United Arab Emirates

Sand Partridge Ammoperdix heyi ©Steve Arlow Website
Birding the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven separate emirates formed in 1971 after treaty relations with Britain expired, covers a little over 90,000 square kilometres. Abu Dhabi is the by far the largest of the individual emirates (the city of Abu Dhabi being the country’s capital) although Dubai is perhaps the best-known. The other emirates are Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Qaiwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. The wealth of the country is founded on oil but with parallel development in the fields of commerce, including traditional trading arrangements, and finance able to bolster the economy such that it remains prosperous even in the wake of fluctuating oil revenues.

The Tropic of Cancer passes through the south of the country and the climate is typically hot and extremely arid (the interior desert is part of the so-called Empty Quarter). Summer temperatures along the coast reach well into the 40°s and the humidity builds up to become intolerable. Inland, temperatures are even higher (over 50°C is not uncommon) but humidity levels are generally bearable. The temperature in the winter months regularly exceeds the officially published figures of 25-30°C degrees. Rain is irregular, falling most frequently in the east over the mountains in winter. A few torrential summer thunderstorms are, however, noted most years.

The topography of the country is relatively varied with large areas of sand and gravel desert, with high dunes inland and lower meandering dunes systems in the north and east (often with large shading ghaf trees) reaching the coast except where urban development has taken place and in western Abu Dhabi where extensive sabkha salt-flats prevail. The Hajar mountains are bounded to the west by a narrow Acacia savannah on a down-washed gravel plain, while the mountains themselves rise abruptly to 2000-3000 feet. Many wadis (valleys) warrant exploration, especially those supporting permanent freshwater pools. Inter-tidal areas abound, with many khors (blind tidal inlets) vital for migratory waterfowl although not all necessarily easy to work. Accessible areas of mangrove are rather few although the habitat is widespread.

Pre-eminent though is the drive-in site of Khor Kalba, straddling the border with Oman on the Gulf of Oman coast, with the resident endemic kalbaensis subspecies of White-collared Kingfisher readily found together with, in most months, Indian Pond Heron.

Numerous islands exist in the Gulf, although access is severely restricted. Apart from Red-billed Tropicbird, however, all species of nesting seabird can be readily observed on or from mainland beaches and headlands. Thus Socotra Cormorant, Sooty Gull, Swift, Lesser Crested, Bridled, White-cheeked Tern and Saunders’ Terns all generally feature on any trip list.

Some 442 species of bird have been recorded in the UAE in the last twenty-five years, yet of these only 125 or so breed regularly (with less than 60 resident and a further 30 or so naturalised exotics). Remarkably, over 100 species are listed as vagrants. Yet, increased birdwatcher activity in recent years has caused the record books to be rewritten: Blyth’s Pipit and Oriental Skylark are now regarded as regular passage and winter visitors; Crested Honey Buzzard, Olive-backed Pipit and Hume’s Yellow-browed Warbler annual; Forest Wagtail virtually annual and so on.

The avifauna is an east meets west blend of Palearctic and Oriental (Indo-Malayan) species, amongst the latter being ubiquitous Purple Sunbirds, Red-wattled Lapwings, Little Green Bee-eaters and Grey Francolins. Add to all these possibilities, depending on when you visit, the almost guaranteed attraction of migrant or wintering Grey Hypocolius, Red-tailed and Hume’s Wheatears, White-throated Robin, Upcher’s, Menetries’ and Plain Leaf Warblers, Pallid Scops Owl, Pintail Snipe, Cream-coloured Courser, Great Knot, Crab Plover and many other species and you can see why the UAE is such a popular destination.

The country is extremely modern, unrivalled in terms of security, free from health risks (characterising most similar tropical destinations) and with liberal attitudes expects to be visited. The road network is of the highest standard, if rather busy at times, but self-drive visitors should have no problems travelling about. The quality of hotel accommodation is very high, with most housing English style pubs. Convinced yet that you should visit?

Birding information: The website ‘UAE birding’ is run by Tommy Pedersen, the UAE Bird Recorder. Here you will find information on recent sightings, checklists, information on birdwatching sites, a webforum etc. There is also a section on birdguides available, mostly restricted to Fridays & Saturdays.

Please remember to pass your records for inclusion in the bird database for the UAE and for the records of the Emirates Bird Records Committee to Tommy Pedersen, Bird Recorder on e-mail 777sandman@gmail.com or to Nick Moran, Secretary of the EBRC e-mail: nickmoran76@yahoo.co.uk

Top Sites
  • Khor Kalba

    InformationSatellite View
    The UAE's Indian Ocean coastline ends in an extensive mangrove marsh. Mangrove contrasts strongly with rocky mountains. White-collared kingfisher is a breeding resident here - and only here. Many others such as reef herons & booted warblers also nest.
  • Simon Aspinall

    | phellyer@emirates.net.ae

  • Tommy Pedersen

    | 777sandman@gmail.com

County Recorder
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 464

  • iGoTerra Checklist

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

  • 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
  • Breeding Birds of the United Arab Emirates

    | By Simon Aspinall | Environment Agency Abu Dhabi | 2010 | Hardback | 241 pages, colour photos, distribution maps | ISBN: 9789948408222 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Birds of the United Arab Emirates

    | By Simon Aspinall & Richard Porter | Christopher Helm | 2011 | Paperback | 240 pages, 102 colour plates, colour distribution maps, colour & b/w maps | ISBN: 9781408152577 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Museums & Universities
  • Sharjah Natural History Museum

    The Natural History Museum and Desert Park is a venue that provides people with a chance to learn about the flora and fauna of the Arabian desert, while at the same time having a relaxing and fun time.
  • Environmental Research & Wildlife Development Agency

    The Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency's (ERWDA) overall aim is to enhance the sustainable development of Abu Dhabi Emirate's environment and wildlife. The National Avian Research Center became fully operational in 1993 and so is the longest operational center in the Agency. Its mission is to promote bustard and falcon conservation and reconcile the trading of Arab falconry with a sustainable use of the resources throughout the bustard and falcons range. This is done through breeding, research, advice, international cooperation and habitat conservation, in order to preserve the natural and cutural heritage and to save species from extinction

Abbreviations Key

  • Al Wathba Wetland Reserve

    WebpageSatellite View
    Al Wathba Wetland Reserve covers a total area of five square kilometers, comprising wetlands, sabkhas (salt flats), fossilized sands and dunes. It was established in 1998 by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It was the first place in the Emirate to be designated for protection by law and was declared a Ramsar site in 2013. This means that the site has been recognized by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance and joins a list of over 2,000 other internationally recognized wetlands around the world.
  • Khor Kalba

    InformationSatellite View
    Khor Kalba - The dark green belt of almost impenetrable mangrove contrasts strongly with the brown and purple rocky mountains and the sparkling blue water. Young seedlings surrounded by air roots signal a healthy environment. The mud at low tide reveals myriads of pretty crabs, while in the shady canopy of the trees a unique small bird makes its home. The white-collared kingfisher is a breeding resident here - and only here. Many other birds like reef herons and booted warblers also nest here. Khor Kalba is a magical place, a place of exquisite beauty, a place worthy of protection. Happily, as Arabian Wildlife goes to press news has come through that Khor Kalba is to be officially designated as a Nature Reserve…
  • Sir Bani Yas

    WebsiteSatellite View
    The island nature reserve and experimental agricultural base of Sir Bani Yas has undergone a massive amount of land reclamation, planting, irrigation and wildlife husbandry creating a place that somehow defies all expectations in terms of what can grow and live in this southern Arabian Gulf region. Flourishing wildlife on the island probably reflects how the region once was, at a time of greater rainfall and greener pastures. Proposals were discussed with UNESCO during the year, concerning international recognition of this unique wildlife reserve with a view to enhancing its status as a wildlife conservation centre…
Sightings, News & Forums
Trip Reports
  • 2010 [02 February] - John van der Woude

    On our flight from Europe to South India with Emirates, we used the free stopover in Dubai for three days birding. First we went to a Crab Plover site in the Northwest, then crossed over to the east coast at Kalba (mangroves, with a rare subspecies of Collared Kingfisher), from there to the region around Al Ain (mountain, desert), and then back through the desert to Dubai…
  • 2011 [10 October] - John & Thomas Yates

    PDF Report
    ...Birds seen in the park were Feral Pigeon, Collared Dove, Laughing Dove, Common Myna, Pied Myna,Indian Roller, Hoopoe, Grey Francolin, House Crow, Red vented Bulbul, White Cheeked Bulbul, TreePipit, Ring Necked Parakeet, Red Wattled Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, House Sparrow, PurpleSunbird (female), White Wagtail, Isabelline Shrike (Turkestan), Little Egret & a Swift species...
  • 2012 [02 February] - Forrest Rowland

    …Including the upper reaches of Jebel Hafeet above the park, best birds were Arabian and Sand Partridges, Egyptian Vulture, Red-tailed and Isabelline Shrikes, Pale Martin, White-throated Robin, Eversmann’s Redstart, Red-tailed, Hume’s, and Hooded Wheatears, Common Rock Thrush, and others…
  • 2013 [08 August] - Ian Reid

    PDF Report
    …Crab Plover had been high on my wish list for some time, ever since I realised I could potentially seek out this rare and interesting monotypic wader on a stopover between UK and Australia…
  • 2013 [11 November] - Oscar Jönsson

    PDF Report
    In Swedish
  • 2014 [01 January] - Phil Gregory - Oman & the UAE: Birding Arabia

    …Dhofar Governate is always a highlight in the far south of Oman and with much more African feel to it, and here we did well with Arabian Partridge, Arabian Warbler, Arabian Wheatear, Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak for those who went early, the newly split Arabian Scops Owl (albeit briefly!), and Yemen Serin at its only known site outside of Yemen. Three species of sea turtle off the spectacular sea cliffs near Mirbat included a huge Leatherback, and Ras Mirbat gave us Masked and Brown boobies and Socotra Cormorant…
  • 2014 [12 December] - Forrest Rowland - UAE & Oman

    PDF Report
    ...Our route began in Dubai. We birded the metropolitan hotspots thoroughly, as well as a recentlyrenowned farming operation in the far North, before heading southeast, inland, to “The Garden City” ofAl Ayn. Crossing into Oman, we birded the Sohar Coast of the Indian Ocean, before heading high intothe Hajars Mountains, the only place where snow is known to fall on the Arabian Peninsula! After avisit to Masirah Island on the central coast of Oman, we headed west and south through the vastexpanse of the Rub Al Khali (the Empty Quarter). Out tour ended at the Dhofar region of southernOman among African Baobabs and Coconut Palms..
  • 2016 [01 January] - Phil Gregory - Oman & UAE

    This was the sixth Field Guides trip to Arabia (and my ninth), and was again an exciting and varied experience, despite it being unusually dry in Oman, with relatively few passerine migrants about. We began in the rather astonishing city of Dubai, where this year we had a much better and more convenient hotel as our base, albeit with beer at an eye-watering $15 per pint! We covered a number of desert sites with Mark, our excellent local guide, before going to Abu Dhabi with its extraordinary architecture and horribly distant Hypocolius roost...
  • 2016 [02 February] - Remco Hofland - Southern Oman & UAE

    PDF Report
    I’m pleased to say we saw all of my desired species well, and furthermore had a very pleasant stayin Salalah, enjoying the hundreds of eagles at Raysut rubbish dump (incl this winter’s vagrantPallas’s Fish Eagle), the many beautiful wadis of S Oman, the tasty local fruitjuices, the excellentswimmingpool, Indian Ocean views and great cooking at Beach Villas in Salalah and, surprisingly, agreat supporting cast of magnificent creatures like breaching Manta (or Devil) Rays, four ArabianChameleons, breaching False Killer Whale, dozens of dolphins feeding only meters away, greatviews of sea turtles, Baluch Ground Gecko and many beautiful dragonflies.
  • 2016 [11 November] - Jonathan Lethbridge

    PDF Report
    ...I was up and birding the hotel gardens before sunrise the next day, as was a birding tour group. None of us howevercould find the Sand Partridges that frequent these slopes. I spent a bit of time photographing a Black Redstart,some Bulbuls and Sparrows. As the sun got higher the Pale Crag Martins that nest at the hotel started getting upand about and I knew that it was time for plan B - the wadi behind the Green Mubazzarah, at the foot of the Jebel...
  • 2016 [11 November] - Mark Beevers

    PDF Report
    The first full day of the tour saw us heading north-east towards the Oman border where our destinationwas the excellent Wamm Farm. This site is famous amongst UAE birders and can be teeming with birds,although we chose a fairly quiet day to visit. En route we stopped at a wadi where I had previously seenStreaked Scrub-Warbler but on this occasion this species would have to wait until later in the trip to geton the checklist. Those that alighted from the bus first were rewarded with a brief look at a StriolatedBunting which very quickly departed and which proved to be the only one on the tour. We gave the wadihalf an hour, picking up species such as Green Bee-eater, Desert Lark, Lesser Whitethroat, PersianWheatear, Black Redstart, Indian Silverbill and perhaps best of all, a Menetries’s Warbler...
  • 2017 [01 January] - Dick Meijer & Peter van Scheepen

    PDF Report
    ...Walked on the Island – itis not allowed to leave the beach and walk into the inner part of the Island, whichwe tried to respect – from 7.15 hrs. to 10.15 hrs. (Hypocolius, Red-tailedWheatear, Indian Silverbill, Black-throated Thrush, Asian Desert Warbler,Menetries's Warbler, Bay-backed Shrike and Pallas's Gull) and returned to the mainland at 10.30 hrs. Drove to Al Ain (Pallid Scops-Owl in Al Jimi oasis, EgyptianVulture, Hume's and Mourning Wheatear on Jebel Hafit (1249 m.)). ..
  • 2018 [04 April] - Pat & Judy Hayes - Seychelles & Dubai

    If you are looking for a full-on trip report of the Seychelles you would be advised to look elsewhere. This is a holiday/celebration with our passion for birds being indulged a little. Jude has always wanted to visit some of the coral islands found in the Indian Ocean, so this was the excuse we were looking for, more a holiday than a full-on bird trip. It includes a short stopover in Dubai.
  • 2018 [12 December] - Aladdin

    PDF Report
    Coming to United Arab Emirates and I wanted to take the chance for a few days of bird watching. I was hoping for some desert habitat after having been to Djibouti. I searched the internet for information and I found UAEBIRDING.COM. They have a “GUIDING” section and I think thye were in progress to update their web page when I used the page.
  • 2019 [05 May] - Julian Bell - Pelagic

    A six hour transit in a small boat out to the vessel I was joining produced several Bridled Tern and a few Greater Crested Terns. Once offshore I was, as so often the case, stuck inside. Towards the end of the trip I had some opportunities to pop out on deck. There was almost always a passerine on deck feeding on the huge number of grounded insects. The only species I managed to identify were Willow Warbler, Marsh Warbler and a Yellow Wagtail (the latter as I left the vessel).
Other Links
  • Abdinet

    My name is Abdulhakim, but for short I am called Abdul or Abdi. Anyway, I am a 19 year old high school graduate. I am originally from Somalia which is in a bit of a crisis right now. I am an amateur birdwatcher (quite frankly I`m VERY attached to birdwatching, I have seen 285 bird species out of the 410 on the country list) and I plan to travel all around the world.
  • UAE birding

    Birding the United Arab Emirates - This website is dedicated to birders visiting the UAE, aiming to provide as much up-to-date information as possible
Photographers & Artists
  • Photographer - jai prakash Singh - Jai's Bird Photography

    Birding pictures from UAE (& India)
  • UAE Birds


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