12 of the Best Birdwatching Holidays
You don’t need to be a twitcher. You don’t need to know your guillemot from your gannet, or even own a pair or binoculars. This selection of avian hotspots – in no particular pecking order – will transport you to some of the world’s most spectacular wild places for an unforgettable adventure in the company of beautiful birds! Here’s our pick of the best bird watching holidays.
Arctic Tern | Iceland
Watch the birdie: Each summer these elegant seabirds return to Iceland to nest – and rest, having just flown from Antarctica! The mighty little migrants can be seen feeding offshore or fussing over dense breeding colonies. They take exception to intruders, so keep a respectful distance from nest sites.
Also look for: Puffin, fulmar, guillemot, red-throated diver, eider duck
Take me there: Birding in Iceland Self-drive to North Iceland’s top birding spots, including Lake Myvatn and Jokulsa Canyon.
Non-feathered highlights: Amazing volcanic scenery around Lake Myvatn, whale watching at Husavik, Dettifoss waterfall
King Penguin | South Georgia
Watch the birdie: From November to March, far-flung South Georgia in the Southern Ocean is the place to be if you’re a king penguin. Some 400,000 breeding pairs gather on the shores of this dragon-backed sub-Antarctic island – it’s quite possibly the world’s most impressive birding spectacle.
Also look for: Macaroni penguin, wandering albatross, Antarctic prion
Take me there: South Georgia via the Falklands Join an expedition-style voyage to explore South Georgia’s incredible wildlife.
Non-feathered highlights: Elephant seals and fur seals, breathtaking scenery, burial site of Sir Ernest Shackleton
Kiwi | New Zealand
Watch the birdie: A curiosity of the bird world, the kiwi behaves more like a mammal, snuffling through the leaf litter or probing the strandline of beaches with its long bill. Night-time tours on Kapiti Island (near Wellington) or Stewart Island’s Ocean Beach often provide captivating encounters.
Also look for: Kaka, weka, tui, morepork owl, royal albatross
Take me there: Wildlife Encounters Set off on a 22-day wildlife-themed self-drive, including a night-time kiwi-spotting tour and safari to Cape Kidnappers gannet colony.
Non-feathered highlights: Whale watching at Kaikoura, cruise Doubtful Sound, hike the Coromandel Peninsula
Bald Eagle | Canada & Alaska
Watch the birdie: Everything about the Pacific Northwest is grand and majestic – from the snowcapped Coast Range to the towering cedars of the lush temperate rainforest. The birdlife is no exception: bald eagles are commonly seen perched in shoreline trees or soaring above driftwood-strewn beaches.
Also look for: Tufted puffin, Stellar’s jay, great blue heron, marbled murrelet
Take me there: Inside Passage – Alaska Fjords and Glaciers Set off on a small-ship expedition-style cruise between Juneau and Ketchikan.
Non-feathered highlights: Waterfalls and icebergs, native culture, whale watching, hiking and kayaking
Raggiana Bird of Paradise | Papua New Guinea
Watch the birdie: Papua New Guinea is most famous for its birds of paradise – and of the 31 species found there, one of the most gorgeous is surely the Raggiana. This feathered fancy is not only adorned with outrageous peach and pink plumage, but it also has an extravagant courtship display.
Also look for: Wilson’s bird of paradise, Victoria crowned pigeon, cassowary
Take me there: Frontier Lands of Papua New Guinea Join an expedition voyage to the Sepik River and along the north coast of PNG.
Non-feathered highlights: Volcanoes, rainforest and coral reefs, meet local tribal villagers, explore the remote Tufi Fjords
Little Auk | Svalbard
Watch the birdie: Streaming from their nesting ledges on towering sea cliffs, like salvos of arrows fired from a medieval fortress, several million pairs of little auks breed in Svalbard. The diminutive seabird (the size of a starling) flies at speeds of up to 70kph and can dive up to 30m in pursuit of fish.
Also look for: Common and Brunnich’s guillemot, fulmar, pink-footed goose
Take me there: Around Spitsbergen Board a small-ship voyage to circumnavigate the largest of Svalbard’s islands – with superb wildlife and photo opportunities.
Non-feathered highlights: Polar bears, Arctic foxes, whales, mountains, glaciers
Malachite Kingfisher | Botswana
Watch the birdie: The jewel of many an African river or lagoon, this exquisite kingfisher is right at home in the watery wilderness of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Best observed while you’re drifting silently along in a dugout ‘mokoro’ canoe, malachites are often seen perched motionless on reed stems.
Also look for: Pel’s fishing owl, African fish eagle, hammerkop, saddle-billed stork
Take me there: Best of Botswana Combine the Okavango Delta with Chobe National Park and Victoria Falls, seeking wildlife on foot and by vehicle and dugout canoe.
Non-feathered highlights: Large elephant herds, mighty Vic Falls, wilderness lodges
Chilean Flamingo | Chile
Watch the birdie: You might feel breathless long before you catch your first sight of a flock of Chilean flamingos. Shimmering like a pink mirage against a backdrop of the volcano-studded Atacama Desert, these graceful birds favour saline lakes high in the Andes at altitudes of up to 4,500m.
Also look for: Andean condor, rhea, Austral parakeet, Chilean woodstar hummingbird
Take me there: Best of Chile Encompassed Explore two of Chile’s most spectacular and contrasting environments: Patagonia and the Atacama Desert.
Non-feathered highlights: Pumas, guanacos, elephant seals, whales, the incredible scenery of the Andes
Red-throated Diver | Sweden
Watch the birdie: The mosaic of lakes spread across large parts of Sweden are ideal nesting grounds for this handsome waterbird, renowned for its plaintive call and synchronised, almost balletic courtship dance. Its only during the breeding season that adults develop the distinctive reddish throat patch.
Also look for: Black-throated diver, long-tailed duck, osprey, black woodpecker, crane.
Explore the pristine wilderness of Central Sweden with guided excursions by canoe and on foot.
Non-feathered highlights: Moose, beavers, tracking wolves
Jabiru | Australia
Watch the birdie: You might expect Australia’s wetland wonder – Kakadu National Park – to be brimming with birdlife. And you won’t be disappointed. The black-necked stork (known locally as the jabiru) is one of the most distinctive: a huge wading bird, with pink legs, piebald plumage and a glossy head.
Also look for: Brolga, magpie goose, white-bellied sea eagle, kookaburra, lorikeets
Take me there: Top End Explorer Discover the wildlife of Nitmiluk, Kakadu and Mary River National Parks, as well as the untouched frontier of Arnhem Land.
Non-feathered highlights: Aboriginal culture, saltwater crocodiles, wallabies
Great Grey Owl | Finland
Watch the birdie: To be fixed by the penetrating yellow gaze of a great grey owl is to experience the wild magic of Finland’s taiga forests in all their unspoilt beauty. One of the world’s largest owls, this magnificent bird is often seen hunting voles during winter, but May/June is the best time to see nesting owls.
Also look for: Capercaillie, black grouse, parrot crossbill, Siberian jay, woodpeckers
Take me there: Wild Brown Bear Adventure Visit Eastern Finland’s ancient taiga forest in search of its elusive wildlife – on hikes and from hides.
Non-feathered highlights: Brown bears, lynx, wolverine, reindeer
Wirebird | St Helena
Watch the birdie: The St Helena plover (or wirebird, in reference to its thin legs) is endemic to the mid-Atlantic island. Recovering from a critically endangered 235 individuals in 2004, it now numbers over 550. A bird for keen twitchers perhaps – but what a journey to find it!
Also look for: White tern, masked booby, red-billed tropicbird, yellow canary
Take me there: St Helena with the Locals Fly to the remote mid-Atlantic island of St Helena for guided tours of its rugged coastline, forests and marine life.
Non-feathered highlights: Whale sharks (Jan-Mar), humpback whales (Aug-Nov), dolphins, devil rays, Napolean’s grave