Are you trying to learn about the types of birds in Bhutan?
There are tons of interesting species to observe. From tiny bee-eaters to large, colorful peacocks, there’s something to catch everyone’s attention!
Due to the sheer number of species, there was no way to include every bird found in Bhutan in this article. So instead, I tried to focus on the birds that are most regularly seen and observed.
Today, you will learn about 21 COMMON types of birds in Bhutan!
#1. Asian Green Bee-Eater
- Merops orientalis
- Adults are 16–18 cm (6.2-7 in) long.
- Their coloring is predominantly green, with a bronze-colored cap, a black necklace, and a black stripe on the face. In addition, they have turquoise highlights on the cheeks and wing tips.
- Their central tail feathers are long and thin, adding about 5 cm (2 in) to their overall length.
Look for Asian Green Bee-eaters in Bhutan in grassland, scrublands, and forests. They’re not dependent on a close-by water source and are even found in deserts.
This species is particularly sensitive to cooler weather but has developed an unusual habit of combating the cold. They roost in groups of 200 to 300 birds and will sleep well past sunrise, nestled close to each other to stay warm. The Asian Green Bee-eater doesn’t subscribe to the saying, “the early bird gets the worm.” 🙂
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Asian Green Bee-eaters can be a nuisance to beekeepers because they will raid beehives to find food. However, they only do this if their favorite food, beetles, are scarce. And they aren’t picky when it comes to finding something to eat! They will even eat small crabs if that’s the only thing available.
Although the Asian Green Bee-eater song is pleasant and melodic, their alarm call is anything but! Listen to the shrill, staccato notes here.
#2. Asian Openbill
- Anastomus oscitans
- Adults are about 82 cm (2.7 ft) tall.
- Their coloring is white to light gray on the body and head, but the perimeter of the wings and tail are glossy black with a purple or green tint.
- It has long, pink legs and a gray and yellow beak.
The Asian Openbill gets its name from the peculiar way its beak twists as it ages. The curves form an open section near the head, and the top and bottom become offset. As their beaks twist, these birds start to use the shape to crack open the shells of the snails they eat. Interestingly, the young birds have no problem eating snails with their straight beak!
These storks are about waist-high to a human adult. Their legs are distinctive and long, ideally suited for walking while foraging in flooded fields, shallows, and wetlands. Although snails are their primary food source, they also eat snakes, amphibians, and large insects.
Asian Openbills are smart when it comes to the weather, and they don’t breed every year if there is a drought. They seem to know that food and water will be too scarce for their babies to thrive. When they do reproduce, they build nests out of sticks on a partially submerged structure like a log. They breed in colonies, with lots of birds close together.
These birds are mostly silent in Bhutan, but they will make an occasional croaky, hoarse greeting sound to a mate returning to the nest.
#3. Black Drongo
- Dicrurus macrocercus
- Adults are 28 cm (11 in) long.
- Its coloring is glossy black, with a gray beak and legs. It has red eyes.
- This species has a distinctive forked tail, but the tail feathers are rounded instead of pointed.
The Black Drongo is completely black and has a distinctive forked tail. They’re found in savannas, open country, fields, and even urban centers. This species flies with snappy wing movements, making it agile in the air for hunting its main food source, insects. They even perch on grazing animals because they can gobble up any insects disturbed by the larger animals.
If you used one word to describe the Black Drongo, it would be aggressive! Whether they’re guarding their territory, fighting for mating dominance, or hunting for food, this bird in Bhutan is one that very few other species will mess with. In fact, it’s often called the “King Crow” because of its domineering personality.
Smaller birds often nest nearby the Black Drongo because it keeps them safe, too. And in return for their protection, the smaller birds often feed the young of the Drongo. It’s an even trade, bodyguard to babysitter. 🙂
Their song can be quite loud and harsh, and they have the unfortunate habit of singing very early in the morning.
#4. Black Kite
- Milvus migrans
- Adults are 48-60 cm (19-24 in) long with a wingspan of about 150 cm (59 in).
- Their coloring is dark brown to brownish red, with a white face.
- The legs are yellow, and the hooked beak is black with yellow at the base.
Although its name suggests a mostly black species, the Black Kite is generally dark brown to reddish. It’s easy to mistake this bird in Bhutan for other birds of prey, so make sure to look closely when identifying!
Black Kites are graceful fliers, soaring over water and open land. They’re adept at catching their prey, such as frogs, mice, rats, small birds, snakes, salamanders, snails, and insects, but occasionally eat carrion (road-kill). This species can hunt on the ground as well as from the air and visits garbage dumps or beaches looking for edible trash.
Look for Black Kites near streams or rivers. They can hunt their favorite prey there and are adequate fish hunters, too. These clever birds will also soar around the fringes of forest fires, catching fleeing animals.
This species has a lonely, whistling call that might remind you of a red-tailed hawk.
#5. Common Kingfisher
- Alcedo atthis
- Adults are about 16 cm (6.2 in) long with a wingspan of 25 cm (10 in).
- This species has bright blue upper parts speckled in white, with a rufous chest and rusty cheeks.
- Its sharp black bill is roughly the same length as its head.
You might know this colorful bird in Bhutan as the “River Kingfisher”.
As you can assume from their name, fish is a component of their diet. However, the truly fascinating thing about them is how they catch the fish! They have a third transparent eyelid for when they are underwater, one eye is suited for air, and the other is suited to seeing underwater. The “underwater eye” has binocular vision, which allows it to judge the distance to its prey with extreme precision.
They need to eat 60% of their body weight daily, so they will aggressively control a territory with enough food. If another kingfisher enters the territory, fights can ensue where the winner usually grabs the other’s beak and holds it underwater until it drowns. It might seem brutal, but it’s truly a matter of survival for these hungry birds.
Unfortunately, most juveniles don’t survive until adulthood. They’re often driven out of their parents’ territory before they learn to catch food, and many become waterlogged and drown. Only 25% of adults survive to breed the next year, and most adults only live for one year in the wild.
#6. Common Myna
- Acridotheres tristis
- Adults are 23 cm (9 in) long.
- They have thick yellow legs, a yellow-tipped bill, and a yellow patch of skin underneath their eyes.
- Their plumage is glossy black on the head with a brown body and lighter undercarriage. The undersides of their wings are pure white.
The Common Myna is one of only three birds worldwide to make the Top 100 Most Invasive Species list! Although the reasons are complex, the IUCN Species Survival Commission stated that it poses “a threat to biodiversity, agriculture, and human interests.”
The main problem with the Common Myna is that it will eat basically anything, meaning it can outcompete native species and decimate their numbers. They readily devour the chicks and eggs of other birds, lizards, fruits, beetles and their larvae, spiders, snails, flies, worms, and caterpillars.
But, as the saying (sort of) goes, one man’s invasive pest is another Farmer’s Friend. At least, that’s what this species is called in India, where it eats insects that damage crops, like grasshoppers and locusts. 🙂
This species doesn’t just eat all day either – their extreme vocal range makes for a noisy day anytime they’re around. They can growl, croak, chirrup, squawk, whistle, and click. The Common Myna can even mimic human speech!
#7. Daurian Redstart
- Phoenicurus auroreus
- Adults are 14-15 cm (about 6 in) long.
- Males have a rust-colored belly, grey cap, and black wings with a white patch. Their eyes, beaks, and legs are black.
- Females are a dull brownish-gray all over, with a wash of orange on the tail and rump.
Daurian Redstarts live in open forests, the edges of agricultural areas, parks, and private gardens. This bird in Bhutan is confident around humans, letting them get very close before moving off. Its primary food is insects, especially during breeding, but it also eats berries and seeds.
Females of the species are members of the ubiquitous LBJs (Little Brown Jobs, in ornithologist speak), meaning that they are nearly impossible to distinguish from each other. The best way to recognize a female Daurian Restart is the understated red rump and tail, more easily seen in flight. Males are easier to recognize because of their unique color patterns.
Daurian Redstarts are quiet birds, except when advertising their territory. Even while courting, this species rarely makes much noise. Instead, the male will feed the female and perform exaggerated wing and feather displays to show off its healthy colors.
#8. Eastern Spot-Billed Duck
- Anas zonorhyncha
- Adults are 55–63 cm (22–25 in) long with a wingspan of 83–95 cm (33–37 in).
- Their overall coloring is dark brown or greyish, with a blue speculum (a colored patch on the secondary wing feathers). The undersides of the wings are bright white.
- Its characteristic yellow spot on the bill usually has a tiny black dot at the end. Its legs are brilliant orange.
The Eastern Spot-billed Duck is a dabbler, meaning they feed at the surface rather than diving. They stick their rumps out of the water and graze on whatever they find immediately beneath them, including plants and snails.
Unlike diving ducks, dabblers’ legs are located further forward on their bodies, making it much easier for them to walk on land. Divers have more rearward legs and bigger feet to aid in swimming underwater. Dabblers have smaller feet since they don’t need them for underwater propulsion to chase food.
Look for these birds in Bhutan in rice paddies, wetlands, rivers, and ponds. They are gregarious and friendly outside the breeding season, often forming small flocks. They don’t mind humans, and you can expect them to come close to investigate, especially if you bring a gift of cut grapes or shredded lettuce. Just don’t give them bread or other human scraps, which aren’t good for ducks.
Their call can be a traditional “whack-whack-whack” in a monotone, but they also make a “wha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” that sounds like they are having a good belly laugh. 🙂
#9. Grey Heron
- Ardea cinerea
- Adults are 100 cm (39 in) tall with a 155–195 cm (61–77 in) wingspan.
- Their coloring is white overall with narrow bluish-black stripes on the front of the body and the head. A long, thin crest of dark feathers falls off the back of the head.
- The wings are light gray, with dark slate-gray wingtips.
- The sharply pointed bill is a faint yellow, and the legs are dark pink to brown.
The Grey Heron is a wading bird native to the temperate climates of Bhutan.
Look for them in wetlands, lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and coastal areas by the sea. They’re comfortable around humans, sometimes visiting recreational fishermen on the shore looking for snacks. They even visit zoos to grab food left for the animals on display!
Grey Herons are the apex predator in their range, meaning they aren’t preyed upon by larger animals. They stand still with their necks coiled, ready to stab instantly when a fish or other prey comes into range. Additionally, they often stand on one leg to disguise themselves like a stick in the water.
Their sounds can be guttural and creaky or a sudden and startling “Gwack!”
#10. Indian Peafowl
- Pavo cristatus
- Males are 100-115 cm (39-45 in) tall, but with their long tail feathers, they can be up to 195-225 cm (77-89 in). They weigh 2.75-6 kg (6 to 13 lbs.)
- Females are about 95 cm (37 in) tall.
- Males are bright blue on the body with flashy green and blue tail feathers. Breeding females are brown and white with a metallic green wash on the neck.
Many people call these birds “peacocks” without realizing that this refers to only the males of the species. Peahens are the female counterparts, but collectively they’re known as Peafowl. They’re among the heaviest birds capable of flight and can fly up to a mile at a time.
Males have over 200 brightly colored feathers in their tails, which are used to attract females. The females themselves have just 100 feathers in a duller hue, so they’re less interesting to see. However, as females age, they revert to male characteristics, sing male songs, and grow colorful tails.
The reason behind this change is fascinating. Unlike most birds, the male display colors are the “dominant” coloring of this species, and females become dull due to changes in their bodies while they breed. So instead of male birds becoming dull, females become showy!
Their songs and calls are reminiscent of a drawn-out “OWW” sound.
#11. Oriental Magpie-Robin
- Copsychus saularis
- Adults are about 19 cm (7.4 in) long.
- Males are black on the head, back, and wings and white on the underside.
- Females have the same color pattern, but their heads are slate gray instead of black.
By the looks of it, Oriental Magpie-Robins are ready for a night on the town! Their tuxedo-like plumage gives them an air of sophistication. 🙂
During the breeding season, males sing long, melodic tunes to attract females. This habit only adds to their appeal, and in addition, if you can attract them to your yard, they’ll help by eating insects and leeches. Although they usually nest in tree cavities, they don’t mind buildings or nesting boxes. So, they’re a worthwhile investment in your yard for a chance to have these talented singers nearby.
Unfortunately, their sought-after coloration and vocals have led to illegal poaching activities by unscrupulous animal traders. Consequently, high-quality recordings are restricted, so they cannot be used to lure these beautiful birds. However, this video gives you an idea of how beautiful they sound.
#12. Red-Vented Bulbul
- Pycnonotus cafer
- Adults are about 20 cm (8 in) long.
- These distinctive birds have a black, crested head, brown back and wings, and a white belly.
- Their most unusual feature is the brilliant red patch of feathers at the base of their tail.
Red-vented Bulbuls are happy in various habitats, including plains, dry scrub, open forests, and cultivated lands. However, they avoid mature forests because the trees are too dense for flight.
Unfortunately, their adaptability can be a problem for farmers and native birds in Bhutan. They damage crops, reduce populations of endemic birds, and often disperse seeds of invasive plants that can further damage the region’s biosphere. Additionally, they learn rapidly, so extermination efforts rarely work. To make matters more complicated, they seem to be able to avoid other invasive species, so they don’t even help to control those populations.
Humans are the likeliest source of the international spread of the Red-vented Bulbul. During the 19th century, they were used in bird fighting. They were tied to the owner’s finger by a thread and made to fight, attempting to steal the red rump feathers of their opponents. As you can imagine, instances of these birds escaping happened often, leading to invasive populations.
Despite its status as a pest, the Red-vented Bulbul has a beautiful song.
#13. Red-Wattled Lapwing
- Vanellus indicus
- Adults are 32–35 cm (13-14 in) long.
- Its coloring is black on the head and chest, with white cheek patches and undersides. The wings are gray-brown.
- Red skin surrounds the eyes and continues down to the reddish beak. Its long legs are bright yellow.
Red-wattled Lapwings occupy any open area near fresh or brackish water. This bird’s stork-like walk is invaluable as they hunt for insects and snails in shallow water. They also stride about on land, eating grains or using their long legs to disturb the ground and bring insects to the surface.
The eggs are mottled gray and black and look precisely like the rocks surrounding them, making them invisible to most predators. Can you see them? Like the eggs, the chicks are nearly invisible, with patterns resembling sand and dirt.
In addition to their camouflage, the parents will fly nearby and dive-bomb anything that gets too close to the nest, screaming threateningly. They even swoop on herbivores that might get too close and damage the nest.
This species is also known as the “Did He Do It” bird because of the pattern of its call. Listen below to hear what I mean!
#14. Spotted Dove
- Streptopelia chinensis
- Adults are 28-32 cm (11-13 in) long.
- This species has red eyes, a rosy-grey breast, head, and underbody, and a nearly-black mantle that is densely spotted with white.
- The tail is unusually long for a pigeon and tipped in white.
Depending on where you live, you may know this bird in Bhutan as the “lace-necked dove”, “pearl-necked dove”, “mountain dove”, or “spotted turtle dove”. They generally rove in pairs but may form groups, especially when foraging for seeds, grains, fruit fallen from trees, and grass seeds. They’ve been known to take insects on occasion.
The wing pattern is interesting as each feather has a drop-shadow, making it look extremely three-dimensional, even though they lay completely flat. This defensive characteristic interferes with a predator’s depth perception and makes them miss a strike.
Spotted Doves are a welcome addition to parks and backyards. However, their habit of springing into flight when disturbed is hazardous around airports, causing damage to planes. Some airports have responded by hiring falconers to fly their raptors around the airport, making them avoid the area and keeping it safe for air traffic.
Their sounds are soft and soothing, and they’re exceptionally comfortable around humans.
#15. White-Throated Kingfisher
- Halcyon smyrnensis
- Adults are 19–21 cm (7.4 – 8.2 in) long.
- This species has an incredibly bright blue back, tail, and wings contrasting with its brown body and white throat.
- Its legs and beak are bright orange, and the beak is enormous for the size of its head.
Like other kingfishers, the White-throated Kingfisher’s beak is much longer than the depth of its skull. The brilliant red beak is perfectly suited to grabbing fish out of the water. In addition to fish, they eat large crustaceans, worms, snakes, the young of other birds, and rodents.
Few predators can catch these acrobatic birds in Bhutan, but their speed can pose other problems for their safety. Much like a cartoon, the White-throated Kingfisher sometimes flies straight into a tree trying to avoid a predator. At high speed, they are often killed when their beaks become embedded in tree trunks.
Their nests are unremarkable, but how they construct them is downright weird. First, they repeatedly fly into a mud bank with their beaks until they make a big enough dent to stand on so they can begin excavating. Then, they peck away at the dirt for hours to make a deep tunnel where they build their nests.
Its call is distinctive, shrill, and high-pitched. Listen here!
#16. White Wagtail
- Motacilla alba
- Adults are 16.5-19 cm (6.4-7.4 in) long.
- Their coloring is black, white, and dull gray. Their white face and black throat are the most noticeable features.
- This species has long legs, a puffed chest, and a rounded head.
White Wagtails are common across Eurasia, but incredibly, this little guy sometimes ventures all the way to western Alaska for nesting. It makes its home in abandoned fishing huts and cabins, beach debris, or empty oil drums.
This species falls victim to the Common Cuckoo, a brood parasite that lays its eggs in the host’s nest. Usually, a host bird is forced to care for the cuckoo chick, but not White Wagtails. Since they are too small to destroy the eggs, they often abandon an invaded nest and start over.
The White Wagtail got its name from the way it forages along the water’s edge, wagging its tail, looking for insects. They mostly hunt on land but will pursue prey in the air occasionally. Sometimes they wade in shallows or walk atop floating masses of vegetation while on the hunt. Likely prey includes crane flies, midges, mayflies, and aquatic larvae.
Its call is an extremely short and fast pair of high-pitched chirrups.
#17. Zebra Dove
- Geopelia striata
- Adults are 16–18 cm (6.2-7 in) long.
- Their underparts are rosy buff, with brownish-grey upperparts and fine white and black barring on the neck.
- The brown wings and back are barred with black, and the tail is solid black.
- It has a blue-grey face, bare blue-grey skin around the eyes and bill, and pink legs and feet.
The Zebra Dove got its name from their upper coloration, a stripey pattern that allows them to hide from predators above. This pattern blends with the grasses of their native habitat. Their main diet is small seeds, though they will take insects if they’re convenient.
More and more, these birds can be seen in Bhutan in urban areas since they tolerate humans well. This species won’t hesitate to nest in buildings or other populated spaces like other doves and pigeons.
The reason you see many with what appear to be mangled feet is their propensity for catching Avian Pox. It’s important to regularly clean bird baths and feeders if you have Zebra Doves in your area because those are the main sources of infection.
Here, you can see this bird’s intricate pattern and listen to its calm, understated song.
#18. Little Egret
- Egretta garzetta
- Adults are 55–65 cm (22–26 in) long with an 88–106 cm (35–42 in) wingspan.
- They are white with black bills and legs and yellow eyes and feet.
- Their necks have a strong “S” curve, and they have a thin tuft of long feathers on the head.
These aquatic birds in Bhutan are almost always found near the water.
Look for Little Egrets along coastlines and larger inland waterways like lakes and rivers. They catch fish, crustaceans, and insects directly from the water while standing in the shallows or flying over the surface.
Little Egrets are very sociable and commonly form small flocks. However, despite their tendency to group together, they can be very territorial about food. Often, these small egrets will fight one another for prime hunting locations unless food is abundant.
The population of the Little Egret has been threatened by overhunting not once but twice throughout history. During the Middle Ages, this species was hunted for food to near extinction. Then in the late 1800s, Little Egrets were threatened once more by overhunting for their feathers.
This species is protected by conservation laws and considered a species of least concern. It’s got to be persistent to have survived all that!
#19. Rock Pigeon
- Columba livia
- A plump bird with a small head, short legs, and a thin bill.
- The typical pigeon has a gray back, a blue-grey head, and two black wing bars. But their plumage is highly variable, and it’s common to see varieties ranging from all-white to rusty brown.
Rock Pigeons are extremely common birds in Bhutan but are almost exclusively found in urban areas.
These birds are what everyone refers to as “pigeons.” You have probably seen them gathering in huge flocks in city parks, hoping to get some birdseed or leftover food tossed their way.
These birds are easy to identify by sound. My guess is that you will already recognize their soft, throaty coos. (Press PLAY below)
Love them or hate them, Rock Pigeons have been associated with humans for a long time! Some Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest that people started domesticating them over 5,000 years ago. And because of these facts, scientists aren’t even sure where their original range was.
#20. Barn Swallow
- Hirundo rustica
- Small bird with a flat head, thin bill, pointed wings, thick neck, and fork-like tail.
- Both sexes are similar – striking royal blue back, rusty brown underparts, with a rufous colored forehead and throat. White spots on the tail are typically visible during flight.
These birds are typically found in Bhutan in open fields, meadows, pond marshes, or coastal waters.
Barn Swallows prefer to eat larger insects rather than eating groups of smaller ones. They primarily feed close to water or the ground catching insects in mid-air. This bird doesn’t typically ever come to bird feeders. But you may get lucky if you leave out eggshells or oyster shells on a platform feeder. These foods aid in their digestion.
One interesting fact about Barn Swallows is sometimes, an unmated male will kill young birds in a nest to break up the parenting Barn Swallow couple. Then the unmated male gets together with the female. Talk about a complicated love triangle! 🙂
Both males and females sing a song of warbling notes and mechanical sounds. Listen below.
#21. Eurasian Tree Sparrow
- Passer montanus
- The wings and back are medium brown with black streaks, and the belly is pale tan to white.
- They have a black face, black eyes, and a blue-grey beak in summer that turns black during the winter.
- A chestnut brown cap runs down the nape of the neck.
Eurasian Tree Sparrows are often found in cities, urban centers, and neighborhoods. However, you can also find them in farmland, open woods, and large parks.
Interestingly, these little songbirds are not only found in Bhutan, but across the world. Twelve individuals were released in North America where they quickly took up residence. Since the North American population descended from these twelve birds, there’s a lot less variety in their size, coloring, and shape than the birds in Bhutan, where there are as many as 30 subspecies!
At first glance, Eurasian Tree Sparrows might look like any other small brown bird. But once you know what to look for, they are easy to identify! The top of the head and back of the neck on a Tree Sparrow is covered in a rich chestnut color. They have a bright white patch on the cheeks and a black throat, with distinctive brown patterns on the wings.
Their call is high and shrill and sounds like “tchee-TCHEE, tchee-TCHEE, tchee-TCHEE.”
Which of these birds in Bhutan have you seen before?
Leave a comment below!
Check out these guides to other animals found in Bhutan!