Common birds of downtown Chiang Mai

What we say: 3.5 stars

Surprising how many people can stay several days in Chiang Mai and remain oblivious of the — by city standards — plentiful and varied bird life. Being a leafy town and with forested mountains not far away in any direction, you don’t need to go hiking in the national park to see some pretty exotic species.

How much gel does he need in the morning?

How much gel does he need in the morning?

One of the most common sightings, on wires and poles throughout the city, is the very cute red-whiskered bulbul, seen above. In Bangkok and south Thailand these poor little chaps are caged and sold for their singing abilities, but up here they’re as common as sparrows.

Thailand actually lays claim to some 36 varieties of bulbuls but others commonly seen in Chiang Mai include the sooty-headed (kind of like the above but without the gel), and the stripe-throated seen below in a star gooseberry tree.

seriously sour star-gooseberries are enough to ruffle anyone's feathers

The seriously sour star-gooseberries are enough to ruffle anyone's feathers.

The ubiquitous starling-type bird that gathers in huge colonies in the larger trees around the moat are in fact myna birds (which sounds a lot more exotic than starlings) and again there are two varieties: the common myna, which is brown with a black head and yellow eyes, and the white-vented myna, which is mostly black with a crest. The black-collared starling can also be seen in parks and open ground. Another frequently overlooked but pretty bird is the spotted dove, seen in our next pic; just because it’s predominantly grey doesn’t mean it’s a pigeon!

Not just a pigeon with a make-over

Not a pigeon with a make-over.

City birds that you’ll certainly hear a lot include the koel, which makes that very loud sort of koooo-el, kooo-el sound and the lower oo-oo-oo sound of the greater coucal, which is often mistaken for a monkey noise. It’s a large brown and black bird related to a cuckoo.

If you hear a high-pitched clicking sound it’s not a new kind of cicada — scan the nearest tree as it’s probably a beautiful bird called a scarlet-backed flower-pecker. This awesome, tiny brown bird has a bright red streak down its back and isfound in flowering trees often with the equally attractive and miniature olive-backed sun-bird, both of whom are way to small to take pictures of! Pretty ones commonly seen in city parks and gardens we do have photgraphic evidence of however are the bright yellow common iora and the flashy white throated fantail.

Common iora - not really that common

A common iora, which is not really that common.

Spectacular white-throated fantail

Spectacular white-throated fantail.

Even more spectacular species can be seen once you get up around the university/zoo area where forest birds such as the white-crested laughing thrush and the greater racket tailed drongo head into town for the easy pickings.

You having a laugh?

You having a laugh?

A greater drongo!

A greater drongo -- say no more!

For night owls into some nocturnal twitching, the Asian barred owlet is surprisingly common so keep an eye on the telephone cables as you’re staggering home, though this one had obviously found something tasty at street level.

Chiang Mai night owl

Who is looking at me?

Numerous other species are commonly found in town and once you get into the suburbs numbers multiply enormously, so check out the trees as you’re sipping your iced mocha and if you hear an odd chirping in your Chiang Mai guesthouse garden do look to see where it’s coming from.

If you are interested in the birds of Thailand we recommend Birds of Thailand checklist or Birds of Thailand by Philip D. Round. Happy twitching!

Last updated: 11th December, 2014

About the author:
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
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