steppe Eagle, Lesser and Greater Spotted Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle and Wahlberg’s Eagle. Significant numbers of these migrating species can be counted along the eastern escarpment of the Abyssinian highlands near Asmara, especially at the Asmara rubbish dump in February/March.The rocky uplands in Adi Keih and Senafe Sub Zobas are particularly good for Wheatears (11 species in Eritrea), Chats (10 species in Eritrea) and Rock Thrushes.

Travel permits for all the locations listed below can be obtained from the tourist office in Asmara. Remember that the Eritreans are not used to people birdwatching in their country, and there is a large military presence in some areas. Always ask before getting out your binoculars if in doubt! However, if you explain to most people what you are doing they are nearly always amenable and interested. In two years living in the country, I had very few problems and converted several Eritreans to the hobby!More on these sites and other locations can be found on the website Birdwatching in Eritrea

Top Sites
  • Adi Keih Sub Zoba:

    Adi Keih Sub Zoba is excellent for Abyssinian endemics and highland specialities: Several sites near Adi Keih provide good birdwatching, especially for the Abyssinian endemics: Hawatsu: is on the road between Segeneiti and Adi Keih, 41km after Segeneiti, 9km before Adi Keih. There is a dam here which is productive for waders and other waterbirds for most of the year. Just upstream of the dam is a grassy pasture where Wattled Ibis often feed in the thickest grass. Also, near here on the other side of the road is a small valley (near the Eucalyptus copse, behind the few houses. Walk up this valley to find several of the Abyssinian endemic species in the copse of native trees that still survive in a small gorge here. Highlight species include: Wattled Ibis, White-billed Starling, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Banded Barbet, White-cheeked Turaco, Erckel's Francolin, Northern Paradise Flycatcher, Klaas's Cuckoo, Brown Woodland Warbler, Tacazze Sunbird, Ruppell's Robin Chat, Long-legged Buzzard (winter), Maccoa Duck, Verreaux’s Eagle and Temminck’s Courser on the plateau above the copse.Safira/Qohaito & Karibossa: Qohaito is famous for its Auxmite archaeological remains, but birdwatching is particularly good here too. There are some steep cliffs to the east where Ruppell’s and Egyptian Vulture nest, and White-collared Pigeon roost, while Alpine and Mottled Swift hurtle past. Near the so-called ‘Egyptian Tomb’ is a steep valley where several other endemics can be found, including Ruppell’s Black Chat, Black-winged Lovebird, Banded Barbet and the rare White-backed Black Tit. If you have time to drive further along the road to Karibossa, this village has quite a few native trees and is very good for the Abyssinian endemics, including Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Black-winged Lovebird, White-billed Starling, White-cheeked Turaco, Banded Barbet, White-collared Pigeon, Ruppell's Black Chat and White-throated Seed-eater. Other local delicacies include: Verreaux's Eagle Owl, Little Rock Thrush, African Olive Pigeon (newly discovered here), Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Brown-rumped Seed-eater, Slender-billed Starling, Erckel's Francolin, Lanner Falcon, Tawny Eagle, Ruppell's Vulture and Egyptian Vulture.
  • Asmara for the eastern escarpment and waterbirds at surrounding reservoirs:

    The escarpment edge is often productive for migrating species, especially raptors. The best places to see them are easily accessed along the Massawa road. The Asmara rubbish dump can be smelt to the left side of the road as soon as you start descending from Asmara, just past the customs checkpoint. From October to December, and especially from February to March large numbers of Aquila eagles congregate here along with other raptors and lots of Hamadryas Baboons (seen best early morning). A little further along the road is Bar Durfo, less smelly but often with good views of raptors cruising on the thermals nearby. To find other migrant species, park on the Asmara side of the checkpoint, and explore the bushes along the escarpment edge just below the orthodox church nearby. Species here could include: Steppe Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Booted Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Wahlberg's Eagle, Verreaux's Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Augur Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Common Kestrel, Abdim's Stork, Nyanza Swift, White-rumped Swift, Alpine Swift, Mottled Swift, White-rumped Babbler, Banded Barbet. Smaller migrants that are seen in spring and autumn include Common Cuckoo, Ortolan Bunting, Wryneck, Golden Oriole, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Bee-eater, Red-backed Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Isabelline Shrike, Whitethroat and several swallow species, including Red-rumped Swallow and House Martin.Several reservoirs (
  • Elabered for diversity and Hagaz for sub-Saharan savannah species:

    Hagaz is the easiest town to get to in the western lowlands, and therefore is good for species associated with the Sudan-Guinea biome. Along the way, it is recommended that you stop off at the Elabered Agricultural Estate (between Asmara and Keren
  • Filfil for rainforest species and Abyssinian endemics:

    Filfil is an amazing enigma in an otherwise fairly dry and sometimes barren country. There is extensive cloud rainforest here that benefits from the wet seasons of both the highlands and the lowlands, and attracts a lot of tropical forest species as well as several of the Abyssinian endemics higher up. It is sometimes called
  • Massawa and the Dahlak Islands for seabirds, shorebirds and coastal migrants:

    WebsiteSatellite View
    The coastal town of Massawa is an incredible place to visit, for its history and architecture as much as for the birds. The best birdwatching sites are near the town, and include the small flats by the causeway to the mainland (at low tide), the beach at Gurgussum (10km north of Massawa), the shallow lagoons 4km north of Gurgussum and the mangrove forest on Green Island (boats can be hired from the Diving Centre or Mike’s Boats in Massawa). South of Massawa towards Foro there is more extensive mangrove forest, where the rare White-collared Kingfisher breeds, although birdwatching is not permitted around the Hirgigo power station. Exploring the Dahlaks takes longer, although boats can easily be chartered through travel agents in Asmara (Explore is one) or through the Dive Centre or Mike’s Boats in Massawa itself. 2 days are needed to visit the most interesting islands, and as well as the birds, there are plentiful dolphin species, dugong, leatherback turtle, whale shark and manta ray. Snorkelling and diving are both excellent here. Recommended islands include Dissei, Dahlak Kebir, Dahret and Dur ghella. Species at Gurgussum and the lagoons nearby include: Brown Booby, Pink-backed Pelican, Great White Pelican, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, Green-backed Heron, Western Reef Heron, Grey Heron, Goliath Heron, Abdim's Stork, Sacred Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, African Spoonbill, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pintail, Teal, Osprey, Common Kestrel, Crab Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Three-banded Plover, Kentish Plover, Mongolian Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Curlew, Common Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Sooty Gull, White-eyed Gull, Common Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Heuglin's Gull, Caspian Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Greater Crested Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, White-cheeked Tern, Saunders's Tern, African Palm Swift, Crested Lark, Black-crowned Sparrow Lark, Black Wheatear, Graceful Prinia, Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Isabelline Wheatear, House Crow and Village Weaver. Green Island species include occasional White-collared Kingfisher, Osprey, Yellow-billed Kite, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sooty Gull, Sacred Ibis (breeding), Brown Booby, Lesser Crested Tern, Greater Sand Plover, Pink-backed Pelican (breeding), House Crow, Kentish Plover, Curlew, Grey Plover, Crab Plover, Eurasian Spoonbill (breeding), Striated Heron, Purple Heron, Redshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Greater Flamingo, Western Reef Heron, Little Stint, Terek Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Gull-billed Tern, Slender-billed Gull, Greater Crested Tern, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Heuglin's Gull, Caspian Tern, Dunlin, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Senegal Thick-knee, Saunder's Tern and Graceful Prinia,Species in the Dahlak Islands include Brown Booby, Pink-backed Pelican, Green-backed Heron, Western Reef Heron, Great White Egret, Greater Flamingo, Abdim’s Stork, Osprey, Black Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Hooded Vulture, Sooty Falcon, Arabian Bustard, Crab Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Sanderling, Little Stint, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sooty Gull, White-eyed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Lesser-crested Tern, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Speckled Pigeon, African Collared Dove, Black-crowned Sparrow Lark, Somali Crow, Pied Crow, Blackstart, Common Fiscal and Southern Grey Shrike.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 577

    (As at August 2018)
  • (But there are at least 14 species are shared ONLY with Ethiopia)
  • iGoTerra Checklist

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

  • Birds of Ethiopia & Eritrea

    by John Ash & John Atkins | Christopher Helm | 2009 | Hardback | 463 pages, 16p colour photos and maps | ISBN: 9781408109793 Buy this book from
  • Birds of the Horn of Africa

    [Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Socotra] | by Nigel Redman, Terry Stevenson & John Fanshawe | Christopher Helm | 2011 | Paperback | 512 pages, 213 colour plates, 1000+ colour distribution maps, colour & b/w maps | ISBN: 9781408157350 Buy this book from
  • African Bird Club

    Eritrea has a bird list of over 500 species but there has been little ornithological activity for some thirty or forty years. Sadly, long running disputes with Ethiopia and political instability have impacted habitat and species adversely as well as limiting opportunities for visiting birders. With little tourist infrastructure, Eritrea is likely to appeal to the more adventurous or pioneering birder. This small country can however be a rewarding destination for birders who in just a few days could see a substantial number of species, including many near endemics and regional endemics as well as countless passage migrants.
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Dawid Berhane

    P.O. Box 5368 - Asmara Eritrea - Mobile +2917 254230
Trip Reports
  • 1998 [03 March] - Mike Rogerson - with Ethiopia & Djibouti

    The following trip report covers a 4 week period in "Abyssinia" (3 weeks in Ethiopia, 1 week in Eritrea and 24 hours in Djibouti). The trip was done alone, and for reasons of expense (hire car rates, especially 4WD vehicles, being very expensive in Ethiopia), apart from some cheap internal flights inside Ethiopia, public land transport was used throughout with the odd bit of hitch hiking. The trip, although primarily aimed at birding, did include several days heavily biased towards visits of Ethiopia's outstanding historical sites specifically around Gonder and Lalibela which can to some extent be combined with birding.
Places to Stay
  • Hotels in Asmera

    The many hotels, restaurants and pensions in Asmara cater to every price range and level of comfort
Other Links
  • Birdwatching in Eritrea

    Eritrea is not well known as a birdwatching destination. But it should be. Despite being one of the most 'underbirded' countries in Africa, it has an impressive checklist of over 560 species, which is increasing rapidly. Ethiopia is famous as one of the best birding destinations in the world. Most highly prized are its Abyssinian 'endemics', many of which are in fact shared with Eritrea, as the Abyssinian Highlands are split between the two countries…
  • Eritrea Species Checklist

    his comprehensive checklist includes all the species reliably recorded in Eritrea. We have kept it as close as possible to the sequence used in the field guide that visiting birders are most likely to use: Redman, Stevenson and Fanshawe: Birds of the Horn of Africa (Christopher Helm, 2009), following the order and taxonomy given in the checklist at the back of the book
  • Eritrean Fauna

    Eritrea's range of habitats is surprisingly diverse, and its birdlife is correspondingly rich. A total of 537 species of birds have been recorded, including the rare blue saw-wing
  • Seawater Farms Eritrea

    In Eritrea, atmospheric scientist turned agricultural entrepreneur Carl Hodges developed a seawater farm which is an integrated multi-species complex system. This approach produces direct benefits in the form of protein and vegetable for local consumption and revenue generation; but importantly revitalises the environment and creates the enabling conditions for further economic activity.

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