Birds from the Car Window in Thailand
Farmland in Northern Thailand
of the first things that many birdwatchers will notice in Thailand
is the relative abundance of birds outside of national parks, compared
to many other countries in Asia. Whilst hunting and trapping of birds
for both the cage bird trade and for food is still all too common
in Thailand (See Bird Persecution)
it never reaches the scale of these activities in other countries;
these problems are particularly bad in Indonesia and Vietnam.
birds are left more or less un-harassed in Thailand, in areas
of farmland which are cultivated in semi-traditional fashions
there are large numbers of species to be found.
bird watchers with time on their hands, investigating random
agricultural areas will reveal some interesting birds, unfortunately,
most visiting birders will not have time for this. Still,
such is the abundance of many open country species that travelers
will notice many different birds in roadside fields, sitting
on posts and wires as well as flying overhead as soon as they
leave the airport.
past I have kept a list of the species I have seen from the
vehicle as I travelled around the country and it is surprising
how many can be seen in this way. Even in areas where there
are just roadside ditches and scrubby pieces of land, visitors
will be able to see many of the birds that I have featured
on this list.
This article is intended to give visitors a taster of some of the
more common and interesting roadside birds of the lowlands which
are the most likely to be noticed from the car window as one travels;
hopefully this will give potential visitors an idea of some of the
bird species they are likely to see without having to try very hard.
Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans
(Photo by Nick
many people, Asian Openbill, cruising overhead, will be the
first birds they see in Thailand as they drive along one of
the many roads out of the airport. This impressive species
is easily identified by its large size and large bill; be
careful not to mistake it for an Ibis as its profile in flight
can resemble these species.
Openbill was one of the few large waterbirds to survive extinction
in Thailand, surviving in a small pocket in northern Bangkok.
Since the introduction of a species of snail which lives on
rice plants, the population of Asian Openbill Storks has exploded.
By providing this service, of keeping down snail numbers,
to rice farmers they are left to do their job in ever-growing
numbers. In recent years many other large waterbirds have
begun to make something of a comeback in Thailand due to the
fact that they are not hunted any longer, however, Asian Openbill
numbers have increased dramatically for a very different reason
- they can now be seen in large numbers in many places and
have made it to almost every province of Thailand by 2013.
point Asian Openbills were seen by the Thai Government as
a major vector
for bird flu and a cull was considered. Thankfully they
realized this would be foolish, reactionary measure and the
storks were spared.
See more images of Asian Openbill here - Asian
Openbill Stork photographs and here - Asian
Openbill video clips.
Little Cormorant Microcarbo niger
(Photo by Nick
Cormorant is a very common resident bird throughout much of
the country and it can often be seen flying overhead or sitting
with its wings outstretched on roadside wetlands in a similar
fashion to other cormorant species around the world as one
drives away from the airport.
Little Cormorant has a rather panicky, flappy action and this,
together with its small size, tricks a number of visiting
birders into thinking that they have seen a duck. Wild ducks
are rather uncommon in Thailand away from just a few regular
sites and, particularly when driving close to Bangkok, Little
Cormorant is much more likely to be seen as one drives along
One confusion species is Indian Cormorant which is slightly
larger and has a much longer bill, something which can be seen
even in flight. This species has a more leisurely flight pattern
than Little Cormorant with flapping interspersed by glides.
Indian Cormorant is less common than Little Cormorant although
it is likely to be seen close to Bangkok where it is growing
See more photographs of Little Cormorant here - Little
Cormorant photos and videos clips here: Little
Eastern Great Egret Ardea modesta|
(Photo by Johan
Great Egret (split from Great Egret by some authorities) is
a common bird across much of Thailand in the "winter"
months and is a fairly common resident around Bangkok and the
Central Plains. Its abundance and conspicuousness make it highly
likely that it will be spotted from the car window heading out
of Suwarnapoom airport,on the way into Bangkok or traveling
to birding sites in the west or north east.
In flight Great Egret can be separated from Little Egret by
its larger size, heavier bill and black feet. If not in the
car, its "Kraaark" call can often be heard as it flies
away. Intermediate Egret is a confusion species but this bird
is only fractionally bigger than Little Egret whereas Great
Egret is much larger.
for recently drained fishponds or paddies being ploughed where
an abundance of food often draws large groups of not only
Great Egret but other species such as Little Egret and Pond
Herons. In the breeding season you may spot some birds with
bright blue facial skin and reddish legs - quite a sight!
More photographs of Great Egret can be seen here: Great
Egret photos and video clips here: Great
Egret video clips.
Chinese Pond Heron & Javan Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus
& Ardeola speciosa
Heron in breeding plumage
(Photo by Johan
bird watchers visit Thailand in the northern hemisphere's
winter - Thailand's dry season - when both of these species
are in their identical and rather plain winter plumage.
Chinese Pond Heron can be seen throughout Thailand in the
dry season and Javan Pond Heron is common in the central plains
all year round.
tip for these species in winter plumage mentioned in Robson's
Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand is that
Chinese Pond Heron has more distinct dark tips to its wings
in flight; however, dark tips are more usually down to worn
plumage meaning that this is not a reliable identification
point. It does appear, though, that in freshwater habitats
Chinese Pond Heron tends to outnumber Javan and in saltwater
habitats Javan tends to outnumber Chinese; this becomes obvious
as both species come into breeding plumage towards the end
of February. It is also worth noting that Javan Pond Heron
seems to come into breeding plumage slightly earlier than
As birders drive
around Thailand in the dry season they are certain to see both of
these species flying across the road, fishing in roadside ditches
and farmland. In winter plumage these species appear brown and streaky
when on the ground but in flight they are predominantly white. In
summer plumage both of these pond herons are quite striking birds:
a visit in March or April will see both species in summer plumage.
of Javan Pond Heron here: Javan
Pond Heron photos. and videos here :
Pond Heron video clips.
of Chinese Pond Heron here: Chinese
Pond Heron photos. and watch videos here:
Pond Heron video clips.
White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis
(Photo by Johan
Kingfisher is one of the most obvious and easily identified
birds that visitors will see perched on roadside posts and
cables. It is a common bird which is resident throughout most
of the country in well-watered and dry open-country, feeding
mainly on insects and lizards but sometimes taking crabs and
fish or even young birds.
Kingfisher has a whinnying call which carries quite some distance.
Like many other kingfishers, this species excavates a nest
hole in a suitable earth bank usually raising one or two young.
perhaps Thailand's most common kingfisher species and most
definitely the most abundant in the wet season. It is practically
a certainty that bird watchers will see a White-throated Kingfisher
from the car window before very long.
of White-throated Kingfisher here: White-throated
videos of White-throated Kingfisher here: White-throated
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus
(Photo by Johan
Kite is likely to be seen from the car window either perched
on a power cable or hovvering in flight as it searches for
is one of Thailand's most common raptors, particularly in
open-country, and is quite striking in appearance, leaving
no difficulty in identification even from a moving vehicle.
However, Black-shouldered Kite often remains inactive for
much of the day, sitting perched, and usually does most of
its hunting in the late afternoon.
see Black-shouldered Kite from the car it is worth stopping
to watch it properly as although common it is encountered
far more often as one travels than from regular birding stops
and it is possible that it will be the only chance to view
it properly, particularly if only on a short trip.
from the US it is worth mentioning that this species has been
split from the similar species in America.
of Black-shouldered Kite here - Black-shouldered
Kite photos. and videos can be watched here - Black-shouldered
Kite video clips.
Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus
(Photo by Johan
Kite is one of the more abundant species of raptor in Thailand
and this is particularly true close to the coast and it is
included here because of the frequency it is seen flying across
the road as one leaves Bangkok and heads to Laem
Pak Bia/Pak Thale - a journey made by many visiting birders.
As well as being a bird of the roadside on this particular
journey, any beach holiday in the south of Thailand will almost
certainly result in sightings of the species.
Brahminy Kites are easily identified even from a fast moving
vehicle due to their size and colouration and juveniles can
be separated from Black Kites by their unforked tails. Brahminy
Kites catch their own fish and also rob birds such as egrets
and herons of their catch; an exciting spectacle. Although
this species is still relatively abundant it has apparently
undergone a massive decline since the 1970s, a decline which
is thought to be due to dam construction, increased use of
agrochemicals and persecution - it is still common around
the coast south of Bangkok.
of Brahminy Kite here: Brahminy
videos of Brahminy Kite here: Brahminy
Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis
(Photo by Alex
Roller is a common bird throughout Thailand and seems to favour
drier country although it will also be found in smaller numbers
in wetland areas. Sooner or later, birders driving around
Thailand will see the distinctive outline of an Indian Roller
sitting on overhead cables and when it flies its beautiful
blue wings create a memorable spectacle, although it can appear
quite dull when perched.
as it might be to leap out and photograph Indian Rollers at
every opportunity, you can end up spending a lot of time doing
this as, in some places, there will be a Roller on the cables
every couple of hundred metres. It is worth waiting until
you see one of these colourful birds sitting somewhere photogenic
and in good light - silhouetted shots of the bird sitting
on wires are not so exciting!
paper on Indian Rollers can be seen here - Population,
Diurnal Activity Patterns and Feeding Ecology of The Indian
Roller Coracias benghalensis by N. Sivakumaran &
Rollers in action here - Indian
Roller video clips and view more photos here - Indian
Feral Pigeon Columba livia
(Photo by Nick
when one gets to a new country all the birds are lifers, every
crow, sparrow and dove. Well, don't get excited this is just
the same old Feral Pigeon that seems to get everywhere. In
Robson and also
in Lekagul & Round
this species is rather grandly referred to as Rock Pigeon/Dove
and whilst many birds do look like genuine Rock Pigeons and
there are no doubt some genuine birds nesting on isolated
cliffs, it seems somewhat optimistic to assume that most of
the birds are anything other than Feral Pigeons.
Pigeons seem to do especially well in Bangkok
where the typical design of apartments includes a balcony
containing an air-conditioning unit, behind which the pigeons
make their nest. This abundance of pigeons attracts Peregrine
Falcons into the city as it does elsewhere in the world.
look at Pigeon
Watch for lots of information on Feral Pigeons.
Ashy Woodswallow Artamus fuscus
(Photo by Alex
Woodswallow is a fairly small but compact bird and is perhaps
one of the cutest species that is likely to be seen on a Thailand
birding trip due to its habit of sitting huddled together,
often in large groups, making a rather attractive photo opportunity
- similarly to how these two are perched.
are an Australian group of birds but this species is common
throughout much of Thailand, in drier open-country and even
in the centre of some smaller towns. Ashy Woodswallows seems
to particularly like tall radio masts and suchlike where they
will often nest - if one sees any large masts, stop and an
Ashy Woodswallow will almost certainly be there.
photographs of Ashy Woodswallow here - Ashy
Woodswallow photos and watch videos here - Ashy
Woodswallow video clips.
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
(Photo by Nick
Myna is indeed a very common bird and it will be one of the
first species that any visiting bird watcher is likely to
see as it forages around in villages, farmland, petrol stations,
parks and cities.
be expected from a bird that does so well in proximity to
humans, Common Myna is a generalist, feeding on worms, beetles,
insect larva, fruits and raiding bins for scraps of food.
On one occasion, at Suan
Luang, I witnessed a Common Myna winning a three-way tug-of-war
over a katydid (a large insect) with a Streak-eared Bulbul
and an Oriental Magpie Robin.
with its often scruffy appearance and scruffy, bin-raiding
lifestyle, Common Myna builds a scruffy ball of a nest which
is sometimes parasitized by Koels; watching Mynas feeding
juvenile Koels is an interesting sight.
of Common Myna here - Common
Myna photos. and videos here - Common
Myna video clips.
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus
(Photo by Peter
"winter" months (October to April) Black Drongo
is a very common bird across the country in farmland and can
frequently be seen perched on posts and overhead cables as
one is driving. This is the only species of drongo likely
to be seen in this habitat so despite its superficial similarity
to other drongos there is no difficulty identifying it, even
from a speeding car.
worth noting that although Black Drongo is listed as being
resident in Robson's
Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand, in reality most
birds are migrants are of the migrant race, particularly in
open-country and smaller numbers of the resident race remain
in Thailand in the wet season, and most of those in lightly
wooded parkland situations.
Black Drongos can form impressive roosts, numbering in the
thousands and it is quite a spectacle to watch them swooping
in, in groups of 10-20 as they gather. One such roost exists
in the mangroves at the King's Project Area, Laem
You can read
an interesting report on Black Drongo migration here - Migration
of Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus in southern Thailand
in autumn 2003 by Robert DeCandido, Chukiat Nualsri and Deborah
Take a look at more photographs of Black Drongo here - Black
Drongo photos and watch videos here: Black
Drongo video clips.
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
(Photo by Johan
tend to be a sought-after group of species by most birdwatchers
and Brown Shrike is one that can hardly be missed in the dry
season as it can commonly be seen perched on posts, twigs
and wires in all manner of open-country habitats throughout
other shrikes, the Brown Shrike feeds on large insects and
small lizards, sometimes impaling them on thorns before eating
them; it has also been known to eat small birds.
At least four races have been recorded but most birds in Thailand
are of two subspecies; cristatus and confusus,
although due to worn plumage it can often be difficult to
decide which subspecies has been seen.
of Brown Shrike can be seen here - Brown
Shrike photos and watch videos here: Brown
Shrike video clips.
Red Collared Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica
(Photo by Johan
Collared Dove is probably the most attractive of the common
dove species likely to be seen in Thailand. The male's beautiful
red back contrasts with his grey head and black collar, making
it a very pretty bird indeed.
Dove can be seen in ones and twos throughout the day, sitting
on wires and foraging at the roadside, but in the late afternoon
dozens of these birds can often be seen collecting on roadside
wires before heading to their roosting places.
looking to get good photos of Red Collared Dove, either Lumphini
Park, Suan Luang
or Suan Rot Fai
are excellent places to get close to it.
of Red Collared Dove here: Red
videos of Red Collared Dove here: Red
Eastern Jungle Crow & Large-billed Crow
Corvus levaillantii & Corvus macrorhynchos
(Photo by Alex
two species were split after the publication of a comprehensive
paper on crows throughout Asia. Despite this I find it difficult
to accept that these are separate species as I have studied
them and cannot observe any discernable difference between
the "two species"; the culmen of the bills supposedly
differ. There is supposed to be somewhere in Thailand (around
Petchaburi/Prachuab Kiri Khan?) where one species takes over
from the other although this spot has not been identified
and "intermediate" birds are known.
although they are just crows, these two species provide easy
ticks for visitors as the species can be seen in any open
country, forest clearings, campsites, farmland, parks and
even in Bangkok
city centre. Although most birders are likely to see one of
these species from the car window (Eastern Jungle Crow in
most of the country, Large-billed in the south) soon after
arrival in Thailand, it is worth taking time to observe it
closely as they are birds which do all sorts of funny things.
Like all crows,
Large-billed Crow is a very intelligent species and can be seen
performing various tricks depending on the habitat. I have seen
them "mugging" mynas for food, masquerading as chickens
to steal their feed and one individual, at Ko
Surin, that was admiring itself in a campsite mirror as it preened:
it seems that vanity comes with intelligence.
Read about crow's
ability to recognise human faces here: Clever
a crow making a tool from wire and using it to obtain food in this
collection of bird videos: 10
Bird Video Clips.
White-vented Myna Acridotheres grandis
(Photo by Nick
Myna is one of the most common species in Thailand and will
most certainly be encountered by visiting birdwatchers before
getting out of the car. This species is almost as common as
Common Myna, indeed, in well-watered open-country outside
of urban areas it is probably more common.
areas White-vented Myna can often be found in large groups
following mechanical or buffalo-drawn ploughs, collecting
the invertebrates that are disturbed in the process. White-vented
Mynas perched on the backs of buffalo and other cattle make
heading to Kaeng Krachan
national park will inevitably see large groups of White-vented
Mynas on the roads that approach it; these birds seem to be
well-practiced at dodging speeding vehicles although I always
slow down for them.
of White-vented Myna here - White-vented
Myna photos and video clips here - White-vented
Oriental Magpie Robin Copsychus saularis
(Photo by Zhao
Magpie Robin may be one of the slightly harder species on
this list to spot when driving as it is only the size of a
European Blackbird. However, it will only be a matter of time
before one is seen early in the morning singing from a roadside
wire or post, perhaps outside your hotel room's window early
in the morning.
as being of similar size to European Blackbird it would be
fair to say that occupies a similar niche as it can be found
in parks, gardens, open land and forest edge. It even jumps
around on lawns cocking its tail whilst foraging for invertebrates,
similarly to Blackbirds. Magpie Robins also sit of rooftops
and sing in the late afternoon to advertize their presence.
Magpie Robins are highly territorial and frequently sing to
warn competitors away. This territoriality also manifests
itself in aggressive clashes with intruders, both other Magpie
Robins and other species.
Visit this page
to read Song
Performance Rules in the Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus salauris)
by H. Bhattacharya, J. Cirillo, B.R. Subba and D. Todt
See more photographs
here - Oriental
Magpie Robin photos and watch videos here - Oriental
Magpie Robin video clips.
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
(Photo by Nick
Stilt is one of the few waders that is a resident bird in
Thailand and it can be seen in a variety of wetland habitats
from rice fields to salt farms. Anyone driving anywhere around
the Central Plains is almost certain to see this species from
the car window somewhere on the journey; they are easily spotted
and recognized even when travelling fast along the highway.
Black-winged Stilt nests in a variety of open situations including
trampled vegetation and the bunds between salt pans and pools;
the juveniles can be seen in July and August - quite a cute
bird. Juveniles can have a superficial resemblance to Common
Greenshank or Marsh Sandpiper at a distance so check carefully
in the breeding season.
those visitors who like to take photographs a trip to the
Environmental Research and Development Project initiated
by H.M King Bhumibol at Laem
Pak Bia is an excellent location where you are guaranteed
to get really close to Black-winged Stilts.
more images of Black-winged Stilt here: Black-winged
Stilt photos and
Stilt video clips.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
(Photo by Nick
familiar with the decline of the Tree Sparrow in Europe might
well be surprised how they thrive in Thailand. Perhaps they
appreciate the warmer climate, but whatever the reason for
their abundance, this species is ubiquitous around human habitation
and it is likely that it will be one of the first species
seen by any visiting birder; you can look out for it as soon
as you get off the plane.
One of the reasons for the Tree Sparrows success in Thailand
is certainly its ability to nest in cavities in buildings,
something it does not seem to do very often in Europe, and
as one drives through villages any small birds seen on and
around buildings are likely to be Tree Sparrows. The plumage
of town-dwelling Tree Sparrows in Thailand is dark and scruffy,
similarly to that of House Sparrows in Europe and be sure
that you do not leave plates of rice unattended outside or
you may find that one of these cheeky characters makes off
with your food.
More photographs of Tree Sparrows here - Eurasian
Tree Sparrow photos and watch videos here - Eurasian
Tree Sparrow video clips.
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus
(Photo by Peter
Cattle Egret is a common bird in both well-watered and dry
open-country and is usually seen in groups, sometimes quite
large. This is one species that is well-named as it is frequently
seen alongside cattle and other livestock, often riding on
the back of buffaloes but also large flocks follow tractors
through fields during ploughing; I have seen groups numbering
in the hundreds near Petchaburi.
In the breeding season Eastern Cattle Egrets are rather handsome
with their buffy, straw-coloured necks, but in the dry season
they are all white but easily identified by their rather squat
Most authorities have now split this species from Western
Cattle Egret; it does look quite different from this species
in breeding plumage and there are some minor structural differences
See more photographs of Eastern Cattle Egret here - Eastern
Cattle Egret photos and watch videos clips here - Eastern
Cattle Egret videos.
Watching Trips in Thailand:
If you want to do more than just see
common wayside species then you may want to think about
a trip out to see harder to find birds.
you just want a day out birding or a longer trip there
is always something of interest to see regardless of
the time of year.
Contact me to arrange a trip and/or to discuss the best
birdwatching options for you: firstname.lastname@example.org
is not intended to be a complete list of common roadside birds in
Thailand, but it should give visitors an idea of the types of birds
that can easily be seen.
you manage to find a quite road, through rice-growing areas, you
are likely to see many more species than those listed here, but
the birds featured on this page are ones that can be spotted even
from the highway, in most parts of Thailand.
common species likely to be seen by the roadside include:
Asian Pied Starling
Black-crowned Night Heron
Asian Palm Swift
House Sparrow is becoming a roadside bird in much of the country,
although it is still greatly outnumbered by Eurasian Tree Sparrow
in most places.
Thailand both Sooty-headed Bulbul and Black-collared Starling
become common birds that can often be seen from the car window.
of the information on the above species was adapted from Phil Round's
Birds of the Bangkok Area with his kind permission.