From muddy mangroves to misty mountain ranges, Malaysia’s diverse tropical landscape teems with hundreds of resident bird species. The country’s location on the Australasian crossmigratory paths also makes it a host to over 250 or so migratory birds. All in all, with over 795 species, Malaysia has emerged as a birdwatching haven. There are a total of 55 Important Bird Areas (IBA) throughout the country.
Well over half of Malaysia’s land mass is covered in rainforest environments or at least plantations. With the diversity of habitats, there are many places having abundant bird life to choose from. As the various birdwatching and nature sites around the country are easily accessible, it is easy to understand why bird lovers are drawn to Malaysia.
Many birds are common to both Peninsular Malaysia as well as Sabah and Sarawak but some species, known as endemics, are unique to a BIRDWATCHING certain location, such as the Malayan Whistling Thrush in the peninsula. In Borneo, there are about 59 endemics including the Bornean Bristlehead and Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker in Sabah.
The Malaysian rainforests can be generally divided into three distinctive habitat types – coastal mangroves, lowland rainforests and montane or mountain forests. Swampy mangrove forest ecosystems where salt and freshwater environs meet on the coastline fringe are home to birds such as the Collared Kingfisher. Lowland rainforests, including
freshwater swamp, peat and hill dipterocarp forests, remain the most extensive habitat for over 200 birds and are crucial to Storm’s Stork and Green Imperial Pigeon.
Mountain forests generally occur above an elevation of 900m, where species such as the Mountain Peacock-Pheasant and Mountain Blackeye thrive in the cool damp climates and stunted trees of these high altitude regions.
While each habitat provides an excellent concentrated birding experience, in Malaysia it is not difficult to visit several sites in different ecological zones to enjoy the variation in birdlife.
With the increase in nature and environmental awareness, more and more sites have been identified where birds can be observed and there are also bird sanctuaries designated around the country.
For the serious enthusiast, a comprehensive itinerary spanning the peninsula and Borneo could include: Kuala Selangor, Fraser’s Hill, Taman Negara, Bako National Park in Sarawak, Kinabalu Park and Danum Valley in Sabah.
For beginners or those who stay around Kuala Lumpur, there are several excellent birdwatching sites within a few hours’ drive from the city. A new area that has made a name for itself in birding circles is Putrajaya Wetlands, a human-enhanced wetland environment. Less than an hour south of Kuala Lumpur, it has begun to attract both birds and bird watchers.
For a pleasant day trip, check out the Kuala Selangor Nature Park, a mangrove swamp along the west coast that supports 157 bird species and some seasonal migrants including the rare Spoonbilled Sandpiper. Fraser’s Hill and Cameron Highlands both offer lush green hill surroundings with panoramic views and hiking trails where bird life is astounding.
Those with more time may want to travel further inland into Malaysia’s premier national park, Taman Negara, where dense ancient lowland forests are home to over 300 bird species. Another popular site is Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary on the Perak coast, where endangered Milky Storks congregate. Over in Borneo, the Kota Kinabalu City Bird
Sanctuary, a feeding ground for many species of resident birds and several migratory species from Northern Asia is easily accessible from the capital of Sabah. Kinabalu Park, a World Heritage Site with its own endemics such as the Kinabalu Warbler, is just a two hours’ drive away from the city. Many good birding sites can be found in Sarawak, such as Gunung Mulu National Park. Sarawak endemics such as Hose’s Broadbill can also be found in the Kelabit Highlands.
Malaysia’s tropical climate allows bird watching to be a year-round activity. Take note of the rainy season when planning excursions and bring along rain gear or a poncho. In the West Coast of the peninsula, rain usually falls heaviest from September to December. There is a distinct monsoon in the East Coast from December to February, while the rainy season occurs a bit earlier in the year in Borneo.
Migratory birds use Malaysia’s West Coast flyway to travel to Sumatra and beyond with peak movements in April and October.
As with all wildlife, all possible care and respect is to be given to the birds and their habitats. It is illegal not only to shoot or capture any bird in a gazetted bird sanctuary, but even to harass or disturb them. Trafficking in protected species is also prohibited under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 in Peninsular Malaysia, with separate acts enforced in Sabah and Sarawak. Entry permits from the Forestry Department of the various states may be needed at some bird sanctuaries. Birdwatchers are advised to check with their guides or tour agent.
For more information, please view our ‘Birdwatching in Malaysia’ e-brochure at www.tourism.gov.my.
There is so much to do and so many places to see in Malaysia. To make sure that you don’t miss anything, use this handy map to navigate your way across the country and find great places to visit.
Perlis is the northern gateway to Malaysia. Despite its small size, Perlis has an abundance of attractions that make it a great destination.
Kedah is Malaysia’s largest paddy producing state. Delve into history in Lembah Bujang, the site of an ancient civilisation or relax in Langkawi, a world-famous resort island.
The site of a UNESCO World Heritage City, Penang is a holiday paradise with fabulous beach resorts and eclectic cultures. It is also the undisputable haven for foodies.
A tin-rich state in its heyday, Perak beckons with a range of sights and experiences. The state’s top attractions include Pangkor, an island getaway and Pangkor Laut, an internationally-acclaimed private island.
Hailed as the Cradle of Malay culture, Kelantan is a destination teeming with age-old arts, crafts and pastimes.
Beautiful islands, culture and nature give Terengganu its magical appeal. Dive, snorkel, sunbathe at the islands or journey to its hinterland to experience the best of nature.
The largest state in the peninsula beckons nature-enthusiasts with exciting eco-adventures. From Taman Negara, the oldest national park in the country, to the idyllic Tioman Island, Pahang is simply mesmerising.
Malaysia’s dynamic capital city is bustling with attractions and activities. Explore the city by day and night.
Selangor is home to the country’s main airport KLIA, and the main gateway by sea, Port Klang. It is also the country’s most developed state with a long list of shopping malls and themed attractions.
Putrajaya, the administrative capital of Malaysia, is a well-planned township with impressive buildings, verdant parks, scenic lakes and beautiful bridges.
Find the best attractions in this vast eco-paradise.
Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia, has a vast wilderness that contains numerous national parks including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mulu National Park.
Located off the northwestern coast of Borneo, this island thrills visitors with its wreck diving sites, historical relics and duty-free shopping.
The birth place of the nation, Melaka is a treasure trove of history and heritage. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage City for vestiges of the past.
Known for its fascinating Minangkabau culture and a unique social system, Negeri Sembilan is the place to learn age-old customs and traditions.
Visit Malaysia’s southern gateway, for a family vacation at the theme parks or escape to its islands for an unforgettable holiday.
Enjoy birdwatching at 55 Important Bird Areas (IBA) throughout the country, tucked away at various habitats such as islands, coasts or lush lowland and montane rainforests.
Love the cool highlands? Find refreshing destinations to unwind in Malaysia. From French-themed settings, energetic amusement parks to forest-clad hills, there is something for everyone.
Find the coolest, trendy spaces to hang out while you tickle your tastebuds with the best delights.
Find the fun and thrill that you are looking for in Malaysia. Meet your favourite characters, plunge down the world’s longest water slide or enjoy the rides and games!
Get your rod ready to reel in the best catch in Malaysian waters.
For those who appreciate the finer things in life, Malaysia is the place to indulge in sheer comfort and sophistication. Luxe Malaysia takes you beyond your expectations.
Enjoy exploring the South China Sea, Andaman Sea, Celebes and Sulu seas for incredible sights from pelagic species, sea turtles to reefs, wrecks and more.
The best way to engage with the locals, a homestay programme gives a peek into the lifestyles, customs, cultures and pastimes of a local family.
What better way to explore Malaysia than through its food! Follow the aroma to track down lip-smacking delights found around the country, together with interesting snippets on its culture and origins.
Get your complete info on cruising, yachting, anchorage facilities and land excursions around the country.
Blessed with year-round sunshine and rain, Malaysia has a wealth of tropical flora and fauna. Visit its national and marine parks to enjoy the captivating sights both on land and underwater!
Get a glimpse into Malaysia’s rich mosaic of ethnic communities and indigenous people.