From penguins to puffins, Birds-of-Paradise to condors, the world of birds is full of colour and spectacle. Here are the top spots on Planet Earth for birdwatchers.
1: Costa Rica
Costa Rica is famous with birdwatchers as a place to see winged beasts. With dozens of nature reserves and hundreds of species inhabiting them, it’s easy to find beautiful bird life in the verdant country.
What’s more, birding is a colourful affair here; from parrots to toucans, quetzals to hummingbirds, Costa Rica’s feathered friends are an explosion of rainbow shades.
Some of the best places for twitching in Costa Rica are the Wilson Botanical Gardens in the south, where more than 300 bird species have been recorded, and Curi-Cancha Reserve, where you can spy motmots and trogons while walking seven kilometres of pathways.
2: South Georgia
Penguin colonies can be found in many parts of the globe, but few places rival the astonishing numbers that inhabit South Georgia.
Hundreds of thousands of King penguins can be found milling around here, in particular around St Andrews Bay, creating one of the most iconic sights (and distinctive smells) in the far southern hemisphere. Walking around with them yourself. or simply sitting on the middle of them, is one of those magical, once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experiences.
King penguins are the main draw here, but millions of other birds can be spotted on South Georgia. Albatross are common, as well as gulls and other seabirds, plus more species of penguin, such as the macaroni, chinstrap, and Gentoo penguins.
3: Colca Canyon, Peru
The Andean condor is one of the world’s largest species of birds that can take flight, with a wingspan measuring up to three metres in length. This endangered species is an elusive character that chooses to stay in mostly mountainous or coastal areas where it can use the wind in order to stay in the air.
Andean condors are known to inhabit a few different countries in South America but Peru is one of the most popular for sightings. Hopeful travellers flock to Colca Canyon, a massive chasm north of Arequipa. Here, the condors are known to nest in the rocky areas. Visitors are almost guaranteed to catch sight of them soaring through the valley, especially around the hotspot of Cruz del Condor.
4: Kruger National Park, South Africa
As one of the top (and most popular) wildlife destinations on the planet, Kruger National Park in South Africa is not only a hotspot for Africa’s Big Five, but also a diverse range of birdlife. Around 200 migrant species arrive here between October and March, when the rainfall begins and plant life starts to flourish.
Birdwatchers here will want to look out for the Big Six, the name given to six of the most desirable bird sightings in the park. These include the Kori bustard, martial eagle, lappetfaced vulture, Pel’s fishing owl, saddle-billed stork, and southern ground hornbill.
Most are easy to find, aside from the fishing owl, which can be tricky due to its nocturnal nature. Hop on a tour around the Luvuvhu River or Olifants River area for some of the park’s best birdwatching opportunities.
From April to September each year, Atlantic puffins migrate from sea to shore in order to form breeding colonies. Over half of the world’s population of this species choose Iceland for the spring and summer months, turning the country into a prime spot for catching a glimpse of these adorable orange-beaked creatures.
The puffins mostly nest on cliffs, so to see these birds you need to head for Iceland’s shores. Top spots include Ísafjarðardjúp, in the Westfjords, Breiðafjörður, and the Westman Islands.
For the greatest chance of seeing large gatherings of puffins, join a boat trip out Iceland’s islands.
6: Yellowstone National Park, United States
A symbol of the United States, the Bald Eagle is an unmissable sight for any birdwatcher in North America.
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most iconic places to see these majestic creatures powering through the skies. There are thought to be 18 nests within the park’s boundaries.
When looking out for them in Yellowstone, pay particular attention near rivers and lakes – eagles commonly feed on fish and stay near bodies of water to find them. Adult eagles can be identified by their dark brown bodies and white tails and heads, which are not actually bald, despite the name.
7: Norfolk, UK
For birdwatching in Britain, there are few better places than Norfolk. North Norfolk in particular is praised, not as the home of Alan Partridge’s radio station, but for being one of the best birding regions in this part of the world, largely thanks to its range of habitats.
The marshlands and dunes here attract a vast array of species throughout the year, including rare birds, such as the marsh harrier.
There are a number of top reserves here. Visit Titchwell Marsh, run by the RSPB, to witness migratory birds arriving from the Arctic, and spot bitterns and warblers or black-tailed godwits picking their way through the lagoons.
Cley Marshes, owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, is another hotspot for birding, where you can see waders, bearded tits and seabirds year round.
8: Rift Valley, Kenya
If you’ve ever seen a picture of a large population of flamingos, there’s a big possibility that picture was taken in Kenya’s Rift Valley. There can be up to four million lesser flamingos here for large parts of the year, the area recognised as the single most important foraging site in the world for these beautiful birds.
The flamingos move between Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru, and Lake Elementaita, grazing and tiptoeing their way across the shallows. The main spectacle is when they launch into the air in groups, undoubtedly one of the most magnificent bird sights on earth.
9: Papua New Guinea
There are some Bird-of-Paradise species that can only be found in Papua New Guinea, which makes the country one of the most special birdwatching destinations. The array of colourful and curious-looking creatures here are mostly best visited during the dry season between June and October, but keen twitchers will find fascinating species here at any time of year.
The Raggiana is the nation’s national bird, and one of the most famous species endemic to Papua New Guinea. Like many of the Birds-of-Paradise found here, the Raggiana displays magnificent plumage and an impressive courtship dance to attract a mate. This is just one of many unique birding spectacles to witness in this little visited country.