Guide to Birding in Western Ghats of India

Introduction to the Western Ghats

In the southwestern part of India’s peninsular region, the oldest mountain range the Western Ghats is one of the most biogeographically rich places in the world and is also known as Shyadri. It can be compared with Amazon, as per the area the number of species you find here is almost the same. The Western Ghats mountain range comprises geomorphic characteristics of tremendous significance with distinctive biophysical and biological processes.

The Indian monsoon weather pattern is influenced by the high montane forest ecosystems in the region. The location offers one of the world’s best examples of the monsoon system, which helps to moderate the tropical climate of the area. It is regarded as one of the eight “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity in the world and has an extraordinarily high level of endemism and biological diversity. The Western Ghats’ forests contain 30 percent of all the wildlife found in India and are home to at least 300 species of fish, 117 species of amphibians, 71 species of reptiles, 600 species of bird, 121 species of mammals, and other wildlife. The two endemic species of mammals found here are Nilgiri Thar and the Lion-tailed macaque. Around 50 percent of amphibians found in India along with 67 percent of fish are endemic to the region and 29 species of birds are found only in the Western Ghat region.

 

birding in western ghats of india

The Western Ghats biogeographic region in southern India runs along the west coast extending from 080 19’08”–210 16’24”N to 720 56’24”–780 19’40”E with a north to south distance of 16000 km, minimum width of 48 km, and maximum width of 210 km, covering a total area of 1,60,000 Sq km as per the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund(CEPF 2007). The Western Ghats mountain range traverses through six states of India from North to South starting from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu interrupted only once by a 30-km break called the Palghat Gap in northern Kerala.

Also Read: Other Birding Destinations in India

 

The landscape of Western Ghats

The hill range of the western coast of the Indian Peninsula has some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. There are plateaus, hills, and valleys covered with green foliage and stream flowing through them. The altitude of the Western Ghats ranges from 2695 meters to sea level. The highest peak is Anamudi located at Eravikulam National Park in the state of Kerela. The Western Ghats is divided into 04 different parts to make the study clear in different aspects, rainfall, vegetation, altitude, diversity, etc. The Northern part from South Gujarat to South Maharashtra is called by Northern Western Ghats, The entire area in Karnataka with some part of north Kerala state is the Central Western Ghats, from north Kerela to central Kerala till Palghat and towards east from the north Kerela move till the Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu is Nilgiris region and the southernmost part in the Kerala region of the Western Ghats is South Western Ghats.

Western ghats of India

 

Forest Types of Western Ghats

Four different primary forest types and their corresponding levels of degradation have been identified in the Western Ghat. These categories have a strong relationship with temperature and rainfall patterns. While dry fringe evergreen and main moist deciduous types are present in the Parambikulam basin, where rainfall ranges from 1400 to 2000 mm, wet evergreen forests are primarily found in regions with rainfall of more than 2000 mm. A reduction in the minimum temperature with increasing altitude clearly distinguishes the low elevation (700 m) and medium elevation (700-1500 m) moist evergreen forests. While medium-height woods are primarily found in the region where the temperature ranges between 16 and 23 degrees Celsius, low-elevation forests often correspond to temperatures over 23 degrees Celsius during the coldest month. The length of dry months varies from 2 to 4 months in the areas of wet evergreen forests and 4 to 6 months in the areas of dry fringe forests and primary moist deciduous forests.

Primary forest types Rainfall (mm) Minimum temperature of the coldest month Length of the dry season
Low elevation wet evergreen forests Above 2000 mm Above 23 degrees Celcius 2-4 months
Medium elevation wet evergreen forests Above 2000 mm Between 16 – 23 degrees Celcius 2-4 months
Dry fringe evergreen forests Between 1500 –
2000 mm
Between 16 – 23 degrees Celcius 4-6 months
Primary moist deciduous forests Between 1500-2000 mm Above 23 degrees Celcius 4-6 months

 

Karnataka on average receives the highest rainfall compare to Kerela, Maharashtra, and the Goa region. The Ghats in Karnataka don’t have also the state have the highest evergreen forest compared to other states.

 

birding in western ghats india

 

Birds in the Western Ghats

The rich region in flora has given the highest diversity in Fauna and Avifauna. India is home to around 1300 species of birds and the Western Ghats has almost 45 percent of the total number which is 600 plus species of birds. Out of which 29 species are endemic to the region. The Western Ghats region is one of the major regions for bird watching in India. Some of the common species of birds found in this region are Red Whiskered Bulbul, Malabar Laughing Thrush, Orange Minivet, Asian fairy Bluebird, Chestnut-headed bee-eater, Golden Fronted Leaf Bird, Emerald Dove, Great Hornbill, Heart spotted Woodpecker, Indian Grey Hornbill and many more. The 29 endemic species of birds are

Endemic Species of Birds in Western Ghat
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Nilgiri Woodpigeon Columba elphinstonii Grey-fronted Green –pigeon Treron affinis
Malabar Grey Hornbill Ocyceros griseus Malabar Barbet Psilopogon malabaricus
Malabar Parakeet Paittacula columboides Malabar Woodshrike Tephrodomis sylvicola
While bellied Treepie Dendrocitta leucogastra Broad-tailled Grassbird Schoenicola platyurus
Flame-throated Bulbull Rubigula gularis Grey-headed Bulbul Brachypodius priocephalus
Rufous Babbler Argya subrufa Wynaad Laughingthrush Garrulax delesserti
Palani Chilappan Montecinla fairbanki Ashambu Chilappan Montecinla meridionale
Banasaru Chillapan Montecinla jerdoni Nilgiri Chilappan Montecinla cachinnans
Malabar Starling Stumia blythii Nilgiri Thrush Zoothera neilgherriensis
Nilgiri Sholakii Sholicola major White-bellied Sholakii Sholicola albiventris
Nilgiri Flycatcher Eumyias albicaudatus White-bellied blue flycatcher Cyornis pallidipes
Black and Orange Flycatcher Ficedula nigrorufa Nilgiri Flowerpecker Dicaeum concolor
Crimson-backed Sunbird Leptocoma minima Sahyadri Sunbird Aethopgya vigorsii
Nilgiri Pipit Anthus nilghiriensis White-cheeked Barbet Psilopogon viridis
Malabar Lark Galerida malabarica

 

 

Birding areas in the Western Ghats

The entire belt is filled with diverse wildlife with enormous bird life. Some of the key places to do birding in the Western Ghats area:

  1. Purna Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat, one of the rare and critically endangered species of owlet, the Forest owlet is found here. Some of the other resident birds are Grey Jungle Fowl, Indian Grey Hornbills, Brown-headed Barbet, Jungle Owlet, Gree Bee-eater, and many more. There are 140 species of birds are recorded in the region.
  2. Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Maharashtra, despite being merely 93 sq km, this park, which is located just 33 km north of Central Bombay, is among the most popular in all of Asia. Along with the Kanheri Caves, there are two tiny lakes. The variety of birds that can be viewed is the main draw. The ideal travel months are from October to May. Some of the bird species we find here are Jungle Owlets, Golden Orioles, Racket-Tailed Drongos, Scarlet Minivets, Oriental Magpie Robin, hornbills, bulbuls, sunbirds, peacocks, and woodpeckers are a few of the birds that may be seen in the park. The paradise flycatcher and numerous kinds of kingfishers, mynas, drongos, swifts, gulls, egrets, and herons are examples of migratory and local birds that have been seen.painted storks in india - bird watching
  3. Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary, in Maharashtra, is another sanctuary with a beautiful Tansa lake that attracts lots of birds and also Forest Owlet has made this place as their home. There are around 25 species of birds we find in the sanctuary. Some of the common birds are Jungle Babbler, Long-tailed shrike, Jungle Owlet, plum-headed parakeet, and many more.
  4. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary or Charao Bird Sanctuary, in Goa, is a paradise for birdwatchers as a wide array of migratory birds can be spotted here. Apart from rich avian fauna, one can also spot jackals and crocodiles. Winter birds such as coots and pintails are also seen.
  5. Cotigoa Wildlife Sanctuary in Goa, Numerous other animals can be spotted in this camp, despite the fact that the tigers and leopards have long since left this area. The Sanctuary is well known for birding one can see the white-bellied woodpecker, the Malabar trogon, the velvet-fronted nuthatch, the heart-spotted woodpecker, the speckled piculet, the Malayan bittern, and many more.
  6. Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary in Karnataka, The Bird Sanctuary offers guided boat tours where knowledgeable staff members can assist guests in spotting, identifying, and learning about birds. A total of 170 distinct bird species have been identified in Ranganathittu. The Painted Stork, Kingfishers, Cormorants, Darters, Herons, River Terns, Egrets, Indian Roller, Blackheaded Ibis, Spoonbill, Great Stone Plover, and Spot-billed Pelicans are the most often observed birds.
  7. Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka, More than 200 different bird species may be seen at Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary, making it a bird watcher’s paradise. The entire forest region is covered in dense deciduous and evergreen trees, including bamboo and teak. The Blue-throated Barbet, Great Pied Hornbill, Malabar Pied Hornbill, and Peregrine falcon are a few of the birds.
  8. Nagarahole National Park in Karnataka is another well know national park with a bird count of 250 plus there is a lot of other wildlife to see along with Tigers and illusive Leopards.
  9. Ramanagara Vulture Sanctuary in Karnataka is located on the way to Mysore from Bangalore. The long-billed, Egyptian, and white-backed vultures had been roosting in the hills of Ramanagara for many years before the vulture sanctuary was formally established in 2012. Out of the nine species found in India, Ramanagara is home to three of them. Environmentalists and bird watchers fought to have the region designated as a sanctuary because they were alarmed by the decline in the vulture population over time—an estimated 97% of long-billed and 99% of Egyptian vultures have vanished.
  10. Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, in Kerela, is one of the Endemic bird areas in the Western ghats region. 250 plus different bird species are found in the region making it one of the best places for bird watching. Spectacular species including the Grey-headed Fishing Eagle, Peninsular Bay Owl, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Black-capped Kingfisher, Great Black Woodpecker, and Lesser Grey-headed Fish Eagle reside in the rich surroundings.
  11. Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerela is home to 265 different bird species, including migrating birds. Along with a sizable flock of the Great Pied Hornbill and the Ceylon Frogmouth, the birds also include raptors, water birds, galliform birds, pigeons, woodpeckers, darters, kingfishers, golden orioles, Brahmini kites, cormorants, and passerines.
  12. Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary in Kerela is the first bird sanctuary in Kerala and is well known all over our country. If a birdwatcher were to pass away and be given the option of living out his days in any paradise he chooses on Earth, he might decide to stay in Thattekkad, a stunning location. The name refers to an area of flat, forested land. Some of the common birds you find here are Orange Headed Thrush, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Jerdon’s Nightjar, Indian Cuckoo, Ceylon Frogmouth, and Grey fronted Green Pigeon and many more.cormorant birding in India
  13. Anamalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu is located in the Coimbatore district and is one of the hots spots for birders. The area called Top Slip at an altitude of 740 meters is where the main concentration of birding happens. Here is the greatest place to see a variety of species, including the Wynaad Laughingthrush, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, White-bellied Treepie, Malabar Trogon, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, and Black-throated Munia. Many Great Hornbills, the Malabar Grey Hornbill, Red Spurfowl, Grey Junglefowl, Malabar Parakeet, Oriental Bay Owl, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Indian Swiftlet, Rufous Babbler, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Crimson-backed Sunbird, Greater Racket Tailed Drongo, Great Eared Nightjar, and Large-billed Warbler are other important birds.
  14. Madhumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu is located in the Nigiri hills with a beautiful landscape that has around 266 species of birds. Some of the resident birds we find here are Malabar Grey Hornbill, Indian Grey Hornbill, Bonelli’s Eagle, White Rumped Shama, White-bellied Woodpecker, Rufous Woodpecker, Crimson backed sunbird, and many more. Some of the migratory birds include the Booted Eagle, Western March Harrier, Knob billed duck, Northern Pintail, and many more.

Birds are everywhere, they are not restricted only to protected areas. There are places outside the protected areas which are also equally good for birding like Kotagari, Ooty, Masinagudi in Tamil Nadu. Madiker Coorg, Chikmangalur in Karnataka and many more.

Explore our most popular Birding in Western Ghats of India Tour.

 

The Equipment needed during the Birding in the Western Ghats

There are very minimum things needed if you have those then birding is possible at every place where you visit.

  1. A pair of binoculars is a must carry during the birding tour.
  2. A bird guide book, for India “Birds of Indian Subcontinent by Carol Inskipp and Tim Inskipp.

The above two, a pair of binoculars and a bird guide book is the most important thing needed for bird watching, and below are optional.

  1. A laser pointer will be helpful for navigation generally not needed.
  2. A torch for seeing the birds in the night, especially Owls.
  3. A Camera with a good lens to help get the pictures for identification.

Tips to know before going Birding in the Western Ghats

Bird watching is good all throughout the Western Ghats. As per your requirement, you can plan the trip. Some of the important things which you can keep in mind before planning the trip to the Western Ghats.

  1. Time of travel: The best time for birding in Western Ghats End is from October till March. The monsoon arrives early and leaves late in the region so during other months the weather may not support you for birding. If you are looking for seeing most of the birds then from December to February is the best time to see resident birds with a lot of migratory birds.
  2. Species Oriented: If you are looking for a particular species of bird then you will have to plan accordingly and visit a certain area, if you wish to see Vigor’s Sunbird then it is mostly distributed in the North Western Ghats, best to see in Shivamogga, Karnataka. White bellied Treepie is best seen Thatekkad.
  3. Safari Oriented: Birding is best done on foot, and in most places, you will have a walking safari for birding. If you are looking for a boat ride or a jeep safari for birding then there are places which offer the same, like in Nagarhole, Kabini, Madhumalai, and a few other National Parks you will have the jeep safari and boat safari in some. In Ranganthittu, Thattekad you will have both walking and a boat safari.

There are general tips that are important to follow during bird watching.

  1. Avoid bright-colored clothes during birding. Go for a natural or darker shade such as camouflage Grey or Earthy color
  2. Avoid jerks and sudden movement during birdwatching.
  3. Start early in the morning that’s when the birds are more active
  4. Carry a notepad to keep a note of birds and identification detail
  5. Bird watching is all about patience, need to have patience and stay still to have better chances of spotting them and seeing them well.

 

Red Spurfowl in India

 

Best Tours for the Birding in the Western Ghats

The entire belt is known for birding, there are some specific tours that will give more exposure to see the maximum number of birds around the region. Let me introduce with one of the itineraries for birding in the Western Ghats.

Birding in South India – Birdwatching Tour

Day Destination Activity
Day 01 Bangalore – Mysore Transfer to Mysore and visit Ranganathittu Bird sanctuary for birding.
Day 02 Mysore – Madhumalai Morning visit Ranganathittu and later drive to Madhumalai. Birding around accommodation in Madhumalai.
Day 03 Madhumalai Full-day birding in the region
Day 04 Madhumalai – Ooty Transfer to Ooty and later in the afternoon Birding at the Botanical garden in Ooty.
Day 05 Ooty – Parambikulam Morning birding at the outskirt of Otty. Afternoon drive to parambikulam. Evening goes out looking for Owls and Frogmouth.
Day 06 Parambikula Full day birding
Day 07 Parambikulam – Munnar Morning birding at parambikulam. Later drive to Munnar, birding along the way.
Day 08 Munnar Full day birding
Day 09 Munnar – Thattekad Morning birding around Munnar and later drive to Thatekkad. Evening birding around the accommodation in Thattekad.
Day 10 Thattekad Full day birding
Day 11 Thattekad Full day birding
Day 12 Thattekad – Kochi Depending upon flight drive to Kochi to board a flight home or onwards journey.

 

The tour starts from arriving in Bangalore and to Mysore where you can visit Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary, spend a night in Mysore and visit Madhumalai the next day and spent birding in Madhumalai for 02 nights. Several endemics and localized specialties occur here, including Grey-headed Bulbul, Malabar Whistling Thrush, endemic Malabar Grey Hornbill, Grey Junglefowl, Blue-winged, and Plum-headed Parakeets, the vocal Indian Scimitar Babbler, Puff-throated Babbler, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Nilgiri, Thick-billed and Pale-billed Flowerpeckers, the incredible white-throated race of Orange-headed Thrush, Loten’s Sunbird, and the rare and local bird here, White-bellied Minivet.

On the 04th Day, you can visit Ooty, where the scenery is superb within a garden-like setting of rhododendron and magnolia forests draped with an assortment of orchids. The small hill station here was once a very popular, charming, and thriving location during the time of British occupation. The species of birds which you may see in the walks around the gorgeous Nilgiri Laughingthrush, Black-and-orange Flycatcher, flashy White-spotted Fantail, Nilgiri and Rusty-tailed Flycatchers, secretive Nilgiri Blue Robin, splendid White-bellied Treepie, and rare and secretive Nilgiri Thrush, which has also been seen in this area. Some of the other species that we may find here are Vernal Hanging Parrot, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, the stunning Heart-spotted Woodpecker,

On the 05th Day visit Parambikulam from Ooty and spend 2 nights there searching for include the spectacular White-bellied Treepie, Malabar Grey Hornbill, and retiring Red Spurfowl in pocket stands of bamboo, Grey Junglefowl, the superb Malabar Trogon, Malabar Whistling Thrush, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, and Crimson-backed Sunbird. At nights you can explore the forest looking for Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Oriental Scops Owl, Brown Hawk-Owl, Jungle Owlet, and, with luck, the rare Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl.

On the 07th Day visit Munnar, Eravikula National Park, and spend two nights in the region, here you will have a chance to see rare species like painted bush quail, White-bellied Blue Robin, Tickell’s Leaf Warbler Nilgiri pipit, and many more.

On the 09th day visit Thattekad Bird Sanctuary and spend three nights doing birding in and around Sholayer Forest Reserve, Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary. The must-see birds in Thattekad include the Sri Lankan frogmouth, the bird that put Thattekaad and the local bird guides on the map, the Srilankan bay owl, White-bellied Treepie, Slaty legged Crake, Great eared Nightjar, Jerdon’s nightjar, Southern Hill Mynas, Mottled Wood Owl, Flame Throated Bulbul, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher and the Blue Eared kingfisher. Migratory specials like the Black Baza, Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo, Rusty Tailed flycatchers, and the Blue-Throated Blue flycatcher are also often seen here.

After three nights of stay at Thattekad, one can drive to Kochi to board a flight home or onward journey.

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