With a such a wide range of exciting bird families being found here, any time spent in the field in Sabah is likely to yield some wonderful sightings. A range of excellent lodges with great facilities offer opportunities to watch terrific birds from the forest floor right up to the high canopy tops.
Sabah is located in the north of Borneo and is home to 688 bird species, boasting 33 endemics among these. It is one of the best birding and wildlife areas in Malaysia with a global appeal for travellers and birders of all abilities. Offering a wide range of different habitats and with multilingual expert guides available, arranging or joining a birding tour is logistically easy. In fact, of the 55 Important Birding Areas (IBAs) in Malaysia, 15 are located in Sabah. A holiday of any length is sure to guarantee some amazing wildlife encounters and make some wonderful memories.
Sabah sits near the equator and has a tropical climate. It can rain at any time of the day, and it can also get quite humid, especially in the rainforest. Birding is good year-round but the rainy season runs from October to February, when there are heavy downpours. May to October is considered the best period for viewing the fruit-eating species, as this is when they breed.#
The spectacular Whitehead's Broadbill is a key target for birders visiting Sabah.
Key Birding Sites
Poring Hot Springs
If you are already visiting the highlands in Sabah, add Poring Hot Springs to the birding trail. There is no official bird list, but expect at least 200 species around here, including Banded Broadbill, Baird's Trogon, Golden-whiskered Barbet, Pygmy White-eye, Blue-banded Pitta and raptors, bulbuls, broadbills, babblers and flowerpeckers. To top that, you might spot a blooming Rafflesia, one of the world's biggest flowers.
Mount Kinabalu National Park
The icon of Sabah and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers 326 species of birds in habitat ranging from lowland rainforest to montane or sub-alpine zones. The national park also provides park accommodations that are resort-style and is only two hours' drive from the city of Kota Kinabalu. This beautiful montane site creates the ideal environment for a variety of species, 17 of which are endemic to Borneo, including Whitehead's Trogon and Whitehead's Broadbill.
Numerous trails are categorised as easy to medium, while familiar roads around the park provide great birding walks. The park headquarters offers bird guides. Weather averages around 16-20°C, making it the perfect temperature for walking. The average time required for birding here depends on how many species you want to see, and typically, two to three days are advisable.
Danum is one of the best places in Sabah for an exciting birding adventure, as much of Sabah's birdlife can be found in the lowland rainforest here and almost 350 species have been recorded. The virgin forest of Danum Valley Conservation Area is a highly recommended site for most visiting birders or photographers. One needs to book a package just for birding, and a minimum requirement is at least two nights here. Danum's stunning canopy walkway provides excellent viewing points for canopy and top-level birds, including hornbills, woodpeckers and endemics such as Bornean Bristlehead.
Bornean Bristlehead is a unique-looking endemic found in Sabah's forests (Gary Albert).
Tabin Wildlife Reserve
Tabin is the largest reserve in Sabah and is bigger than Singapore in terms of land area. You can find most birds listed in the Sabah checklist here, and if you are into pittas, Tabin is also home to Bornean Banded Pitta, Black-crowned Pitta and Blue-headed Pitta.
Inside the reserve there is only one accommodation, called the Tabin Wildlife Resort – a semi-luxurious resort catering to wildlife and nature lovers. Most birders will spend five to seven days here as the area is enormous. Attractions include primary and secondary forest zones and a salt lake and mud volcano. Visiting here during the fruiting season is the ultimate bonus for birding or photography.
Kinabatangan River and Sukau
The famous Kinabatangan River and Sukau stretch for 560 km through some of the densest rainforest. Most birders or photographers will opt for a few days at Kinabatangan to spot some of Sabah's most sought-after birds such as Storm's Stork, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, Black Hornbill and the majestic Rhinoceros Hornbill.
Along the core area of Kinabatangan there are several nature lodges available, some basic and some at the higher end, which cater to all kinds of visitors. Birding is done mainly by boat along the main river and tributaries, and you can either book a private bird guide or book directly via the lodges here. Several wildlife and nature tour companies also sell birding packages to Kinabatangan and Sukau.
The majestic Rhinoceros Hornbill can be seen at Kinabatangan River.
Maliau Basin Conservation Area
Known as the Lost World of Sabah, this incredible place is also one of the premier birding destinations and 270 species of bird have been recorded here. The entire conservation area measures a whopping 588 sq km of primary and secondary rainforest and has only one lodging option available. Here, birders can explore the rainforest for Bornean Bristlehead, Bulwer's Pheasant, Great Argus, Giant Pitta and an amazing eight species of hornbill.
The basin is not open for walk-in visitors, and you need to engage a guide or bird tour to access this place. One of the stunning locations is the Canopy Treetop Walk at the studies centre area, where numerous birds and other wildlife can be seen.
Birding around Sandakan
Sandakan is known as the nature city of Sabah, located on the east coast and great for birding, with lots of reserves and parks here.
The Rainforest Discovery Centre is one of the best places in Sandakan, perfect for all birders and has one of the best canopy walks in the world. It is also a pristine lowland dipterocarp and mangrove forest with an astounding 300 bird species recorded in the area, including one of Sabah's endemic and star birds – Bornean Bristlehead. The main steel canopy walkway stretches almost a kilometre and provides mid-level bird viewing. There are also various ground-level trails available. The centre is located about 23 km from Sandakan City, and you can visit independently or engage a guide from one of the Sandakan tour companies.
For more information visit www.sabahtourism.com
Or you can contact Sabah Tourism Board, connect through helpdesk.sabahtourism.com