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  • Where to watch BIRDS and

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  • Photograph of Bornean Bristlehead

    The unique endemic Bornean Bristlehead at Sepilok by David Beadle.

  • Where to watch birds and wildlife in
  • Sabah, BORNEO

    Photograph of Blue-headed Pitta

    The proverbial 'jewel in the rainforest', the Blue-headed Pitta, captured here by Nigel Voaden, is one of Danum Valley's specialities.

    Best Birds and other wildlife in Sabah, Borneo


    Borneo Endemics 64 - not all of these are possible in Sabah
    (Four partridges, two firebacks, four barbets, four pittas, two broadbills, Bristlehead, three wren-babblers and Fruithunter)
    Bornean (Red-breasted) Partridge, Sabah (Chestnut-necklaced) Partridge, Dulit Partridge, Crimson-headed Partridge, Bornean Peacock-pheasant, Bornean Crestless Fireback, Bornean Crested Fireback (also Bangka Island off southeast Sumatra), Bulwer’s Pheasant, Dulit Frogmouth (Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak), Bornean (Short-tailed) Frogmouth (Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak), Bornean (Cave) Swiftlet, Bornean Ground-cuckoo, Kinabalu (Mountain) Serpent-eagle, Whitehead’s Trogon, Black-faced (Banded) Kingfisher (also Bangka Island off southeast Sumatra), Bornean Brown Barbet, Bornean Barbet, Golden-naped Barbet, Mountain Barbet, White-fronted Falconet, Blue-banded Pitta, Black-crowned (Garnet) Pitta, Bornean Banded Pitta, Blue-headed Pitta, Hose’s Broadbill, Whitehead’s Broadbill, Black Oriole (Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak), Bornean Whistler, Bornean Bristlehead, Bornean Black Magpie, Bornean Treepie, Bornean Green Magpie, Friendly Grasshopper-warbler (Kinabalu Friendly (Bush) Warbler), Chestnut-vented (Ochraceous) Bulbul, Charlotte’s (Buff-vented) Bulbul, Green-winged Bulbul, Bornean (Black-capped) Bulbul, Pale-faced (Flavescent) Bulbul, Cream-eyed Bulbul, Bornean Stubtail, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Pygmy White-eye, Mountain Black-eye, Grey-hooded (Chestnut-winged) Babbler, Black-throated Wren-babbler, Mountain Wren-babbler, Bornean Wren-babbler, Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush, Bare-headed (Black) Laughingthrush, Everett’s Thrush, Fruithunter, White-crowned Shama, Bornean Blue-flycatcher, Eye-browed Jungle-flycatcher, Bornean Shortwing, Bornean (White-crowned) Forktail, Bornean Whistling-thrush, Bornean Leafbird, Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker (also recorded in North Natuna Islands between Borneo and Malaya), Spectacled Flowerpecker, Black-sided Flowerpecker, Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Bornean (Streaky-breasted) Spiderhunter and Dusky Munia (also known from Cagayan Sulu in Philippines).

    (Black-browed (Wren-) Babbler, known only from a single specimen presumably collected between 1843 and 1848, was rediscovered in October 2020 in Kalimantan, southeast Borneo)


    Borneo and Sumatra 10
    Bonaparte’s Nightjar, Sunda (Collared) Owlet, Rajah Scops-owl, Hook-billed Bulbul, Blue-wattled Bulbul, Black-capped White-eye, Sunda Laughingthrush, Rufous-vented (Indigo) Flycatcher, Large-billed (Sunda) Blue-flycatcher and Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker (Kalimantan in Borneo).

    Borneo, Sumatra and Java 1
    Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker.

    Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi 1
    Black-backed Swamphen.

    Borneo, Sumatra and Malay Peninsula 1
    Grey-breasted Babbler.

    Borneo and Java 3
    Javan White-eye, Temminck’s Babbler and Javan (Hill) Blue-flycatcher.

    Borneo and Malay Peninsula 1
    Brown-backed Flycatcher.

    Borneo and Philippines 3
    Mantanani Scops-owl (small islands including Mantanani Island, 45 minutes out of Kota Kinabalu), White-vented Whistler (Si Amil, Pandanan and Sipadan Islands off northeast Borneo, west-central and southern Philippines) and Purple-throated Sunbird (Maratua Island, off east Borneo).

    Other specialities
    Philippine (Tabon) Scrubfowl, Great Argus, Storm's Stork, Sunda Frogmouth, Nicobar Pigeon, Helmeted Hornbill, Western Hooded Pitta and Temminck's Sunbird. Also a chance of Christmas and Great Frigatebirds, Chinese Egret (Nov-Mar) and Giant Pitta.

    Lesser Frigatebird, Oriental Darter, Javan Pond-heron, Great-billed Heron, Cinnamon and Yellow (mostly Nov-Mar) Bitterns, Brahminy Kite, Lesser Fish-eagle, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Bat Hawk, Watercock, Black-naped and Jambu Fruit-doves, Metallic Pigeon, Pied Imperial-pigeon, Blue-crowned Hanging-parrot, Violet Cuckoo, malkohas, Buffy Fish-owl, Whiskered Treeswift, swiftlets, Diard's, Red-naped and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, Banded and Rufous-collared Kingfishers, Blue-throated and Red-bearded Bee-eaters, Rhinoceros, White-crowned and Wrinkled Hornbills, woodpeckers, Banded, Black-and-red, Black-and-yellow, Dusky and Green Broadbills, White-breasted Woodswallow, Maroon-breasted and Rufous-winged Philentomas, Green Iora, cuckooshrikes, minivets, Black-and-crimson Oriole, drongos, fantails, Crested Jay, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, bulbuls, tailorbirds, flycatchers, Chestnut-naped Forktail, laughingthrushes, lots of babblers, Chestnut-backed Scimitar-babbler, White-browed Shrike-babbler, Asian Glossy Starling, leafbirds, Asian Fairy-bluebird, flowerpeckers, sunbirds and spiderhunters.

    Also a chance of Lesser Adjutant and Ruddy Kingfisher.

    (Bornean) Orang-utan, Proboscis Monkey, (Northern) Bornean Gibbon, Red and Silvered Leaf Monkeys, Hose's Langur, Long-tailed (Crab-eating) and (Sunda) Pig-tailed Macaques, Asian (Bornean Pygmy) Elephant, Western Tarsier, Bornean Colugo (Flying Lemur), (Philippine) Slow Loris, Leopard Cat, Binturong, Banded, Malay, Common Palm, Masked Palm and Small-toothed Civets, Sunda Stink Badger (Skunk), Greater and Lesser Mouse Deer, (Bornean) Yellow Muntjac, Sambar, Large, Red Giant, Spotted Giant and Thomas's Giant Flying Squirrels, Prevost's Squirrel, pygmy squirrels and tree shrews. Also a chance of Marbled Cat, Bearded Pig and Yellow-throated Marten, and an outside chance of (Bornean) Clouded Leopard, Sun Bear, Sunda Pangolin, Malayan Porcupine and Flat-headed Cat.

    Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish
    Saltwater Crocodile, Whale Shark (mostly Mar-May at Lankayan Island), Manta and Eagle Rays, Green and Hawksbill Turtles (mostly Jul-Sep at Selingan and Sipadan), Draco flying lizards (usually most active Dec-Jan), Kuhl's Flying Gecko and Wallace's Flying Frog.

    Many amazing insects including Lantern Bugs, Rhinoceros Beetles, moths such as Atlas and birdwing butterflies including Rajah Brooke's.

    An extraordinary flora which includes hundreds of orchids, several pitcher plants and Rafflesia arnoldii, the largest flowering plant in the world.

    Other Natural Wonders of Sabah, Borneo

    Mount Kinabalu The highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea, rising to 4095 m (13,435 ft), which can be climbed without the aid of mountaineering equipment.

    Best Sites for Birds and other wildlife in Sabah, Borneo

    Photograph of Proboscis Monkey

    The extraordinary big-nosed, pot-bellied and long-tailed Proboscis Monkey by Coke & Som Smith.

    Photograph of Colugo (Sunda Flying Lemur)

    Colugo or Sunda Flying Lemur by Simon Colenutt. Young Colugos spend the first six months or so of life clinging to the mother.

    Best Times for Birds and other wildlife in Sabah, Borneo

    Rain usually falls year round on the equator but April to October is usually drier than November to March in north Borneo and the driest period, especially late June to early August, is the best time to look for mammals and particularly birds, with August usually being the best time to see turtles nesting. The best scuba-diving and snorkeling conditions are also usually during the dry season.

    Recommended Bird Books etc. for Sabah, Borneo

    A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo by S Myers. Helm, 2016 (Second Edition).

    Phillipps' Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo by Q and K Phillipps. PUP, 2014 (Third Edition).

    Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago by J Eaton et al (including Borneo). Lynx Edicions, 2021 (Second Edition).

    The Birds of Borneo by B Smythies. Sabah and Malayan Nature Societies, 1981 (Third Edition).

    Phillipps' Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo by Q and K Phillipps. John Beaufoy, 2016.

    A Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo by J Payne and C M Francis. Sabah Society, 2007 (Revised Edition).

    Where to watch birds in Asia by N Wheatley. Helm, 1996.

    Don’t know which country/countries/regions to visit in Asia? Then it may be worth considering taking a look at this book, written by this website’s author. It is many years old of course but it still provides a starting point, an overview and a guiding light to the best birds and the best places to look for them in the region, and could save hours of searching for similar information on the internet. However, it is important to check more up-to-date sources for sites which have been opened up, sites and species which have been discovered, lodges that have been built etc. since the book was published.

    Birding and Wildlife Trip Reports for Sabah, Borneo

    Many trip reports, some for Borneo, are posted on the websites listed here. On some of these websites some reports are independent and some are posted by tour companies who organize tours to Borneo. These tour companies and others also post their own reports on their websites, which are listed under 'Some Organized Tours to Borneo' below.

    Local bird and wildlife guides in Sabah, Borneo

    The costs of organized tours partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ. If you are travelling independently, employing such local guides will greatly increase your chances of seeing the wildlife you wish to see.

    Accommodation for birders in Sabah, Borneo

    Some Organized Tours for birds and other wildlife to Sabah, Borneo

    There are many tour companies who organize tours to see mammals, birds, other wildlife and other natural wonders. The cost of these tours vary considerably according to such variables as the airlines used, the number of days the tours last, the number of sites visited, the number of people in the group (an important consideration if you wish to see such wildlife as rainforest mammals and birds), the number of tour leaders, the standard of accommodation and transport, and the percentage profit the company hopes to make. Generally, where the number of days tours last and the number of sites visited are similar, the cheapest tours are those that use the cheapest airlines, accommodation and local transport, that have the largest groups with the least number of leaders, and that make the least amount of profit. The most expensive tours tend to be those which are exceptionally long, use the most expensive accommodation (ridiculously lavish in some cases, even for single nights) and which make the most profit. Some tour costs partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ.

    While tour companies organize tours with set itineraries many also organize custom tours for individuals and private groups who instead of taking a tour with a set itinerary want to follow their own itinerary to suit their own personal tastes, whether it be mammals, birds, other wildlife, other natural wonders or even man-made attractions, or a mixture of them all. Many organized tours with set itineraries are also fast-paced and target as many species as possible, whether they are mammals, birds or other wildlife or everything, which usually leaves little time to enjoy the best sites and individual species, but on a custom tour those taking part can specify the pace and the sites and species they wish to concentrate on. Custom tours also suit people who like to travel with people they already know, rather than with a group of strangers, and people with partners with different interests. Individuals and small groups will almost certainly have to pay more than the price of an organized tour with a set itinerary but a large group of friends may be able to travel for less than the price quoted for a set tour.

    Tour companies who run organized tours or can arrange custom tours to Borneo include the following.