West Bengal

White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis ©Aseem Kumar Kothiala Website
Birding West Bengal

West Bengal is an Indian state, located in Eastern India on the Bay of Bengal. With over 91 million inhabitants (as of 2011), it is India’s fourth-most populous state. It has an area of 88,752 km2 (34,267 square miles). A part of the ethno-linguistic Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent, it borders Bangladesh in the east, and Nepal and Bhutan in the north. It also borders the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim, and Assam. The state capital is Kolkata (Calcutta), the seventh-largest city in India. As for geography, West Bengal includes the Darjeeling Himalayan hill region, the Ganges delta, the Rarh region, and the coastal Sundarbans.The best birding region comprising the state if Sikkim and the adjoining parts of North Bengal – Darjeeling and Kalimpong, lies between Latitude 27 and 28 degrees North, and Longitude 87 to 89 degrees East. It is a rugged strip of vertical mountain country. Wedged between Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and the North Bengal Plains of India. This tiny region is just 90km wide and 150km deep. The country rises from near sea level to 8,500 meters, in a very short distance, The great Himalayan Range with its giant spurs – Singelila and Chola, virtually enclose this region in a titanic horseshoe. Starting from the plains of North Bengal tangled interlacing ridges rise range after range to the foot of the great wall of high peaks and passes opening into Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan.

The climate varies between the tropical heat of the valleys and the alpine cold of the snowy regions. With rainfall averaging 348cm, it is the most humid region of the Himalayas. Dry season is from November to March. The altitudinal zones of vegetation range from Tropical, through sub-tropical and temperate to Alpine. In some places only 10kms in a direct line separate the palm growing valleys from perpetual snow. This telescoping of terrain has created marked altitudinal zonation in the humidity, rainfall, climate and vegetation. This factor is responsible for the great variety and abundance of the resident bird life, making this area arguably one of the richest areas of its size anywhere in the world. Dr Salim Ali -one of India’s foremost ornithologists has recorded 527 species of resident birds. In addition there are vagrants, and transients on migration. It is estimated that more than 30% of the species of the Indian Sub continent can be seen in this region.

The main towns in this region are Gangtok in Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong in the mountains of North Bengal, and Silguri in the plains of North Bengal. The nearest airport is at Bagdogra near Siliguri in the plains.

Top Sites
  • Lava

    InformationSatellite View
    This is the prime birding destination in this region, located 35Km from Kalimpong (1¼hrs). It is 85Km from Darjeeling via Kalimpong. (4hrs) Alternativly it is 115Km from Bagdogra Airport via Kalimpong (4hrs). It is a small bazaar, once a halting place for caravans on the trade routes to Bhutan and Sikkim. It is now a tiny forest Village with a Buddhist Monastery amidst a sea of evergreen forests at an elevation of 2100m. Surrounded by very large tracts of protected forests ranging in elevation between 1600m and 2400m, it includes the remote and uninhabited Neora National Park. It is a bird watcher`s delight. The forests have rough roads and walking trails. Birding is feasible from the main roads. However for deeper entry, forest department permission and a guide is required. Some of the sought after birds that have been recorded are: Satyr Tragopan, Ashy Wood-pigeon, Rufous-throated and Spotted Wren Babblers, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Red-faced Liocichla, Cutia, Rusty-belied Shortwing, Blue-fronted robin & Long-billed Thrush. Even though densities are not high, it is possible to spot in excess of 200 species in 4-5 days of birding.
  • Samthar-Ponbu - Dong

    Satellite View
    The Samthar area at an elevation of 1500m, is connected to Lava by a 52Km forest road, which is partly a wilderness trail. This forested drive via Lolegaon, offers good birding. Driving time from Lava is 2½hrs and from Kalimpong 3½hrs. This is still an unexplored area, and birders with a pioneering spirit and strong legs will love the experience. The terrain around Samthar comprises interlocking ridges with forest cover on the top and terraces lower down. Water courses (local name Jhora for smaller ones and Khola for larger ones) form deep valleys, with bio-diverse flora. They feed the Samthar Khola on the North, The Lish River in the East, the Suruk Khola in the West and the Ponbu Khola in the South. All lead to the Teesta River. Large tracts of reserve forest also exist. The area is criss-crossed by many easy walking trails. Several birding hot spots have been identified. Many virgin areas await exploration. Most of the species like Pigmy Blue Flycatcher & Long-tailed Broadbills occurring below 2,500m around Lava are present around Samthar -Ponbu- Dong areas. February-March and November-December are good months as altitudinal migrants are present. Added attractions are sunrise and sunset views and staying at the atmospheric Samthar Farm House.
  • Singelila (Sandakphu) Range

    InformationSatellite View
    The Sandakphu Ridge of the Singelila Range is located at an elevation of 3,600m. Maneybhanjan, 30km from Darjeeling (2 hours by jeep) and 70Km (4 hrs) from Kalimpong is the starting point for a 5-8 days trek, which provides good birding in Bamboo, Oak, and Rhododendron forests between 2,000m and 3,000m elevation. Some of the best species recorded are, Blood Pheasant, Satyr Tragopan, Hill Partridge, Collared Pygmy Owlet, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Spotted Nutcracker, Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler, Brown & Black-throated Parrotbill, Spotted and Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush, Plain Mountain Finch, White-winged Grosbeak, Dark-breasted & White-browed Rosefinch, Plain Mountain Finch, White-winged Grosbeak, Dark-breasted and White-browed Rosefinch. There is also the attraction of breathtaking views of Khangchen Dzonga, and glimpses on Mount Everest, apart from the delightful forests.
  • Peter Lobo

    Kalimpong | gurutt@sancharnet.in

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 949

    (As at December 2018)

    State Bird: White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis

Useful Reading

  • Urban Biodiversity of Calcutta

    (Flowering Plants, Butterflies, Birds and Mammals, West Bengal, India) | By Suchitra Ghosh | Zoological Survey of India | 2010 | Paperback | 250 pages, colour illustrations, colour maps | ISBN: 9788181712813 Buy this book from NHBS.com

Abbreviations Key

  • NP Gorumara

    InformationSatellite View
    Located in the Dooars region of the Himalayan foothills, it is a medium-sized park with grasslands and forests. It is primarily known for its population of Indian rhinoceros. The park has recorded fifty species of mammals, 194 species of birds, 22 species of reptiles, 7 species of turtles, 27 species of fish, and other macro and micro fauna. Birds at the Gorumara National Park include submontane forest birds like the scarlet minivet, sunbird, Asian paradise flycatchers, spangled drongo, and Indian hornbill. Numerous woodpeckers and pheasants inhabit the park. Peafowls are very common. The park is on the flyway of migratory birds including the rare brahminy duck.
  • NP Jaldapara

    InformationSatellite View
    Jaldapara Sanctuary is of 26 sq. km where one-horned rhinoceros, elephant, sambhar, barking deer, spotted deer etc. can be spotted. The drive to Jaldapara takes you over the coronation bridge through the dense forests to the Bengal Plains and through the tea gardens to Madrihat.
  • NP Neora Valley

    InformationSatellite View
    Neora Valley National Park thus is known as birders' paradise; some of India's most sought-after birds are found here in winter months as well. The semi-evergreen forests between 1600 m and 2700 m is the home of several rarities like rufous-throated partridge, satyr tragopan, crimson-breasted woodpecker, Darjeeling woodpecker, bay woodpecker, golden-throated barbet, Hodgson's hawk cuckoo, lesser cuckoo, brown wood owl, ashy wood pigeon, mountain imperial pigeon, Jerdon's baza, black eagle, mountain hawk eagle, dark-throated thrush, rufous-gorgeted flycatcher, white-gorgeted flycatcher, white-browed bush robin, white-tailed robin, yellow-browed tit, striated bulbul, chestnut-headed tesia, chestnut-crowned warbler, black-faced warbler, black-faced laughingthrush, chestnut-crowned laughingthrush, streak-breasted scimitar babbler, scaly-breasted wren-babbler, pygmy wren-babbler, rufous-fronted babbler, black-headed shrike babbler, white-browed shrike babbler, rusty-fronted barwing, rufous-winged fulvetta, brown parrotbill, fire-breasted flowerpecker, fire-tailed sunbird, maroon-backed accentor, dark-breasted rosefinch, red-headed bullfinch, gold-naped finch and many other rarities.
  • NP Singalila

    InformationSatellite View
    Singalila National Park is a national park of India located on the Singalila Ridge at an altitude of more than 7000 feet above sea level, in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. It is well known for the trekking route to Sandakphu that runs through it. The park is a birder's delight with over 120 species recorded including many rare and exotic species like the scarlet minivet, kalij pheasant, blood pheasant, satyr tragopan, brown and fulvous parrotbills, rufous-vented tit, and Old World babblers like the fire-tailed myzornis and the golden-breasted fulvetta. The park is also on the flyway of many migratory birds.
  • NP Sunderbans

    InformationSatellite View
    The Sundarbans National Park is a National Park, Tiger Reserve, and a Biosphere Reserve in West Bengal, India. It is part of the Sundarbans on the Ganges Delta, and adjacent to the Sundarban Reserve Forest in Bangladesh. The Sundarbans forest is home to more than 400 tigers and is very rich in birdlife.
  • NR Mayurjharna Elephant Reserve

    InformationSatellite View
    The area of this elephant reserve is 414.06 km2. and adjoining 1436 km2. area is also declared as 'Zone of Influence'. The elephant population in MER increased from 47 in 1987 to 118 in 2010.
  • TR Buxa

    InformationSatellite View
    The Buxa Tiger Reserve is a 760-square-kilometre (290 square mile) tiger reserve located inside the Buxa National Park in West Bengal, India, in the Buxa Hills of the southern hilly area south of Bhutan. Animals found in the park include, the tiger, civet, elephant, gaur (Indian bison), Indian boar and red jungle fowl. There are more than 284 species of birds, 73 species of mammals, 76 species of snakes and 5 species of amphibians have been identified so far including greater pied hornbill, ibisbill and the rare black necked crane.
  • WS Ballabhpur

    InformationSatellite View
    It is home to a number of deer including the Blackbuck and Spotted deer. Other animals include jackals, foxes and a variety of water birds.
  • WS Bethuadahari

    InformationSatellite View
    Bethuadahari Wildlife Sanctuary is situated in the Bethuadahari town (Nakashipara area) of Nadia District, West Bengal, India. The sanctuary is located beside National Highway 34 and covers 67 hectares, and was established in 1980 to preserve a portion of the central Gangetic alluvial ecozone. Bird species include parakeets, Indian cuckoos, barbets and a variety of passerines.
  • WS Bibhutibhushan

    InformationSatellite View
    Bibhutibhusan Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Parmadan Forest) is an animal sanctuary in North 24 Parganas district in the Indian state of West Bengal.[1] The forest is located about 100 km from Kolkata and 25 km from Bongaon. Situated on the banks of the Ichamati River covering an area of 0.68 km2 it has more than 200 deer, birds, rabbit and a large number of langurs.
  • WS Chapramari

    InformationSatellite View
    Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Chapramari Wildlife Reserve) is close to the Gorumara National Park. It is about 30 kilometres from Chalsa and Lataguri in northern West Bengal, India. The total coverage of the forest is 960 hectares. A large variety of flora and fauna are found in the forests. Chapramari is known for its elephant population. Gaur (commonly known as Indian bison) are not uncommon in the Chapramari region. Rhinoceros, Deer, boars, and leopards are also found there. However like Gorumara Royal Bengal Tiger are not found here. The place is popular with bird watchers, with parakeets, kingfishers, and green pigeons found in abundance.
  • WS Mahananda

    InformationSatellite View
    Birds at Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary includes some very endangered species like Rufous-necked Hornbill, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Great Hornbill etc. Among the others swallow, swift, thrush, babbler, warbler, roller, minivet and sunbird can be found in abundance.
  • WS Raiganj (aka Kulik Bird Sanctuary)

    InformationSatellite View
    The bird sanctuary is home to 164 species of birds, and some 90,000 to 1,00,000 migratory birds visit the sanctuary every year.
  • WS Senchal

    InformationSatellite View
    Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary was set up in 1915 in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal, India. It is one of the oldest wildlife sanctuaries of India. It covers an area of 38.6 km2 (14.9 sq mi). The elevation ranges from 1,500 to 2,600 m (4,900 to 8,500 ft). High-altitude animals such as barking deer, wild pig, himalayan black bear, leopard, jungle cat, common rhesus monkey, Assam macaque, Himalayan flying squirrel, etc. are found in their natural habitats. The sanctuary is also rich in bird life. The two Senchal lakes supply drinking water to the town of Darjeeling.
Guides & Tour Operators
Trip Reports
  • 2015 [02 February] - David Stanton - North Bengal, Sikkim & Manas National Park

    PDF Report
    ...I had high expectations from this trip, especially with regards as to seeing Flycatchers, Thrushes and Laughing Thrushes. This was not to be. Numbers of birds however were very impressive, with feeding parties of over a hundred.
  • 2017 [11 November] - Julian Bell - Darjeeling & Sikkim

    This trip report covers the best part of a week spent in Darjeeling and Sikkim, starting off at Kurseong for a few days before moving to Glenburn and then onwards to Biksthang (Sikkim). As usual for my holidays this was not by any means a full-on birding trip - though I did spend a whole day birding in the vicinity of Kurseoung and had a number of early morning walks.
  • 2018 [05 May] - Phil Gregory

    ...We began by birding at a wetland area called Rajarhat in Kolkata, which gave us Asian Openbill, Watercock, Greater Painted Snipe, Bengal Bushlark and Red Avadavat, all valuable additions to the triplist and a nice easy start...
Places to Stay
  • Elgin Hotels

    Housed in a 1783 building with a colonial-era vibe, the memorabilia-filled iconic heritage hotel has been shaped by the hands and minds of generations of families whose memories and influences have contributed to the unique heritage. Since 1783, The Elgin Fairlawn has stood on the junction of Madge Lane and Sudder Street.
  • West Bengal Forest Development Lodges

    The West Bengal Forest Development corporation has a number of lodges well-located for birding in West Bengal.
  • West Bengal Retreats

    Sinclairs Retreat Dooars is a getaway resort spread over 20 acres at Dooars...

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