The Fifty Best Birds in Asia!

Bornean Banded Pitta. Borneo. Susan Myers

by SusanMyers on November 13, 2010 · 12 comments

in Birding Asia

Top 50 Asian birds, part 1

OK, I’m mainly doing this to see if anyone’s listening! Oh, and I like to be controversial… These 50-type lists seem to be all the rage at the moment. I had a chapter in a book entitled “50 Places to Bird before you Die” – a bit of a downer of a title for a book if you ask me but I chose Danum Valley. And then, Don Roberson had his list of 50 Best Birds in the World, and then there was the “100 Birds to See before you Die” book, which was sorta fun except that it made me a bit depressed coz there’s no way I’m going to see all those birds before I die (especially if I keep traveling on Indonesian airlines…) So I made my own list of my favorite birds in Asia, because this is my patch and I’ve already seen most of them so that cheered me up a bit. I even have photos of some of them.

This is my top 10! This is just the teaser. I figure if I play this right I can stretch it out over four more posts…

1. Great Argus (Thai-Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo)

Of course, this list is mine so you can disagree with it if you like! And if I was to write the same list tomorrow and then the next day, it would undoubtedly be different each time. But right now this bird is top of my list. Surely, it would make anyone’s Top Ten! Not only is it just an amazing creature but it lives in the most beautiful forest in the world and it has one of the more memorable calls of any bird. I reckon he sees his own reflection and is so enamored with himself he calls out “Oh Wow!” (sorry, just indulge a moment’s anthropomorphism, thanks…).

2. Bornean Banded Pitta (endemic to Borneo, recently split)

One of the most glamorous groups of birds in the world and where do you find most of them? In Asia, of course. Hard to choose a favorite out of a swag of very attractive or enigmatic species, this one to my mind is simply one of the world’s most beautiful creatures…

3. Helmeted Hornbill (Thai-Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo)

I love hornbills so much I have taken one as my totem. They are all astounding and beautiful creatures – the Helmeted Hornbill is the most astounding of the lot though. When I first started birding in Asia many years ago I watched a pair at close range allofeeding in the Malaysian rainforest and fell in love.

Helmeted Hornbill photo

4. Whitehead’s Broadbill (endemic to Borneo)

Well, I love anything green and you can’t get greener than a Whitehead’s Broadbill. An absolute stunner! This species always amazes people – the usual comment is “I can’t believe I would ever see a colour like that”.

Whitehead’s Broadbill photo

5. Golden Pheasant (central China)

Do I really need to say anything here… except, yes it’s real!

6. Maleo (endemic to Halmahera, Indonesia)

Not only is this a crazy-looking bird but its breeding strategy is remarkable. This Megapode uses geothermal energy to incubate its eggs. At dawn and dusk they fly in to the communal nesting grounds in areas of rich geothermal activity to lay the eggs in rather large holes excavated in the ground. The birds offer no parental care to the chicks, which must be totally self sufficient on hatching. The chicks are known as “super-precocial”!

7. Wallace’s Standardwing (endemic to Halmahera, Indonesia)

Just an astounding creature and named after my hero, Alfred Russell Wallace. (By the way, New Guinea is NOT part of Asia, hence this is the only BoP that will appear in this list).

8. Smew (northern Europe to east Asia)

Asia has some gorgeous wildfowl, Falcated Duck is another stunner, but this small duck is a personal favourite.

Smew photo

9. Great Slaty Woodpecker (NE Himalayas, SE Asia, Sumatra, Java, Borneo)

I’ve never met a birder who doesn’t claim woodpeckers as one of their favorite groups and (sorry, biased again!) Asia has the best collection of any continent. Personal tastes vary and one might prefer the diminutive and crazy Grey-and-buff or the stately White-bellied, but for me this bird brings home more strongly than any other species I can think of, the fact that birds are simply flying dinosaurs. 

10. Fire-tufted Barbet (Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra)

Sorry for this terrible photo, taken many years ago when I was completely clueless about cameras. I love this bird for its unusual vocalisations and its crazy hairdo.

So, that’s my Top Ten of Asia. I’ll follow up with 11 through to 50 over the next few weeks. You might like to add your own Top Tens in the comments 🙂

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Winton November 13, 2010 at 6:39 am

Wow I need to go to Asia! Where do you find these things? Asia is an awfully large place.

Great article. Can’t wait for the next 10.


Susan Myers November 13, 2010 at 6:58 am

Hi Scott, yeah I should have put some locations. I’ll go fix that now….


DaleForbes November 13, 2010 at 3:53 pm

coordinates and a date/time when you can show them to me would also be useful 😉


DaleForbes November 13, 2010 at 7:12 am

that pitta makes my eyes want to fall out of my head. wow. but then again I think that if I were to make a list of my top ten asian birds, it might well end up with 10 (or close to) pittas.


Tom McKinney November 13, 2010 at 9:32 am

I have to see Wallace’s Standardwing before I ‘kick the bucket’. I first saw a picture of one at the British Birdwatching Fair in the 90s when the money raised went to Halmahera. Any bird that looks so outrageously mental surely has to be in everyone’s top ten must-sees?



Mike November 13, 2010 at 4:08 pm

These birds are insane! Terrific post, Susan. Let’s see the remaining 40.


Don Roberson December 10, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Susan — I’m much more impressed with your great photos than the order of the “top 50” picks (my own picks for Asia can be gleaned from my “Top 50” world birds that has been on-line a decade or so…) but it is always a fun concept. Just back from China myself and found that trying to photograph a male Golden Pheasant was really, really hard, even if they are pretty common at the right places. I like your “why did the pheasant cross the road” shot a lot. Also the wild Bali Myna is very nice, not to mention the pittas…. Keep up the good work. Don Roberson


seo bangalore May 17, 2011 at 10:59 am

 This birds are really amazing and looking good on the trees, thanks for posting.


Don Gato August 23, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Some cool birds and nice shots here!… Nicely done!
…funny how the list can change SO MUCH from one to another -birder-…

As Dale remarks, Pittas are fantastic, but don’t forget the wonderful -red-beaked- Kingfishers here as well!!!!!
I could never leave a Black-backed (Dwarf) KF out of my top ten…  =)

Alex (Don Gato)


birds wallpaper December 25, 2011 at 6:30 am

thanks, the are really best of Asia. i would say best of the world.


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