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Endemic Birds of Sri Lanka!

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

Sri Lanka is an endemic birding hotspot with 34 island endemics (including seven proposed species) found nowhere else in the world and an additional 52 regional endemics that are found within the Indian subcontinent only. With a multitude of habitats from lowland rainforests, sub-montane and upper-montane cloud forests, the geographically isolated wet zone of Sri Lanka is home to 33 of the 34 endemics.

The Sinharaja Forest Reserve, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the largest tract of natural rainforest in Sri Lanka. Sinharaja is a hotspot for endemic birding with 29 of Sri Lanka’ 34 endemic species found here along with elusive sub-continental endemics, the Malabar Trogon and the Sri Lanka Frogmouth. It is among a handful of sites to see the elusive Sri Lanka Spurfowl, recently discovered Serendib Scops Owl and the Chestnut-backed Owlet. The research station along the Sinhagala trail is a reliable site for seeing flocks of the vibrantly coloured Sri Lanka Blue Magpie. The mixed feeding flocks of different birds that move through the forest, dubbed the Sinharaja bird wave, are the largest and longest studied in the world, with field research having commenced back in 1981. On average, there are 41 individual birds from 12 species within a flock, and around 21 species have been regularly encountered with a dozen endemics that are seasonally joined in by migrants including the Chestnut-winged Cuckoo and Asian Paradise Flycatcher. The flock moves together in unison and feed by adopting different strategies across all levels of the forest in the canopy, sub-canopy, undergrowth and forest floor. Omnivorous and insectivorous species such as the Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush benefit as the movement of the flock, flushes out insects. The flocks provide protection in numbers against predators such as raptors or snakes. The Sri Lanka Crested Drongo is believed to call out and summon the flock together, while noisy Orange-billed Babblers are the most numerous with as many as fifty individuals. The flocks also offer the best opportunities to see the elusive Red-faced Malkoha that feeds in the canopy. The Makandura Forest Reserve in Kithulgala and Kanneliya Forest Reserve near Galle are some of the other lowland rainforests that are excellent for endemic birding.

In the hill country, Victoria Park and Hakgala Botanical Gardens around Nuwara Eliya provide good opportunities for viewing highland endemics including the Sri Lanka White-eye, Dull-blue Flycatcher and Yellow-eared Bulbul. Horton Plains is one of the few known locations where elusive highland endemics such as the ‘Arrenga’ or Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush and the Sri Lanka Bush Warbler can be observed.

The Sri Lanka Wood-Shrike is the only endemic that that is absent from the wet zone and is commonly seen within the scrub jungles of the dry-zone. The Sri Lanka Junglefowl the island’s national bird along with the Sri Lanka Swallow are commonly seen within protected areas in the dry zone. Flocks of Sri Lanka Green Pigeon congregate around waterholes in the dry season. Dry-ever green forests such as Wilpattu National Park harbour endemics including the Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Brown-capped Babbler and Black-capped Bulbul. There have even been rare encounters of Red-faced Malkohas along the riverine forests within Kumana National Park.

Checklist of endemic birds of Sri Lanka:

1. Sri Lanka Spurfowl (Galloperdix bicalcarata)

2. Sri Lanka Junglefowl (Gallus lafayettii)

3. Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon (Columba torringtoniae)

4. Sri Lanka Green Pigeon (Treron pompadora)

5. Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot (Loriculus beryllinus)

6. Layard’s Parakeet (Psittacula calthrapae)

7. Green-billed Coucal (Centropus chlororhynchos)

8. Red-faced Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus)

9. Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni)

10. Chestnut-backed Owlet (Glaucidium castanotum)

11. Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis)

12. Yellow-fronted Barbet (Psilopogon flavifrons)

13. Crimson-fronted Barbet / Sri Lanka Small Barbet (Psilopogon rubricapillus)

14. Greater Sri Lanka Flameback / Crimson-backed Flameback (chrysocolaptes stricklandi)

15. Lesser Sri Lanka Flameback / Red-backed Flameback (Dinopium psarodes)

16. Sri Lanka Swallow (Cecropis hyperythra)

17. Sri Lanka Wood-Shrike (Tephrodornis affinis)

18. Black-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus melanicterus)

19. Yellow-eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus)

20. Spot-winged Thrush (Geokichla spiloptera)

21. Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush / Sri Lanka Thrush (Zoothera imbricata)

22. Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush (Myophonus blighi)

23. Dull-blue Flycatcher (Eumyias sordida)

24. Ashy-headed Laughingthrush (Argya cinereifrons)

25. Brown-capped Babbler (Pellorneum fuscocapillus)

26. Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus melanurus)

27. Orange-billed Babbler / Ceylon Rufous Babbler (Argya rufescens)

28. Sri Lanka Bush Warbler (Elaphrornis palliseri)

29. Legge's Flowerpecker / White-throated Flowerpecker (Dicaeum vincens)

30. Sri Lanka White-eye (Zosterops ceylonensis)

31. White-faced Starling (Sturnornis albofrontatus)

32. Sri Lanka Hill Myna (Gracula ptilogenys)

33. Sri Lanka Crested Drongo (Dicrurus lophorinus)

34. Sri Lanka Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornata)

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