Thailand’s bird-life, when you stop to look, is abundant – especially on Koh Samui. Thanks to a variety of environments from sea-level to Koh Samui’s highest point at 635 metres, and plenty of migrating visitors, it’s a great destination for bird-watchers. We’ve spent many happy hours noticing the variety (and colour!) of Thailand’s birds and are getting better at recognising the regulars.
Koh Samui birds we’ve seen
In alphabetical order – *denotes a reader’s sighting
Asian fairy bluebird
Asian palm swift: These beauties appear at dusk in the dozens, presumably hunting mosquitoes. They’re fast and silent… they’re swift! Fun fact? They nest under palm leaves, gluing them together with saliva.
Besra: A medium-size raptor that eats lizards and dragonflies, amongst other things.
*Black bellied malkoha bird: Not our own sighting, but one kindly reported from a blog reader, Harry. He saw it from his hotel room near Lamai – proving that, in the tropics, nature gladly comes to you.
Brahminy kite: The myna birds disappear quickly when this big baddie shows up. Fascinating to watch it soar, but haven’t yet seen it swoop.
Cattle egret: In Thailand’s heat, why not let someone else do all the work?
Chinese pond heron
Common tailor bird: As featured in Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.
Greater coucal: A seriously ugly bird with scary eyes and an exceptionally menacing
call cackle. Still, they hunt for big insects and even snakes – so they’re welcome to stay! (Photo credit below).
Hoopoe: Never have we seen something in nature that we still suspect to be Photoshopped.
Indian roller: For a long time we thought this was an Asian fairy bluebird (it’s blue!). Turns out that the latter looks mean and scary, and this guy is pretty and sweet.
Large-billed crow: As it flew past, “Wow, that crow has a big beak”. Turns out, its name suits it.
Myna bird: About as common as pigeons anywhere else in the world, but mynas are interesting for their intelligence & their life-long pairing. They’ve been hanging out on the top of the sala lately. (Until the brahminy kite shows up…).
Olive backed sunbird: The coolest bird we’ve ever seen outside of a zoo! Must consider spray-painting the common sparrow – all birds should be this bright. We first noticed this little guy when he flew into the kitchen!
Oriental honey buzzard
Pacific reef egret: Could it look more like a velociraptor if it tried? We think this one is pretty scary-looking, though it was great to watch him catch his breakfast while we enjoyed ours (who needs TV!).
Pied imperial pigeon: A much more regal looking counterpart to the pigeons we know at home!
Red whiskered bulbul: Widely seen as caged birds, used in bird-singing competitions
White bellied sea eagle: We’ve spotted this terror on a number of occasions, soaring around the bay at Bophut Beach. Absolutely massive.
Yellow browed warbler
Birds of Koh Samui (FAQs)
The best bird books for Thailand?
1. Birds of Thailand by Craig Robson – Amazon’s offerings are strictly second-hand but it’s truly the definitive bird-guide for Thailand. We highly recommend even a dog-eared version!
2. A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Southeast Asia by Morten Strange – A great companion to the former. As the title implies, the book relies on photos rather than illustrations, in many cases making identification much easier.
3. A Photographic Field Guide To Birds Of South-East Asia – A slightly newer book with a wider geographic range. This guide is second-most popular with our bird-watching readers, though we haven’t used it ourselves.
Also consider Olympus 8 x 40 DPSI Binoculars – Best-selling binoculars with astonishingly high reviews, they weigh just 700 grams (definitely suitcase-sized).
Where to see these birds on Koh Samui? Our tips for bird-watching in Thailand include a few location suggestions, but our amateur skills depend on the bird-watching books above (#1 and #2), and a decent supply of gin and tonics. Tongsai Bay is a great hotel choice, as they have a running list of on-property bird sightings – over 60 different birds.
What birds and wildlife will you see in Thailand? We’re guessing we’ve barely scratched the surface of Koh Samui (and Thailand’s) bird-life, but it’s amazing what you see when you start paying attention. Or, in the case of one of our readers, what you nearly drive into: Koh Samui has massive monitor lizards!
What else is there to see and do? Whether you’ll explore Koh Samui with or without binoculars, use The Koh Samui Guide to make sure you don’t miss a thing. Find out what to expect and exactly where to find your favourite places, foods and island activities.
Photos used under license from Shutterstock.com, with further credit to Hafiz Issadeen via Flickr Creative Commons