7,100 islands stretching from the Malayan-Indonesian complex in
the south to close to Taiwan in the north, sandwiched between
the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean the Philippines is both
a rewarding and difficult place to birdwatch. The processes of
geography and evolution has left one of the highest degrees of
endemism known in the world with some 172 species of birds only
found within the archipelago. Add to those 8 species mainly found
within the islands and a huge potential for further ‘splits’
and one can see the attraction for birding here.
if the prospect of traveling through a myriad of islands of different
sizes, shapes and forms each often with its own dialect and transportation
and access problems was not enough, the element of human influence
is also one of the highest in the world. Virtually anywhere in
the country there are people, either settlers or native tribes,
encroaching on remnants of habitat in each of the islands. This
pressure can be so intense that within a season a whole area can
vanish taking with it what was possibly a large percentage of
the remaining population of several species in one fell swoop.
Hence many visiting birders are told – visit now before
it is too late.
The list of on-endemics reaches around 300 species although this
has been increasing each year as more people regularly birdwatch
and more foreign tours visit the islands. It is important that
trip reports be relayed to the recording body so that valuable
data may be gathered to add to what is currently a largely ‘word-of-mouth’
list of sightings and numbers.
Three regions – Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, typically
politically refer to the country although for birdwatchers the
area of Palawan is a 4th region that must be treated separately.
largest island with a limited number of associated islands
off the north and east coasts, Luzon contain all the major
habitats from mossy forest to marshlands. Due to logging
there is extremely limited lowland forest left but within
most mountainous areas small remnants of forest can be
island is relatively easy and safe to move around and
with fairly good transportation links. There are a few
birdwatching sites within or close to Metro Manila but
most endemics are found scattered a day or two’s
The belt of the Philippine archipelago, the Visayas consist of
the majority of the islands. In ornithological terms there are
two or three major areas – the Negros/ Panay complex in
the west, Cebu in the center and the Bohol/Samar/Leyte group to
the east, which have many shared species with Mindanao to the
Environmental degradation in this region is extreme – especially
in the east where several species are located in very small forest
patches and some species may even be already extinct or in non-sustainable
Travel is again not difficult and the area is generally peaceful
and easy to access. With most of the islands being small, travel
time to sites is normally a day although there are no ‘organised’
transportation links and most visitors use local guides.
A large island close to Borneo, Mindanao is also all to often
seen in the news or travel advisory lists as a place to avoid.
Instability does occur but in general it is within certain areas
and other regions are peaceful and the people receptive. With
a host of endemics, and being the holdout for the Philippine Eagle,
one can see why most people still want to visit but areas are
restricted and travel mainly must be done with prior organization
or with extra days on hand to move about.
Some of the easiest birding in the country and set in a truly
tropical setting, Palawan is a favorite for anyone. With its own
set of birds quite distinct to the rest of the country and a good
set of migrants it makes a pleasant change from the hard work
of the heavily trapped and bird-poor forests of the rest of the
As with other tropical countries the forests abound with insects
and reptiles making a pleasant diversion while waiting to see
a bird. Orchids are also abundant and as with the birds, endemism
is also common across all the biological communities.
weather & other considerations
Although Mindanao has a more equatorial climate to the northern
areas in general the islands are governed by a dual season climate
– wet (June-October) and dry (December – April). Temperatures
are normally between 25-35 although the mountains can be cold
at night in the early part of the year.
Malaria remains in a very few areas but is not a major problem
and other diseases are not significant. Most normal facilities
(food, health care, airports etc.) are available within a day’s
trek of any of the birding sites.
the city are 2 sites accessible to the visitor, University
of the Philippines campus and the Las Pinas-Paranaque
Criticial Habitat. The former is set on sprawling grounds
of the university good for water birds and surprising
appearance of some forest birds such as Coppersmith Barbet,
Crested Serpent-eagle and Ashy Ground Thrush. The latter
hosts the only mangrove forest in southern Manila Bay.
During migration season it teems with migrant waterbirds
such as Common Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt, Little
Ringed-plover, Little Egret and Grey Heron. The globally-threatened
Philippine Duck also has a small population here.
2 hours to the south lies a forested area known as Pico
do Loro although a reference to Caylabne Bay or Puerto
Azul (beach resorts) would be more likely to get you there.
A dry lowland forest it has many shared species with Makiling
and also a few others, which are not.
Please do feel free to contact the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
for any information – particularly regarding birding around
Metro Manila. In addition we request all records and/or trip reports
be sent to email@example.com
in order to help build up our database.