Are you trying to learn about the types of birds in Japan?
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 Japan in this article. So instead, I tried to focus on the birds that are most regularly seen and observed.
Today, you will learn about 15 COMMON types of birds in Japan!
#1. 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 Japan is one that very few other species will mess with. In fact, it’s often called the “King Crow” because of its domineering personality.
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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.
#2. 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 Japan 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.
#3. 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 Japan 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.
#4. 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!
#5. 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 Japan 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.
#6. 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 Japan 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. 🙂
#7. 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 Japan.
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!”
#8. 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.
#9. Japanese Tit
- Parus minor
- Adults are 12.5–15 cm (5-6 in) long.
- Their coloring is pale tan on the underside with an olive back, black head, gray wings, and white cheek patches.
- The tail feathers are long, and the body and head are rounded, without much neck.
The Japanese Tit is one of the most fascinating birds in Japan!
This species loves mountainous terrain and spends its life at high elevations. Instead of migrating south for winter and northward during summer, they move up and down their mountains to follow ideal weather. This habit is called altitudinal migration because they move from higher mountain elevations in the summer to lower ones in the winter.
They forage on insects and larvae but are omnivorous and also eat berries, seeds, and fruits. Don’t expect them to eat anything too large, though; they’re small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
Though small, the Japanese Tit has a remarkably loud voice. Its call ranges from noises like “tizzy-tizzy” at irregular intervals to “zit-zit-zit-zit-zit.” All of its sounds are high-pitched and shrill.
#10. Light-Vented Bulbul
- Pycnonotus sinensis
- Adults are about 19 cm (7.4 in) long.
- They are white on the underside, with a beige bib beneath a white chin and a black bill and face.
- The back is smoky grey, the wings are grey and olive, and the legs are black.
Look for the Light-vented Bulbul in open spaces where it can stretch its wings. Lightly wooded forests, urban parks, suburbs, and towns are all common. Although omnivorous, they focus more on insects during the breeding season. They eat berries, vegetables, soft fruits, and figs in the winter.
Their cup-shaped nests are lined with rootlets, flowers, fine grasses, and leaves. But the easiest way to recognize their nest is to listen! The chicks sing constantly until they’re ready to fledge.
Its calls and songs vary widely, but the most common is a quick “chit-chit-chit.”
#11. 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.
#12. 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 Japan 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!
#13. 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 Japan 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.
#14. 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 Japan 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.
#15. 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 Japan, 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 Japan, 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 Japan have you seen before?
Leave a comment below!
Check out these guides to other animals found in Japan!