State of Qatar

Hoopoe Lark Alaemon alaudipes ©Neil Morris Website
Birding Qatar

Bordered on three sides by the Arabian (Persian) Gulf and on its fourth (southern) side by Saudi Arabia, Qatar is a small desert state comprising mainly stone (jebel) desert and more limited areas of dune. It is one of only two locations in the world where dunes meet the sea (the other being Namibia). It is one of the hottest countries in the world with summer temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius, and is certainly one of the driest, being the only country in the world with no natural standing fresh water. More than 90 per cent of the country’s land surface is saline, being inhospitable to all but the most halophytic of plants.

Despite this harsh, salty, hot and arid environment, Qatar can provide excellent birding from August through to May. Geographically, the peninsula of Qatar juts some 150 km northwards into the Arabian Gulf. The right wind conditions in spring, autumn and even winter can bring thousands of migrants flooding into the country.

The State of Qatar has an indigenous population of c.350,000, supplemented by an immigrant workforce of more than 2 million. Oil and, especially, natural gas have fuelled Qatar’s meteoric development from poor, sleepy pearl fishing backwater to a modern affluent society with international investment interests and political ambitions. Per native capita, it is the richest country in the world.

Now the designated host for the FIFA 2022 World Cup, the country has invested heavily in its infrastructure development, including a world class Metro rail system and the construction of seven new stadiums. The road network has also been substantially upgraded.

Since 2107, a blockade has sealed Qatar’s border with Saudi Arabia as well as closing links and all travel between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

Birds and Wildlife

As for birds, claims of the historic occurrence of exotic species such as Arabic Ostrich are now considered erroneous, though there is no doubt that the now extirpated Macqueen’s Bustard was once a regular winter visitor.

Urban areas now host the typical array of invasive, introduced and opportunistic Arabian-Asian species, including White-eared and Red-vented Bulbuls, the ubiquitous Common Myna, House Sparrow (of the eastern indicus group), Indian Silverbill, Laughing & Eurasian Collared Doves, Alexandrine & Ring-necked Parakeets and the occasional House Crow (which thankfully has yet to gain a strong foothold in the country).

In rural areas, characterised by seemingly unending miles of stone desert with scattered sprawling pivot farms, commonly found species include Spanish Sparrow, Namaqua Dove, Corn Bunting, Crested Larks and Grey Francolin. Of particular interest to the visiting birdwatcher will be resident and passage species such as Arabian Grey Shrike, Greater Hoopoe and Desert Larks, Lilith Owl, Indian Reef and Striated Herons, Indian Reed Warbler, Ferruginous Duck, Graceful Prinia, Green-backed (African) Swamphen, four forms of Stonechat, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin – plus of course some key target birds such as the Arabian endemic Socotra Cormorant, Menetries’s Warbler, Red-tailed Wheatear, Crab Plover, Cream-coloured Courser, Saunder’s and White-cheeked Terns, Black-crowned Sparrow-lark and the notoriously unpredictable (Grey) Hypocolius.

The peak periods to visit Qatar for birding are September-November and February to April, though birding can be good any time between August and May.

All sites mentioned below are publicly accessible, though as with anywhere in the Middle East you should use common sense and respect local customs, and avoid birdwatching and photography near sensitive buildings/areas.

Top Sites
  • Al Thakhira

    InformationSatellite View
    Al Dakhira (Al Thakira) is located c.60km from Doha to the northeast and provides access to Qatar’s mangrove forests which can also be explored on organised kayak tours. Purple Island (Jazirat al Ghanem), is an accessible location which has a newly constructed wooden causeway that bridges across the mangroves. Flamingo, Little and Western Great Egret, Purple and Grey Heron are commonly seen in the many inlets and pools. It is best to avoid weekends as it can be busy, even early in the morning. Across the bay, further views of the mangroves can be obtained at Forest End. This is almost the only place in Qatar where trees grow naturally.
  • Fuwairit Beach and sandbar

    InformationSatellite View
    In winter, large numbers of terns and many gulls gather on the low tide sand bar. Pallas’s and Steppe Gulls predominate, along with Lesser Crested Terns. The nearby lagoon provides shelter for herons, roosting waders and terns. In spring and autumn, migrants can be found in the village, mangroves and salt marsh scrub surrounding the lagoon. Socotra Cormorant can be seen all year round in small numbers.
  • Irkaya Farm

    ArticleSatellite View
    Qatar's premier biodiversity hotspot whose pivot fields and surrounding 'jebel' desert have produced 238 species of birds, representing some 76% of all species recorded in Qatar. Access to the farm is currently being formalised, though birders may continue to arrive ad-hoc and will be allowed entry. The farm is now a designated nature reserve. Access is controlled and the road to the farm is unmarked and follows an unmade track from a cement factory which borders the farm. Although quiet in the stiflingly hot summer months, the farm is worth visiting anytime from August (although it is still very hot and humid at this time) through to May. Regular sights include dozens of harriers of three species, six species of lark as well as migrant pipits, chats, thrushes, warblers etc. There is also an an interesting selection of breeding species such as Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Red-wattled Lapwing, Arabian Grey Shrike (of the form aucheri – formerly Southern Grey Shrike) and Lilith Owl.
  • Karaana Lagoon

    InformationSatellite View
    Located 60km southwest of Doha, Al Karaana was formerly a waste water collection area, with ten separate lagoons that absorbed 6,000 cubic metres of industrial wastewater per day since 2006. Unsurprisingly, the area accumulated contaminated sediments and solids at the bottom of the lagoons of up to 3.5m in some areas. The old lagoons were drained and the contaminated sludge treated. Three artificial lagoons have been designed (two are in service currently) which will store about 2.4 million cubic metres of treated water coming from Al Karaana treatment plant. The area has been planted with reeds and rushes and now contain a thriving habitat including birds, fish, frogs and other animals. The area is now a good location to observe herons, egrets and waterfowl, as well as osprey, marsh harrier in good numbers.
  • Khor Al-Adaid (The Inland Sea)

    InformationSatellite View
    Currently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Khor Al-Adaid (aka Khor Al Udeid) is lauded by travel agencies as a top tourist attraction. It is one of only two locations in the world where dunes reach the shoreline. If dune bashing is your thing, then maybe it is worth a visit; but do not go there expecting to see lots of wildlife, especially birds. Apart from a few distant Greater Flamingos and the odd pair of nesting Western Ospreys, the area offers little of real interest to the visiting birder. Do not be misled by articles describing thousands of birds; these are written by those who have never picked up a pair of binoculars, let alone bird-watched in the area!
  • Umm Bab

    InformationSatellite View
    This picnic area on the west coast is a somewhat disappointing sight to behold, being heavily littered and soiled with the detritus of human beach goers. But in the palms and trees can be found migrants, in both spring and autumn. In fact, this whole stretch of coastline is worth exploring when birds are on the move north or south. The star bird is Hypocolius, which occurs in small flocks, albeit unpredictably on its journeys to and from Saudi, Bahrain and Iran. Occasionally, groups overwinter, though this phenomenon is becoming increasingly rare. Socotra Cormorant can often be seen offshore in small numbers.
Contributors
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 371

    As at October 2020
Checklist

  • iGoTerra Checklist

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

  • Birds of Qatar

    | By Frances Gillespie | Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing | 2014 | Paperback | 32 pages, colour photos, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9789992195895 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Common Birds of Qatar

    | By Hanne Eriksen, Jens Eriksen & Frances Gillespie | Frances Gillespie | 2011 | Paperback | 248 pages, 400 col photos, dist maps | ISBN: 9789948157472 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Birds of the Middle East

    | By Richard Porter, Simon Aspinall, A Birch, John Gale, Mike Langman, Brian E Small | Christopher Helm | 2010 | Paperback | 384 pages, 176 colour plates, 636 colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9780713676020 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Organisations
  • Friends of the Environment Centre

    Website
    FEC is striving in collaboration with the Government, NGOs and the Private Sector to achieve better bird conservation goals through field surveys, and offering effective environmental educational and awareness programmes focusing on students, families and local communities .
  • Qatar Bird Records Committee (QBRC)

    Website
    The recognised authority for the recording of wild birds in Qatar, QBRC reviews submissions from visiting and resident birders and maintains the Qatar List. The three-man committee comprises Jamie Buchanan (National Recorder), Simon Tull and Neil Morris (Secretary)
  • Qatar Natural History Group - Bird Club

    Website
    …the page on the Natural History Group that deals with the Qatar Bird Club. It gives notices of meetings and lists the newsletters published…
Forums & Mailing Lists
  • Qatar Birding

    Mailing List
    Qatarbirding is a discussion group related to wild birds in the State of Qatar, their observation, study and conservation. Qatarbirding is not intended for discussions about captive birds, falconry or the hunting of birds.
Trip Reports


Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

  • 2014 [03 March] - David Karr

    PDF Report
    On arrival at the locked gate, I sighted a small flock feeding on the ground. These were Namaqua Doves, which immediately flew off once I had alighted from Wayne’s vehicle. I was soon to learn from Wayne that birding from a vehicle was almost mandatory as most species spooked once they spot a biped…
  • 2017 [03 March] - Stig Jensen & Jon Lehmberg

    PDF Report
    As we found out, Qatar is only relatively unexplored since there’s a small birding community, apparently mainly consisting of expats, here. Even for Danes such as us, Qatar is a very small and flat country, and since it’s easy to get there, to get around, to find accommodation (though mainly/exclusively in and around Doha) and places to eat, we wonder why so fewbirders visit. The most likely explanation is that there are no birds here which are impossible or indeed difficult to find anywhere else. It’s a shame really, because the country is definitely worth a visit, and we certainly didn’t regret spending a few days.
  • 2018 [07 July] - Valentin Moser

    PDF Report
    I did a stopover on the 6th of July in/around Doha. The highlights were Greater/Lesser Sand Plover, White-eared Bulbul and Lesser Crested Tern, as well as an insight in a complex country. In this report I give some advice how to plan the stopover, birding sites and some general information.
Other Links
  • Qatar Biodiversity

    PDF Article
    The government has placed increased emphasis on the conservation of biologicalresources. The marine and terrestrial eco-systems of Qatar includes several importantspecies of flora and fauna of bio-diversity value, a few of which are believed to bethreatened and endangered…
Blogs
  • BirderLife

    BLOG
    Birding BLOG from a Brit in Qatar
  • Simons Birding Blog

    BLOG
    Birding blog and photographic record of wildlife in Qatar…
Photographers & Artists
  • Photographer - Dileep Anthikad

    Gallery
    Photography facilitated me to see the world around me from a different angle and portrays it in a natural and unique way…
  • Photographer - John Thompson

    Gallery
    Probably the best single collection of bird images from Qatar published online.
  • Photographer - Neil Morris

    Gallery
    Fine photographs of birds and other fauna from British birder currently resident in Qatar…

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND