Republic of Vanuatu

Cardinal Myzomela Myzomela cardinalis ©Andy Walker Website
Birding Vanuatu

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.

Top Sites
  • Loru Rainforest Protected Area - Santo

    InformationSatellite View
    The project (also known as Ser-Thiac), as part of the Nakau Programme, protects over 200ha of tropical rainforest on eastern Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. It combines coastal rainforest protection with agroforestry, with a special focus on producing the agricultural commodity Melanesian Chestnut (Canarium indium) for participating community members.
  • Nagha mo Pineia Protected Area - Northwest Malekula

    InformationSatellite View
    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

    InformationSatellite View
    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.
  • Stephen Totterman

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 136

    (As at April 2020)
  • 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
  • iGoTerra Checklist

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

  • Birds of Melanesia: Bismarcks, Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia

    | By Guy Dutson | Christopher Helm | 2011 | Paperback | 447 pages | 75 colour plates | colour photos | colour maps | black & white illustrations | Tables | ISBN: 9780713665406 Buy this book from
  • Birds of Vanuatu

    | By HL Bregulla | Anthony Nelson | 1992 | Hardback | 294 pages, Colour and b/w photos | ISBN: 9780904614343 Buy this book from
  • Birds of the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

    | By Chris Doughty, Nicholas Day & Andrew Plant | Christopher Helm | 1999 | Paperback | 206 pages, 91 colour plates, 340 colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9780713646900 Buy this book from

Abbreviations Key

  • CA Loru Forest Project

    WebsiteSatellite View
    The Loru Forest Project, managed by the Nakau Programme, protects 166 ha of tropical rainforest on eastern Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu.
  • CA Vatthe

    InformationSatellite View
    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…
  • NR Bokissa

    InformationSatellite View
    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…
  • Vanuatu Birds

    InformationSatellite View
    Vanuatu is home to some rare, amazing and beautiful birdlife, thanks to its diversity of habitats ranging from coastal swamps and lowland forests to incredible mountain cloud forests.
Trip Reports
  • 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

    PDF Report
    Annotated List…
  • 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…
  • 2016 [07 July] - David Hoddinott & Rich Lindie - Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu & New Caledonia

    PDF Report
    ...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.
  • 2017 [07 July] - Erik Forsyth & Rich Lindie

    PDF Report
    ...With only one glaring exception to our Vanuatu endemics tally, and with one extra day than needed,we set off the next morning for adventure, to a site not even visited by a Rockjumper group yet. Ourefforts paid off handsomely, as we were rewarded with a total of three sightings of Vanuatu Megapode– the third of which involved each and every person in the group; even if it did require a little bushwhackingto achieve...
  • 2018 [11 November] - New Caledonia & Fiji, with Vanuatu & Samoa

    PDF Report
    The unique Orange Fruit Dove was the undisputed highlight of our very enjoyable foray to the Melanesian islands of Vanuatu and New Caledonia and the Polynesian islands of Fiji and Samoa. These little dots sprinkled about in the western Pacific Ocean hold an amazing variety of endemics and specialities and on our recent trip we managed to see the majority of these.
Other Links
  • Birds of Vanuatu

    121 species of birds are know to inhabit Vanuatu. 7 species are endemic to Vanuatu…
Photographers & Artists
  • Photographer - Sarah Koschak

    Gallery with some truly stunning photographs

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