Birdwatching in India is a captivating experience due to the country’s rich biodiversity and diverse landscapes that support an astonishing variety of bird species. From the Himalayan foothills to the coastal regions and the vast expanses of forests and wetlands, India offers birdwatchers an incredible array of habitats to explore. The country boasts over 1,300 bird species, including both resident and migratory birds, making it a paradise for bird enthusiasts. Birdwatching hotspots in India, such as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary (Keoladeo National Park) in Rajasthan, Kaziranga National Park in Assam, Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, Great Himalayan National Park in Himachal Pradesh, Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh, Nalsarovar in Gujrat and the Western Ghats, attract avid birders from around the globe.
Whether observing colorful Indian Pittas in the forests of Western Ghats or spotting rare migratory species like the Siberian Rubythroat passing through wetlands in the northeast, birdwatching in India offers a rewarding and diverse experience, blending the thrill of discovery with the chance to appreciate the country’s rich avian heritage.
Keoladeo Ghana National Park
Keoladeo National Park also known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is one of the best birding destination in India, honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, enjoys global recognition for its exceptional avian diversity. Regarded as one of the most bird-rich areas globally, Keoladeo boasts a staggering array of over 450 bird species. It stands as a pinnacle of detailed avian research, representing an extensively studied bird habitat in India. Situated within Biome 12, encompassing the bird species of the Indo-Gangetic Plains, and featuring species from Biome 11 (Indo-Malayan Tropical Dry Zone), Keoladeo harbors a diverse avian population.
Keoladeo Ghana National Park serves as a prominent breeding ground for various bird species, notably including the Painted Stork, Asian Openbill, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-headed Ibis, Oriental Darter, alongside numerous egrets, herons, ibises, and storks. Among the 26 bird species breeding in heronries across India, Keoladeo accommodates breeding for 15 of these species. The park’s habitat sustains sizable populations of ducks, coots, and rails, exceeding their 1% threshold numbers. Spanning an approximately 11-kilometer paved path, Keoladeo offers visitors an ideal setting for exploration. For most tourists and bird photographers, opting for a cycle rickshaw ride proves to be the most convenient and rewarding means of traversing this park.
Corbett Tiger Reserve
The Corbett Tiger Reserve, also known as Corbett NP, stands renowned for hosting the highest tiger population and an exceptional diversity of bird species. This unique blend of captivating mammals and birds has earned it the title of the ‘Land of Trumpet, Roar, and Song’. With a recorded count of over 600 bird species within its boundaries, Corbett is a haven for avian enthusiasts.
Remarkably, among the 69 diurnal raptors documented in the Indian subcontinent, Corbett is home to 51, while out of the 26 woodpecker species, 15 find their habitat within its expanse. While not rich in exclusive species, Corbett boasts 15 species belonging to Biome 8 (Sino-Himalayan Subtropical Forest), along with representatives from Biome 5 (Eurasian High Montane – Alpine and Tibetan) and Biome 7 (Sino-Himalayan Temperate Forest). Notably, the Ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersii), a resident of cold Himalayan streams and shingle beds, and the Brown Dipper (Cinclus pallasii), often sighted during winter, add to the park’s allure. Corbett also shelters 13 Near Threatened species, emphasizing its significance in conservation efforts.
Notably, Corbett Tiger Reserve remains one of India’s prime locations to observe the majestic Pallas’s Fish-eagle. Beyond its avian inhabitants, Corbett hosts approximately 50 mammal species. Among the notable larger mammals are the Tiger, Leopard, Asiatic Elephant, Sambar, Cheetal, Hog Deer, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, Himalayan Brown Goral, and Golden Jackal. The elusive Himalayan Serow occasionally graces the Kanda ridge, while the Asiatic Black Bear visits the northern part during winter, and the Sloth Bear resides in the southern section. Corbett’s rich biodiversity extends to reptiles, hosting the Gharial, Marsh Crocodile, and a plethora of amphibians, lizards, as well as venomous snakes like the King Cobra and Indian Rock Python. Additionally, the waters of Ramganga streams within the reserve flourish with some of India’s finest game fish, including the Golden Mahseer and Indian Trout.
National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary
The National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary, another best birding destination in India spans across three Indian states: Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh, stretching from Kota in Rajasthan to the point where the Chambal River meets the Yamuna. This sanctuary was established in 1979 as part of an initiative aimed at reintroducing Gharials bred in captivity and conserving the species in its natural habitat. Covering a 400-kilometer stretch of the Chambal River and a swath of 1 to 6 kilometers along both sides of the river, the sanctuary lies in the Indus-Ganga monsoon forest belt. Originating in the Vindhya Range of Madhya Pradesh, the perennial Chambal River meanders through the sanctuary, featuring deeply eroded alluvium, rapids over rock beds, sand banks, gravel bars, and diverse temporary watercourses.
National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary was primarily established to protect several endangered species such as the Gharial, Crocodile, Gangetic Dolphin, and various species of rare turtles. It serves as a crucial habitat for a variety of resident and migratory waterfowl, including species like the Spot-billed Pelican, Rosy Pelican, Dalmatian Pelican, Common Teal, Northern Pintail, Bar-headed Goose, Brahminy Shelduck, Red-crested Pochard, Indian Skimmer, Black-necked Stork, Common Crane, Sarus Crane, Black-bellied Tern, Greater Flamingo, and Lesser Flamingo. Notably, the sanctuary is a significant breeding ground for the Indian Skimmer and Small Indian Pratincole, representing one of the last remaining colonial nesting sites for these species in India.
Thattekad Wildlife Sanctuary (Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary)
Thattekad Wildlife Sanctuary, also known as Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, is located on the northern bank of the River Periyar in Kerala, India. Bordered by the Periyar and Kuttampuzha rivers on two sides and Kolombathodu and Orulamthanni on the other two sides, the sanctuary’s southeastern boundary is marked by the reserve forest. Encompassing hilly terrains covered by dense forests, Thattekad sits at the foothills of the Western Ghats. The highest peak in the Western Ghats, Anaimudi Peak (2,695 m), towers directly above the sanctuary, while its undulating landscape includes notable peaks such as Thoppimudi (488 m) and Njayapillimudi (523 m).
Renowned ornithologist Salim Ali, during his exploration in the 1930s, hailed Thattekad as one of the most abundant bird habitats in peninsular India, comparable only to the Eastern Himalayas. Recognizing its ornithological significance, the Government of Kerala declared it a bird sanctuary in 1983 based on Ali’s recommendation. Hosting a diverse avian population, Thattekad is a haven for birdwatchers, boasting a reported 266 bird species.
The drying streams within the sanctuary provide a unique habitat conducive to species like the Nilgiri Thrush, typically found at higher altitudes. Notably, Thattekad shelters two globally Threatened species, four Near Threatened species, and 26 Western Ghats endemics, situated within the Western Ghats Endemic Bird Area. Among its inhabitants, the sanctuary proudly supports a significant population of the Near Threatened endemic Grey-headed Bulbul.
Kaziranga National Park
Kaziranga National Park stands as a globally recognized sanctuary, celebrated primarily for its population of the iconic Indian One-horned Rhinoceros. Beyond this famed species, the park is home to substantial populations of numerous other endangered animals, including Tigers, Wild Buffaloes, Asiatic Elephants, and Swamp Deer, among others. This wilderness, situated in the floodplains of the Brahmaputra River, boasts a remarkable avian diversity, harboring over 500 bird species. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the Kaziranga-Karbi-Anglong Elephant Reserve, it is also proposed as a Ramsar Site. The park’s habitat, composed of water bodies and extensive grasslands, plays a crucial role in supporting its rich wildlife. Among the 500+ bird species, over 200 are residents, while others are migrants, including local ones. Kaziranga National Park has served as a sighting location for migratory birds like the Bar-headed Goose, tagged in Mongolia, which was observed here in 2013.
Noteworthy resident species, featuring significant populations, include the Spot-billed Pelican, Lesser Adjutant, Swamp Francolin, Bengal Florican, Pallas’s Fish-eagle, Greater Grey-headed Fish-eagle, Black-necked Stork, Bristled Grassbird, Marsh Babbler, Black-breasted Parrotbill, and Finn’s Weaver (Yellow Weaver). Additionally, the park hosts uncommon species such as the Black-bellied Tern, Pied Falconet, Greater Adjutant, Jerdon’s Bushchat, Swamp Prinia, Jerdon’s Babbler, and Slender-billed Babbler. Some of these species, particularly those residing in tall grasslands and thick shrubs, might not be as rare as perceived, but their elusive nature poses challenges, especially during brief birdwatching surveys. Occasional sightings of species like the White-bellied Heron and the potential breeding presence of the Vulnerable Pale-capped Pigeon further accentuate the park’s significance.
Notably, Kaziranga boasts nesting colonies of the Spot-billed Pelican, Greater Adjutant, and Lesser Adjutant, underscoring its importance as a critical bird area within India, housing nearly all species found in the tall, wet grasslands of the Brahmaputra floodplains. Hence, Kaziranga National Park stands out as one of India’s most crucial bird areas, showcasing an extraordinary diversity of avian life.
Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary
Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, situated in the Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India, covers an expanse of 217 square kilometers and was officially declared a protected area in 1989. The sanctuary is intersected by the Kameng river and its tributaries, Tipi and Sessa, contributing to its varied habitats due to significant altitudinal differences. In the lower regions, specifically below 900 meters in the southern parts, one can find Tropical Wet Evergreen and Semi-evergreen Forests along the river valleys and gorges.
Renowned globally for its exceptional biodiversity, Eaglenest gained prominence in 2006 when Dr. Raman Athreya discovered a new bird species named Bugun Liocichla within its confines. This critically endangered bird, named after the Bugun tribe, exclusively inhabits their community forests within the sanctuary, covering a limited area of 44 square kilometers. Unfortunately, the population of Bugun Liocichla is extremely small, with an estimated 50-249 individuals remaining.
Since this groundbreaking discovery, Eaglenest has become a focal point for ornithologists and bird enthusiasts worldwide, leading to the identification of several other previously unknown bird species. This transformation has turned the sanctuary into a dynamic center for birdwatching and extensive biodiversity research.
Great Himalayan National Park
The expansive Great Himalayan National Park in Kullu district is one of the best birding destination in the himalayas & boasts relatively untouched areas that provide a habitat for diverse Himalayan wildlife. Positioned in the upper catchment area of Tirthan, Sainj, and Jiwa nullahs, which flow westwards to feed the Beas River, the park and its associated protected areas overlap with various major ecological zones and faunal regions. Due to its intricate geography, multiple zone intersections, and substantial altitude variations, the region showcases a vast diversity of plants, birds, and animals spanning from subtropical to alpine zones.
This includes species characteristic of Southeast Asian forests as well as those found in Siberia and the Asian steppes. The park is particularly renowned for its abundant pheasant populations, harboring over 290 bird species, offering an excellent representation of West Himalayan avifauna. Notable species include the Himalayan Monal, Koklass Pheasant, Kaleej Pheasant, and Common Hill-partridge, with Cheer Pheasant and Western Tragopan having more confined ranges. Chukar Partridge, Snow Partridge, and Himalayan Snowcock are found throughout suitable habitats within the park. In terms of mammals, the park encompasses nearly all representative fauna of the Western Himalaya. Primates like Rhesus Macaque and Himalayan Langur coexist, while carnivores such as Leopard, Asiatic Black Bear, and Brown Bear are frequently sighted. Himalayan Tahr and Himalayan Brown Goral thrive in substantial numbers, while Barking Deer or Indian Muntjac and Himalayan Serow are present in smaller populations. The Tirthan and Sainj valleys have recorded the presence of Alpine Musk Deer.
Nalsarovar Wildlife Sanctuary
Nalsarovar Wildlife Sanctuary, covering an extensive area of 120 Sq. km. stands as one of India’s largest shallow freshwater lakes. Located in the semi-arid region in north Gujarat, the sanctuary features an elliptical basin with a gentle slope and a maximum depth of 3 meters. Dotted with approximately 360 islands, the lake’s barren shoreline is surrounded by dry land and crop fields. Nalsarovar, a favored birding destination in India for tourists and birdwatchers, represents a typical temporary shallow wetland commonly found in dry regions.
With over 350 reported bird species, the sanctuary is home to various threatened species like the Dalmatian Pelican, Pallas’s Fish-eagle, Indian Skimmer, and more. Common bird species include the Eurasian Coot, Northern Shoveller, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Wigeon, Greater Flamingo, and Painted Stork. Positioned along a migratory route, Nalsarovar serves as a crucial stopover for hundreds of thousands of birds before dispersing to other parts of Gujarat and India.
Beyond its avian residents, the sanctuary hosts a summer herd of Asiatic Wild Ass. The wildlife diversity extends to include Grey Wolf, Striped Hyena, Golden Jackal, Indian Fox, and Jungle Cat.
Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary
Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary is positioned on a low promontory along the Coromandel coast, with the expansive Great Vedaranyam Swamp stretching about 48 km from east to west, running parallel to the Palk Strait and separated by a sandbank. This sanctuary comprises Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest and low-lying coastal grazing lands. Recognized as a Ramsar Site on August 29, 2002, it plays a crucial role as a staging and wintering ground for migratory birds, particularly notable species like flamingos, ducks, waders, gulls, and terns.
Functioning as a vital foraging ground, the sanctuary hosts a significant population of migratory waders and flamingos. Over 220 bird species have been reported within its boundaries, making it a diverse avian habitat. Notably, it holds the distinction of recording the second-largest congregation of migratory waterbirds in India, with a peak population exceeding 10,000 individuals representing 103 species. Among them are threatened species like the Spot-billed Pelican, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and Black-necked Stork. Additionally, near-threatened species include the Black-headed Ibis, Asian Dowitcher, Lesser Flamingo, Eurasian Spoonbill, Oriental Darter, and Painted Stork.
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary
Ranganathittu stands as one of India’s oldest bird sanctuaries, renowned for hosting one of the most picturesque heronries in the country. Its status as a sanctuary was established in 1940, following the efforts of Sálim Ali, often referred to as India’s Birdman. The sanctuary is composed of six islets and one main island, shaped by a weir constructed by the ruler of Mysore across the River Kaveri during the 1640s. Within Ranganathittu, the Kaveri River flows at a leisurely pace, creating numerous secluded waterways where the water is almost still. These tranquil waters offer an ideal habitat for colonial nesting of waterbirds.
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary is enveloped by irrigated agricultural fields, providing ample foraging grounds for the diverse avian population residing in this unique sanctuary. Ranganathittu is home to an impressive array of bird species, with nearly 170 different kinds recorded in the area. During the winter season, the sanctuary becomes a temporary residence for various bird species including the Indian Blue Robin, Forest Wagtail, Western Marsh Harrier, Common Swallow, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Greenish Warbler, Booted Warbler, Blyth’s Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler, Brown Shrike, and Greater Spotted Eagle, enhancing its appeal as a birdwatcher’s paradise.
In conclusion, exploring the top ten birding sites in 2024 promises an unparalleled journey into the diverse and enchanting world of avian wonders. From the breathtaking landscapes of the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary to the vibrant ecosystem of Keoladeo National Park, each destination offers a unique tapestry of birdlife. Whether you seek the melodious tunes of songbirds or the majestic flights of migratory species, these sites beckon birding enthusiasts with their rich biodiversity and captivating beauty.
Embarking on this avian odyssey is not merely a quest for rare sightings but a profound connection with nature’s vibrant symphony. Each chosen site encapsulates the essence of conservation, providing refuge to both resident and migratory birds. As we step into 2024, these birding havens stand as testaments to the delicate balance between ecosystems and the need for their preservation.
The top ten birding sites are not just destinations; they are sanctuaries of serenity, education, and inspiration. Whether you are a seasoned birder or a novice nature enthusiast, these sites beckon with open wings, inviting you to witness the untold stories written across the skies. As we embrace the new year, let the fluttering wings and melodic calls guide us on a transformative journey through the captivating realms of birdwatching.