Birding in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is blessed with over 500 species of birds, while 89% of the species found in the island are common throughout the region; the remaining 11% are endemics amounting to 33 species and 68 subspecies. The avifaunal diversity of the island is due to the various habitats of birds found in the island in turn due to the various environments determined by the climatic zones. Thus different species of birds could be observed from coastal lagoons and marshes to grasslands and forests of the hills. Some species are restricted to certain environments while others are found throughout the island. Sri Lanka is home to its resident birds as well as to a large number of migrant species with the majority from the northern autumn-winter usually arriving in the island from mid-August to late November and leaving by late March.

Sri Lank is fortunate that even within a city or town there are wetlands or small patches of forests where many birds can be observed, well wooded home gardens with fruit trees are also considered good birding sites. The important birding sites where endemisity is high are – Wildlife parks, Forests and Nature Reserves, Wetlands, and RAMSAR sites which are distributed in the Avifaunal zones based on bird assemblages and their distribution. To see the endemic birds, birding in the wet zone, low country and hill zone will give a bird watcher a chance of observing all 33 endemics consisting of mainly forest birds with restricted distribution.

The next interesting lot of birds is associated with water or the wetland birds, these are mostly found in the Dry zone and in the North part of the island, the Indian or Decan birds too can be observed. A careful plan of locations will allow a bird watcher to cover the main bird groups in the country. Some birds are confined to specific habitats i.e. the Painted Francolin, Yellow Footed Green Pigeon in Nilgala National Park, and the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush in Horton Plains.

Bird watching tourism, a form of Nature Tourism is a growing activity and we at Wild Quest have explored and understood all the habitats where birds are found. And we respect and enhance the natural values and the sites of the industry.


Sri Lanka Junglefowl (Gallus lafayettii)

This is an endemic bird and the National Bird of Sri Lanka; it keeps in pairs and occupies forests and dense scrubs throughout the country from the lowlands to the high hills. Males have a bare red face with golden-yellow feathers covering the neck; the females are much smaller and lack the striking colours of the male. The Males from bill to tail can measure 66-72.5cm while the females are 35cm.

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornate)

This uncommon endemic bird is found in pairs or small groups of the wet zone forests and montane forests. It has a chestnut head and wings with a blue body and white tipped blue tail. Length from bill to tail can measure 42-47cm.

Dull-blue Flycatcher (Eumyias sordidus)

This endemic bird is found in pairs in forests of the high hills. Adults are shy-blue with a greyish-white belly. Females can be slightly duller than the males. Length from bill to tail is 15cm.

Sri Lankan Green-billed Coucal (Centropus chlororhynchos)

This endemic bird is found in pairs in tall dense forest with thick undergrowth of the lowland wet zone. It has an ivory to greenish bill with dark red eyes and a purple sheen to black neck and mantle. Length from bill to tail is 43cm.

Ashy-headed Laughingthrush (Garrulax cinereifrons)

This endemic bird is found in flocks mostly on the ground in dense forests of the wet zone lowlands and adjoining hills. The adults have an ashy grey head with a black bill and dark rufous-brown underparts. Length from bill to tail is 23cm./p>

Spot-winged Thrush (Geokichla spiloptera)

This endemic bird is territorial and can be found in forests and well wooded areas of the wet zone lowlands and high hills. Adult has distinctive white narrow wing-bars formed of spots with black face markings and black spotting on underparts. Length from bill to tail is 27cm.

Sri Lanka White-eye (Zosterops ceylonensis)

This tiny endemic bird is found in flocks in forests and wooded areas of the mid to high hills. It has yellowish-olive upperparts with a grey belly and a broad white eye-ring. Length from bill to tail is 11cm.


Birding locations

Due to diverse distribution of the avifauna throughout the island, there are many birding sites in the country suited to observe the resident and migrant species. The sites where migrant birds arrive would usually be found full of birds between the months of August to March while the resident birds could be spotted throughout the year in the large forests.

While all National Parks and other forest Reserves are famous as birding locations, given below is a list of other locations for observing birds.

1) Aththidiya/Bellanwila wetlands – Colombo District, 12km from Colombo.

2) Talangama Tank - Colombo District, 15km from Colombo.

3) 3) Talawathugoda – Diyasaru Park – Colombo District, 12km from Colombo.

4) 4) Beddagana wetland – Colombo District, 8 km from Colombo.

5) 5) Mithirigala forest – Colombo District, 7km northwest of Avissawella.

6) 6) Kitulgala forest – Kegalle District, 22km east of Avissawella.

7) 7) Bodhinagala forest – Kalutara District, 40km south east of Colombo.

8) 8) Runakanda forest – Kalutara District, 20km east of Matugama

9) 9) Kanneliya forest – Galle District, 30km northeast of Galle.

10) 10) Hiyare forest - Galle District, 11km east of Galle.

11) 11) Kalametiya Sanctuary – Hambantota District, 7km southwest of Ambalantota.

12) 12) Kirinda-Palatupana wetlands - Hambantota District, 28km northeast of Hambantota.

13) 13) Tissamaharama tanks - Hambantota District, within 10km radius of Tissamaharama.

14) 14) Victoria Park – Nuwera Eliya District, Nuwera Eliya town.

15) 15) Hakgala Botanical Gardens - Nuwera Eliya District, 5km south of Nuwera Eliya.

16) 16) Udawattakele forest – Kandy District, Kandy town.

17) 17) Revelstone area – Matale District, 15km north of Matale, Knuckles range.

18) 18) Sigiriya Sanctuary and vicinity – Matale District, 15km northeast of Dambulla.

19) 19) Chilaw sand spit – Puttalam District, 3km north of Chilaw.

20) Giants Tank – Mannar District, 17km southeast of Mannar.

21) Vankalai Sanctuary (RAMSAR site) - Mannar District, just east of Mannar town.

22) Kora Kulam - Mannar District, 3km northwest of Mannar.

23) Kokkilai Sanctuary – Mullaitivu District, 27km southeast of Mullaitivu.

24) Jaffna lagoon: Chavakachcheri to Sangupiddy– Jaffna District, 15-25km southeast of Jaffna.

25) Jaffna lagoon: Jaffna to Kayts– Jaffna District, Araly East to Mandaitivu to Velanai East.