The Maluku Archipelago

Moluccan Scops Owl Otus magicus ©James Eaton Website
Birding the Moluccas

The Maluku Islands or the Moluccas are an archipelago within the Banda Sea. Geographically they are located east of Sulawesi, west of New Guinea, and north and east of Timor. The islands were known as the Spice Islands due to the nutmeg, mace and cloves that were originally exclusively found there, the presence of which sparked colonial interest from Europe in the 16th century. The Islands formed a single province from Indonesian independence until 1999, when it was split into two provinces. A new province, North Maluku, incorporates the area between Morotai and Sula, with the arc of islands from Buru and Seram to Wetar remaining within the existing Maluku Province. North Maluku is predominantly Muslim, and its capital is Sofifion Halmahera island. Maluku province has a larger Christian population, and its capital is Ambon. The Maluku Islands have a total area of 850,000 km2, 90% of which is sea. There are an estimated 1027 islands. The largest two islands, Halmahera and Seram are sparsely populated, while the most developed, Ambon and Ternate are small.The majority of the islands are forested and mountainous. The Tanimbar Islands are dry and hilly, while the Aru Islands are flat and swampy. Mount Binaya at 3027m, on Seram is the highest mountain. A number of islands, such as Ternate (1721m) and the TNS islands, are volcanoes emerging from the sea with villages sited around their coasts. There have been over 70 serious volcanic eruptions in the last 500 years and earthquakes are common.

Biogeographically, all of the islands apart from the Aru group lie in Wallacea, the region between the Sunda Shelf (part of the Asia block), and the Arafura Shelf (part of the Australian block). More specifically, they lie between Weber’s Line and Lydekker’s Line, and thus have a fauna that is rather more Australasian than Asian. Malukan biodiversity and its distribution are affected by various tectonic activities; most of the islands are geologically young, being from 1 million to 15 million years old, and have never been attached to the larger landmasses. The Maluku islands differ from other areas in Indonesia; they contain some of the country’s smallest islands, coral island reefs scattered through some of the deepest seas in the world, and no large islands such as Java or Sumatra. Flora and fauna immigration between islands has thus been restricted, leading to a high rate of endemism.

The ecology of the Maluku Islands has fascinated naturalists for centuries; Alfred Wallace’s book, The Malay Archipelago was the first significant study of the area’s natural history, and remains an important resource for studying Indonesian biodiversity. Maluku is the subject of two major historical works of natural history by Georg Eberhard Rumphius: the Herbarium Amboinense and the Amboinsche Rariteitkamer.

Rainforest covered most of northern and central Maluku, which, on the smaller islands has been replaced by plantations, including the region’s endemic cloves and nutmeg. The Tanimbar Islands and other southeastern islands are arid and sparsely vegetated, much like nearby Timor. Manusela National Park (1997) and Aketajawe-Lolobata National Park (2004), were established, for the protection of endangered species. Nocturnal marsupials, such as cuscus and bandicoots, make up the majority of the mammal species, and introduced mammals include Malayan civets and wild pigs. Bird species include approximately 100 endemics with the greatest variety on the large islands of Halmahera and Seram. North Maluku has two species of endemic birds of paradise. Uniquely among the Maluku Islands, the Aru Islands have a purely Papuan fauna including kangaroos, cassowaries, and birds of paradise.Central and southern Maluku Islands experience the dry monsoon between October to March and the wet monsoon from May to August, which is the reverse of the rest of Indonesia. The dry monsoon’s average maximum temperature is 30 °C while the wet’s average maximum is 23 °C. Northern Maluku has its wet monsoon from December to March in line with the rest of Indonesia. Each island group have their own climatic variations, and the larger islands tend to have drier coastal lowlands and their mountainous hinterlands are wetter.

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Top Sites
  • Ambon

    Satellite View
    The travel hub of central and southern Maluku. Got a few nice birds too.
  • Bacan

    Satellite View
    This is where Wallace first discovered the Standardwing now named after him, but he may also have been the last person that visited this island!
  • Buru

    Satellite View
    It looks big on the map, but getting there and getting around is for the adventurous. If you try it the birds are all there somewhere.
  • Damar

    Satellite View
    There is an endemic flycatcher here, and who knows what else.
  • Halmahera

    Satellite View
    Packed with north Moluccan endemics including the stunning Standard wing and Ivory-breasted Pitta. A trip to Halmahera is on many people's wish list.
  • Kai

    Satellite View
    Relatively easy to get to, nice beaches, two endemic white-eyes and an endemic coucal. Can't say better than that, can you?
  • Obi

    Satellite View
    If you make it this far you will be on your own. There is a woodcock here somewhere. Good luck!
  • Seram

    Huge mountains, obscure islands, Salmon-crested Cockatoo and a whole load more central moluccan specialities and Seram endemics await.
  • Taliabu

    Satellite View
    If you can figure out how to get here then there are a load of gripping endemics to be seen!
  • Tanimbar

    Satellite View
    The far south of Maluku and not easy to get too. If you make it, the reward is accessible forest packed with endemics.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 727

    (As at February 2019)
  • Number of endemics: 106

    Tanimbar Scrubfowl Megapodius tenimberensis, Forsten's Scrubfowl Megapodius forsteni, Tanimbar Cuckoo-Dove Macropygia timorlaoensis, Sula Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus mangoliensis, Scarlet-breasted Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus bernsteinii, Blue-capped Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus monacha, Gray-headed Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus hyogastrus, Carunculated Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus granulifrons, Spectacled Imperial-Pigeon Ducula perspicillata, Seram Imperial-Pigeon Ducula neglecta, Buru Mountain-Pigeon Gymnophaps mada, Seram Mountain-Pigeon Gymnophaps stalkeri, Goliath Coucal Centropus goliath, Moluccan Cuckoo Cacomantis aeruginosus, Moluccan Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles crinifrons, Seram Swiftlet Aerodramus ceramensis, Moluccan Woodcock Scolopax rochussenii, Moluccan Goshawk Accipiter henicogrammus, Rufous-necked Sparrowhawk Accipiter erythrauchen, Seram Masked-Owl Tyto almae, Taliabu Masked-Owl Tyto nigrobrunnea, Halmahera Boobook Ninox hypogramma, Tanimbar Boobook Ninox forbesi, Sula Dwarf-Kingfisher Ceyx wallacii, North Moluccan Dwarf-Kingfisher Ceyx uropygialis, Seram Dwarf-Kingfisher Ceyx lepidus, Buru Dwarf-Kingfisher Ceyx cajeli, Blue-and-white Kingfisher Todiramphus diops, Lazuli Kingfisher Todiramphus lazuli, Sombre Kingfisher Todiramphus funebris, Salmon-crested Cockatoo Cacatua moluccensis, White Cockatoo Cacatua alba, Buru Racquet-tail Prioniturus mada, Black-lored Parrot Tanygnathus gramineus, Blue-fronted Lorikeet Charmosyna toxopei, Chattering Lory Lorius garrulus, Purple-naped Lory Lorius domicella, Red Lory Eos bornea, Blue-eared Lory Eos semilarvata, Sula Hanging-Parrot Loriculus sclateri, Sula Pitta Erythropitta dohertyi, Ivory-breasted Pitta Pitta maxima, Seram Myzomela Myzomela blasii, Crimson-hooded Myzomela Myzomela kuehn,i Wakolo Myzomela Myzomela wakoloensis, Buru Honeyeater Lichmera deningeri, Seram Honeyeater Lichmera monticola, Black-chested Honeyeater Lichmera notabilis, White-streaked Friarbird Melitograis gilolensis, Dusky Friarbird Philemon fuscicapillus, Black-faced Friarbird Philemon moluccensis, Seram Friarbird Philemon subcorniculatus, Moluccan Cuckooshrike Coracina atriceps, Buru Cuckooshrike Coracina fortis, White-browed Triller Lalage moesta, Rufous-bellied Triller Lalage aurea, Halmahera Cuckooshrike Celebesia parvula, Pale Cicadabird Edolisoma ceramense, Sula Cicadabird Edolisoma sula, Drab Whistler Pachycephala griseonota, Buru Oriole Oriolus bouroensis, Tanimbar Oriole Oriolus decipiens, Seram Oriole Oriolus forsteni, Halmahera Oriole Oriolus phaeochromus, Wetar Figbird Sphecotheres hypoleucus, Taliabu Fantail Rhipidura sulaensis, Tawny-backed Fantail Rhipidura superflua, Streak-breasted Fantail Rhipidura dedemi, Long-tailed Fantail Rhipidura opistherythra, Loetoe Monarch Carterornis castus, Black-chinned Monarch Symposiachrus boanensis, White-tailed Monarch Symposiachrus leucurus, Black-tipped Monarch Symposiachrus loricatus, Moluccan Flycatcher Myiagra galeata, Long-billed Crow Corvus validus, Paradise-crow Lycocorax pyrrhopterus, Standardwing Bird-of-Paradise Semioptera wallacii, Golden-bellied Flyrobin Microeca hemixantha, Obi Golden-Bulbul Alophoixus lucasi, Buru Golden-Bulbul Alophoixus mystacalis, Seram Golden-Bulbul Alophoixus affinis, Chestnut-backed Bush Warbler Locustella castanea, Gray-hooded White-eye Lophozosterops pinaiae, Rufescent White-eye Tephrozosterops stalkeri, Great Kai White-eye Zosterops grayi, Little Kai White-eye Zosterops uropygialis, Seram White-eye Zosterops stalkeri, Cream-throated White-eye Zosterops atriceps, Buru White-eye Zosterops buruensis, Ambon White-eye Zosterops kuehni, Buru Jungle-Flycatcher Eumyias additus, Tanimbar Flycatcher Ficedula riedeli, Damar Flycatcher Ficedula henrici, Cinnamon-chested Flycatcher Ficedula buruensis, Fawn-breasted Thrush Zoothera machiki, Buru Thrush Geokichla dumasi, Seram Thrush Geokichla joiceyi, Slaty-backed Thrush Geokichla schistacea, Tanimbar Starling Aplonis crassa, Long-crested Myna Basilornis corythaix, Bare-eyed Myna Streptocitta albertinae, Halmahera Flowerpecker Dicaeum schistaceiceps, Buru Flowerpecker Dicaeum erythrothorax, Ashy Flowerpecker Dicaeum vulneratum, Madanga Madanga ruficollis
  • iGoTerra Checklist for the North Moluccas

    iGoTerra Checklist
    Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
  • iGoTerra Checklist for the South Moluccas

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

  • A Guide to the Birds of Wallacea

    | (Sulawesi, The Moluccas and Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia) | By Brian J Coates, K David Bishop & Dana Gardner | Dove Publications | 1997 | Hardback | 535 pages, 64 colour plates [697 species], colour photos, maps, illustrations | ISBN: 9780959025736 Buy this book from

Abbreviations Key

  • MP Aketajawe-Lolobata IBA

    InformationSatellite View
    The park is considered by BirdLife International to be vital for the survival of at least 23 endemic bird species. Aketajawe-Lolobata, which has an area of 167,300 hectares, was declared a national park in 2004. From 243 bird species in North Maluku, 211 have been recorded on Halmahera Island of which 24 are endemic, including Wallace's standardwing, Halmahera cuckooshrike, sombre kingfisher, white cockatoo, invisible rail, blue-and-white kingfisher, dusky-brown oriole, Moluccan goshawk, dusky scrubfowl, long-billed crow, grey-headed fruit dove, ivory-breasted pitta, and azure dollarbird.
  • NNR Gunung Sibela

    InformationSatellite View
  • NP Manusela National Park

    InformationSatellite View
    Manusela National Park is located on Seram island, in the Maluku archipelago of Indonesia. It is made up of coastal forest, swamp forest, lowland and montane rainforest ecosystem types. Mount Binaiya at 3,027 meters, is the highest of the park's six mountains. Seram is remarkable for its high degree of localised bird endemism. Of the 118 species of bird on the island, 15 are endemic, including the eclectus parrot, purple-naped lory, salmon-crested cockatoo, lazuli kingfisher, sacred kingfisher, grey-necked friarbird, Moluccan king parrot, bicoloured white-eye, black-chinned monarch, and Seram masked owl.
  • NR Taliabu

    Observatory WebsiteSatellite View
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Vacation Indonesia Tours

    Tour Operator
    Vacation Indonesia Tours, owned by Nurlin Djuni & Darwin Sumang, is your gateway to Indonesia. We can immerse you in our culture, heritage and our extraordinarily diverse natural history. The Islands of Indonesia are justly famous for birdwatching. Over 372 species have been recorded and many are found nowhere else. Nurlin Djuni specialises in Birdwatching/Holidays Tours in Sulawesi, Halmahera, Papua, Java, Bali, Kalimantan, Lesser Sundas and Sumatera
Trip Reports
  • 2014 [08 August] - Rob Gordijn

    PDF Report
    A three week independent trip to Sulawesi and Halmahera, a popular combination of islands since they offer two very different sets of species with lots endemics on both islands. In the first two weeks we visited Central and North Sulawesi: Lore Lindu, Tangkoko, Dumago Bone and Gunung Ambang. The last week we travelled to Halmehera to visit three more sites: Binagara, Galela and Weda...
  • 2014 [09 September] - David Hoddinott - Wallacean Endemics

    PDF Report
    ... Here we found a good variety of species including the range-restricted Javan Plover and, most importantly, the south Sulawesi endemic, Palebellied Myna. Other notable sightings included a splendid Spotted Harrier, White-headed Stilt, Long-toed Stint andbreeding Little Tern, Sacred Kingfisher, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Pied Bush Chat, Pale-headed Munia and Paddyfield Pipit....
  • 2014 [09 September] - Peter Ericsson

    ...Scarlet Mysomela is a tiny bird with a bright red head and something everyone enjoyed. Several were seen. Slender-billed Cuckoo Doves were common, a Great Sulawesi Hanging Parrot showed well. A juvenile Rufous-bellied Eagle came crashing through the woods being mobbed by some Slender-billed Crows. Sulawesi Babbler also gave reasonable views as did Island Verditer Flycatcher. The Barred Rail came in full view on the roadside and a Black Eagle soared on high....
  • 2015 [03 March] - Arjan Brenkman & Jan van der Laan - Halmahera

    PDF Report
    ...At first we drove south, with several stops underway where we saw or heard interesting birds like Spotted Kestrel, Metallic and Moluccan Starling, Violet-necked Lory, Halmahera Swiftlets, Brush Cuckoo, Blueand-white Kingfisher, Beach Kingfisher, Moluccan Hanging Parrot, White-bellied Cuckooshrike, Drab Whistler, White-streaked Friarbird, Moluccan Flycatcher and Creamthroated White-eye.
  • 2015 [11 November] - Gareth Knass - Maluku & Tanimbars

    PDF Report
    This report details a 24 day trip around parts of Eastern Indonesia, which had the aim of seeking out as many Southern Maluku (Moluccas) endemic and range restricted species as possible, also incorporating the Tanimbars – geographically part of the Lesser Sundas, which are currently easiest to reach by air from Ambon. ..
  • 2017 [03 March] - Dave Sargeant - Waigeo to Sulawesi

    ...A good collection of species including several rarely recorded in Singapore, with King Quail, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Slaty-breasted Rail, Red-legged Crake, Sunda Scops Owl, Savanna Nightjar, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Red-crowned Barbet, Long-tailed Parakeet, Greater Painted-snipe, Pin-tailed Snipe, Common Snipe, Asian House Martin and Lanceolated Warbler of particular note.....
  • 2017 [11 November] - David Blair - Sulawesi and Halmahera

    PDF Report
    We could not fit in with any organised tours to Sulawesi & Halmahera and because of annual leave restrictions we couldn’t do the full standard Birdtour Asia itinerary, our preferred option after looking at alternative tour companies, even as a private tour. So we decided after discussion with Rob Hutchinson from birdtourASIA not to go for the Scrubfowl on Halmahera (avoiding long 8 hour drive for a single bird) and also dropped Lompobatang to fit in with our preferred dates.
  • 2018 [08 August] - Carlos Bocos

    PDF Report
    Our annual tour covering the length-and-breadth of the Moluccan islands was a tremendous success once again. The Northern extension, visiting Morotai, Bacan and Obi delivered its full set of recognized ‘field guide’ endemics plus a terrific haul of specialities, like Moluccan Woodcock, Morotai Friarbird, Obi Whistler, Obi Golden Bulbul, Carunculated Fruit Dove, three white-eyes and drongos, Moluccan Drongo Cuckoo, Red-necked Crake, Barking Owl, Pygmy and Gurney’s Eagles and many more.
  • 2018 [11 November] - Steve Clark - Sulawesi & Halmera

    This report covers a 3-week trip to Indonesia, primarily Sulawesi and Halmahera. I had not been to Indonesia before but had spent a week on East Timor in 2013.
  • 2019 [07 July] - James Eaton

    PDF Report
    This extensive custom Moluccas tour required six internal flights, six ferries and 10 small boat to visit 12 islands across 20 days. We may have seen just 215 species (and an additional two heard only), but this did include 103 Moluccan endemics!
  • 2019 [07 July] - James Eaton

    PDF Report
    This extensive custom Moluccas tour required six internal flights, six ferries and 10 small boat to visit 12 islands across 20 days. We may have seen just 215 species (and an additional two heard only), but this did include 103 Moluccan endemics!
  • 2019 [08 August] - Carlos Bocos

    PDF Report
    Despite the very limited time on the island, Bacan White-eye and Bacan Spangled Drongo showed well, with Variable Dwarf Kingfisher and Red-bellied Pitta adding a splash of color. Obi was good enough to deliver Obi Woodcock on a daily basis, Carunculated Fruit Dove, Obi Whistler, Scarlet- breasted Fruit Dove and Rothschild’s Cuscus, amongst all other possible endemics.
  • 2020 [09 September] - Andy Walker

    PDF Report
    The island of Sulawesi (formerly Celebes) offers some of the best birding in Indonesia, and that’s saying something for a country made up of over 17,500 islands sprawling across 3,181 miles (5,120 kilometers) from east to west, and 1,094 miles (1,760 kilometers) from north to south, including the ‘famous’ islands of New Guinea (Papua and West Papua), Borneo (Kalimantan), Halmahera, Java, Bali, and Sumatra to name a few, and which has a bird list of nearly 1,800 species!
  • 2022 [07 July] - Andrew Walkwe - Sulawesi and Halmahera

    PDF Report
    We recorded 232 species on the tour (nine of these heard only). Some of the birding highlights included Moluccan Megapode, Maleo, White (Umbrella) Cockatoo, Moluccan King Parrot, Golden-mantled Racket-tail, Moluccan Hanging Parrot, Knobbed Hornbill, Sulawesi Hornbill, Blyth’s Hornbill, Goliath Coucal, Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle, Gurney’s Eagle, Pygmy Eagle, Barred (Sulawesi) Honey Buzzard, Sulawesi Masked Owl, Eastern Grass Owl, Ochre-bellied Boobook, Speckled Boobook, Halmahera Boobook, Satanic Nightjar, Scaly-breasted Kingfisher, Green-backed Kingfisher, Sulawesi Lilac Kingfisher, Great-billed Kingfisher, Blue-and-white Kingfisher, Sombre Kingfisher, Common (Halmahera) Paradise Kingfisher, Purple-bearded Bee-eater, Halmahera Paradise-crow, (Wallace’s) Standardwing, Hylocitrea, Malia, Lompobattang Flycatcher, and Lompobattang Leaf Warbler.
Other Links
  • Birding in Maluku

    Information about birding sites in Maluku, including key species, maps, access, local guides and resources. The islands of eastern Indonesia are one of the world

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