Birds of Yangon

The audience for this post is not really our regular audience so feel free to give this one a miss.  If however, you are interested in the birds of Yangon then I hope this will be useful.  What follows is not an exhaustive list of every bird but simply every bird I have been able to identify so far.  I will try to keep it updated with new photos that I have taken and new birds as I discover them.  For birders more expert than me (which is just about anyone) feel free to comment with corrections and missing species.

Firstly, a note on books.  I use two books for birding in Myanmar.  The Helm Field Guide ‘Birds of South-East Asia’ is the main one and the one bird guide I met used it as well.  The problem though is that it covers a large region and so you have to really check the distribution map.  What I prefer are smaller guides to just one region (like this post).  The only book I’ve been able to find about just the birds of Myanmar is called just that ‘Birds of Myanmar’ by Kyaw Nyunt Lwin and Khin Ma Ma Thwin.  I bought both my books in a book shop in Yangon. The bird guide I once had took one look at my Helm guide and immediately pronounced it a fake but it works for me.  This post might be the only guide to the birds of just Yangon albeit the common birds only.

For an entirely different take on the birds of Mynanmar read ‘A Bewliderment of Birds’ by J.K. Stanford which is an autobiographical account of a birder coming to Myanmar in the 20’s – wonderful.

You see birds just walking around and we live in an area with quite a few trees so often see birds while walking to work.  The two main places I go to see birds though are Inya Lake and an old colonial horse race track which is now used as playing fields. It’s just south of Saya San Road.

Index (44 species and counting)

Lesser Whistling Duck, Dendrocygna Javanica
Coppersmith Barbet, Megalaima haemacephala
Common Hoopoe, Upupa epops
White-throated Kingfisher
Green Bee-eater or Little Green Bee-eater, Merops orientalis
Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Merops philippinus
Plaintive Cuckoo, Cacomantis merulinus
Asian Koel, Eudynamys scolopaceus
Greater Coucal, Centropus sinensis
Asian Palm Swift, Cypsiurus balasiensis
Common Pigeon, Columba livia
Spotted Dove, Streptopelia chinensis
White-breasted Waterhen, Amauromis phoenicurus
Bronze-winged Jacana, Metopidius Indicus
Brown-headed Gull, Larus brunnicephalus
Black Kite, Milvus migrans
Brahminy Kite, Haliastur indus
Oriental Darter, Anhinga melanogaster
Little Cormorant, Phalacrocorax niger
Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo
Little Egret, Egretta garzetta
Purple Heron, Ardea purpurea
Great Egret, Casmerodius albus
Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis
Indian Pond Heron, Ardeola grayii
Cinnamon Bittern, Ixobrychus cinnamomeus
Brown Shrike, Lanius cristatus
House Crow, Corvus splendens
Black Drongo, Dicrurus macrocercus
Oriental Magpie-Robin, Copsychus saularis
Asian Pied Starling, Sturnus contra
Common Myna, Acridotheres tristis
Jungle Myna, Acridotherus fuscus
Red-whiskered Bulbul, Pycnonotus jocosus
Red-vented Bulbul, Pycnonotus cafer
Ayeyarwaddy Bulbul or Streak-eared Bulbul, Pycnonotus blanfordi
Plain Prinia, Prinia inornata
Common Tailorbird, Orthotomus sutorius
Olive-backed Sunbird, Nectarinia jugularis
House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus
Pied Wagtail/White Wagtail, Mocatilla alba
Asian Golden Weaver
Scaly-breasted Munia, Lonchura punctulata
Black-headed Munia, Lonchura malaca

Lesser Whistling Duck, Dendrocygna javanica

Recently we went to Hlawga National Park which is just north of Yangon and considered part of the Yangon region. There we saw what I was pretty sure were Lesser Whistling Ducks having also seen them in Sri Lanka. However, they were quite far away, so it was difficult to be sure. Therefore, I was delighted to spot them at Inya Lake on our normal walk.

Lesser Whistling Ducks
Lesser Whistling Ducks

Coppersmith Barbet, Megalaima haemacephala

This is one of those birds that is rarely seen but if you know what you’re looking for, often heard. It’s called the Coppersmith Barbet because the noise it makes is supposed to resemble a hammer hitting copper. To be honest I don’t know what that should sound like but listening to it I can imagine that it might. These photos were taken in Sri Lanka where one was obligingly working on a nest hole in a tree at low level.

Common Hoopoe, Upupa epops

When I was a child I would spend ages going through my family’s copy of the Observer book of British Birds.  The most exotic and impressive bird in that book was the Hoopoe and it has always captured my imagination.  The first time I ever saw one was in Africa where I have seen them subsequently many times.  My wife Lindsey and I got married just outside of Florence and there were Hoopoes in the grounds of the Villa we stayed at.  I even saw one on our wedding day as well as a Common Kingfisher – good omens for sure.  The only time I have seen a Hoopoe in Yangon was at the old racetrack South of Sayer San Road.  We walk our dog there and we saw one on the playing fields.  A truly impressive bird up to 12 inches long with a wonderful crest that is raised when alarmed. 

These I saw in Mandalay on the walkway on the inside of the moat of the citadel. There was a fourth as well that didn’t make the photo. To get three in a single photo was an unbelievable treat!

White-Throated Kingfisher, Halcyon smyrnensis

Lindsey is always bemoaning bird names and this one would definitely fall into that category.  This bird’s white throat is its least impressive feature.  Lindsey would probably call it ‘The Red Beaked Blue Winged Looks Amazing When Flying Bird.’  The thing to note about these birds is that they mainly eat insects, frogs and lizards which means that you don’t just find them near the water but anywhere really.  Several people have told me about seeing them in their yards and I have definitely seen one flying by our house.

White-throated Kingfisher

Green Bee-eater or Little Green Bee-eater, Merops orientalis

I can hardly describe my joy at discovering that I now live in a country that has Bee-eaters.  They are so wonderfully colourful and beautiful to watch in flight.  The Little Green Bee-eater is a common resident in Yangon.  We regularly see them sitting on a cable that stretches across a bit of Inya Lake at the South East corner or on the telephone lines at the racetrack.  I have even seen one from our balcony on a neighbour’s roof sitting on a TV aerial.  The below photo I took on a birding trip which has both the Little Green and the Blue-tailed versions so you can see the difference.

Little Green Bee-eater
This gives you an idea of the relative size of each species.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Merops philippinus

The Blue-tailed Bee-eater is larger than his smaller cousin.  The photo taken here was at the old race track.

Plaintive Cuckoo, Cacomantis merulinus

This bird was a mystery to me for some time. I first saw it at the northern end of our lake walk but found it difficult to identify from the books. I definitely thought it could be a plaintive cuckoo but it was only when I saw and heard it singing that I could properly identify it. The noise it makes is indeed plaintive.

Asian Koel, Eudynamys scolopaceus

This bird, though rarely seen, is one of the most known birds in Yangon.  The reason is that it has a very distinctive call.  In Burmese the word for this bird is something like ‘Oh Aah’, which is akin to the noise it makes.  In fact it has quite a range of impressive noises and I will try to record them for this post.  The reason for its seeming elusiveness I think is that the male looks not dissimilar to the House Crow, which, along with the Tree Sparrow, is probably one of the most common birds in Yangon.  So, if you hear it and look up you might think that what you are looking at is a crow when in fact it isn’t.  Look closely and you’ll see it has a red eye and long tail.  The female is vey pretty but completely different being a light brown colour with bars all over.  One of the few occasions when the female outshines the male.  The below shots were taken in Sri Lanka.

There is a child’s story in Myanmar in which the call of the bird is the baby bird calling for its parents as the bird is parasitic like the cuckoo and lays its eggs in other birds nests so the bird will never know its parents.

Greater Coucal, Centropus sinensis

The Greater Coucal I’m sure is also mistaken for a crow regularly by non-birders here in Yangon.  This is because it is a large mainly black bird but it does have chestnut wings.  Generally speaking I find written descriptions of bird calls to be pretty ridiculous and impossible to imitate by phonetically trying to say what ever collection of letters someone has thought up but I think this bird is the exception.  In my book it describes the call as ‘hoop hoop hoop hoop’.  If you make your voice go as low as you can go and repeat the word ‘hoop’ it does approximate to this call.  Again, I will try to get a recording but for now you can click on this link.  If you live in Yangon and have any inclination to be able to identify the birds by their sounds then learn the Greater Coucal, Asian Koel, Sparrow, Tailor Bird, Olive-backed Sunbird and Common Myna.  Once you’ve got these you have about 90% of what you’ll regularly hear.

Greater Coucal

Parakeets

It’s funny to me that the reason I am familiar with Parakeets is that I am from London where the Rose-ringed parakeet is now a common resident.  In Yangon, when I hear them flying overhead they are immediately recognisable.  However, not so much that I can distinguish between the 5 different varieties listed in my book.  I’ll have to wait for a lucky photo before I can answer that one.

Asian Palm Swift, Cypsiurus balasiensis

I’m fairly sure the other swift that I see is the Asian Palm Swift.  I see them at Inya lake sometimes as well as other places.  They have a forked tail but it is usually held closed and in a point.  It is a dark brown colour so fairly non-descript.

Common Pigeon, Columba livia

Yes, Yangon also has the Common Pigeon, also known as the Rock Dove.  People are always down on pigeons but they shouldn’t be.  Pigeons were kept in lofts for food, escaped and are now universally found in towns.  It’s our fault.  They are incredibly successful from an evolutionary point of view.  Despite being an obviously tasty meal to any bird of prey they have evolved to be great escape artists.  In straight flight a pigeon can outfly most birds of prey but they have another trick.  The pigeon family, Columbidae, are the only types of birds that can suck up water.  If you watch any other bird drink it puts its beak in the water and then tips its head back to allow the water to roll down its throat.  Not so the pigeon which can suck up water without the wasteful and dangerous extra step.  This means it is quicker at watering holes and less likely to get caught out. 

In Yangon you can sometimes find people selling food to feed the pigeons rather like they used to do in Traflalgar Square in London. This means that they congregate in large numbers on the electricity wires in those places.

Spotted Dove, Streptopelia chinensis

This is the common dove of Yangon. At first glance it seems quite dull but take a look through the binoculars and you’ll see a really very pretty dove with a wonderful scaly design on the neck.

Spotted Dove

White-breasted Waterhen, Amauromis phoenicurus

Looking similar to the Common Moorhen but with an obvious white breast, this bird I see at the south east side of Inya Lake quite regularly.

White-breasted Waterhen

Bronze-winged Jacana, Metopidius Indicus

A glossy waterbird reminding me of a Eurasian Coot. The determining feature is the white eye stripe as the body and wings might be hidden or maybe you catch a glimpse while flying. I see them around the lilies sometimes at Inya Lake.

Bronze-winged Jacana

Brown-headed Gull, Larus brunnicephalus

Take a trip on a boat from the harbour in Yangon to see the sunset and among other snacks you might be given a bowl of small round yellow crispy things. After tucking into them we were politely informed that these were for the gulls! This is the Brown-headed Gull. Like the black-headed gull you see in the UK, it only has a brown head when in the breeding season. Other than that you can just see a spot of colour behind the eye.

Black Kite, Milvus migrans

Not too common in Yangon although I’ve seen them a few times here. I need to check out more rubbish dumps as they are true scavengers. This shot was taken in India in Goa.

Black Kite

Brahminy Kite, Haliastur indus

An impressive chestnut coloured bird of prey with a white head. I have often seen them in Yangon flying around the top of Myanmar Plaza and the Melia Hotel.

Oriental Darter, Anhinga melanogaster

This is a large cormorant looking bird but unusual for it’s snake like thin neck. It often will swim completely under the water with only the neck protruding which is quite odd. I often see them at Inya lake.

Oriental Darter
Oriental Darter with just neck and head showing

Little Cormorant, Phalacrocorax niger

Well, it’s a cormorant and it’s quite small so pretty unmistakable. If you’re used to seeing his larger cousin, the Great Cormorant, then you’ll immediately think this is a smaller cormorant and know it’s the little version. Very common at Inya Lake and pretty much everywhere.

Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo

This is the standard cormorant common all over Eurasia and much larger than his little cousin above but basically looks the same.

Little Egret, Egretta garzetta

Now we come to egrets, which at first are a most confusing band of birds but with some time you get used to them. The key is to note their beak, legs and feet colour. The problem for me used to be cattle egrets and little egrets having no problem with the great egret which is so large as to be unmistakeable, however, the intermediate egret now sometimes throws me off! The little egret is a snow white colour but with a black, sharp looking beak, black legs and yellow feet. In the breeding season the adults have a crest or plume from the head which makes them easier to identify.

Little Egret with an Indian Pond Heron

Purple Heron, Ardea purpurea

To my mind, the Purple Heron is taller than the Grey Heron but according to my book they are shorter. They are definitely quite thin with a very thin neck. There’s not much purple about it to be honest, more grey and rufous brown with stripes on the neck. Pretty unmistakeable and very pretty. I have seen them, though infrequently, at Inya lake.

Great Egret, Casmerodius albus

It’s an egret and it’s massive! It’s about a metre tall as opposed to the intermediate egret which is about 75cm. Other than that they look pretty damn similar. Yellow bill and black legs and feet. Get a really good photo of the head and then you can inspect the ‘gape’ (don’t even ask me what that is) to be sure of the ID. I see them at Inya Lake sometimes, usually a solitary bird.

Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis

Well it’s an egret and it’s the most common one you’ll see in Yangon. It’s the one you see in photos on the backs of water buffalo but we don’t really have those in Yangon. It’s similar in size to the little egret but its beak is yellow and its legs and feet are a dark grey colour. The beak is also a bit stubby as is the whole bird unlike the little egret whose features are sharper in every way.

Indian Pond Heron, Ardeola grayii

If you’re not used to the whole egret / heron family and new to birding in general then the pond heron might throw you off a bit. This is mainly because they look different at different times and ages. The juvenile is streaky brown whereas the adult is white with brown parts that you don’t always see unless it’s flying for instance. It’s smaller than the cattle egret and also very common. It’s like a mix of the whole family but small, the runt of the litter if you will.

See photo above with the Little Egret. More photos to follow.

Cinnamon Bittern, Ixobrychus cinnamomeus

I am listing this bird, even though I am not 100% sure of it. I have had two sightings of it, both at Inya lake but both sightings were fleeting as it flew from one set of reeds into another. I simply can’t think what else it could be as the colour is quite obvious and the size matches the description as a similar size to the Pond Heron. Here’s hoping for a photo at some point.

Images Link

Brown Shrike, Lanius cristatus

Shrikes have always seemed to my mind as quite exotic birds so I am particularly pleased at having one regularly come to my yard. Usually I see him in the late afternoon as the sun is coming down. This photo isn’t too bad but I am holding out for a better one.

Brown Shrike

House Crow, Corvus splendens

Along with the Tree Sparrow, this is the most common bird of Yangon. It is also the noisiest! Whatever you are doing in Yangon you can hear crows in the background as I can right now as I write this. Taken on it’s own it is actually quite a pretty bird with a greyish neck. They are annoying but I know I’d miss them if they disappeared. This shot taken at the Shwedagon Pagoda.

Black Drongo, Dicrurus macrocercus

A nice black bird with a forked tail about 11 inches tall . They are often seen flying to get at flying insects and then often come back to the same perch. I see them regularly at the old race track on the posts on the field on the south side of the track (inside). This photo was taken at the Shwedagon Pagoda.

Oriental Magpie-Robin, Copsychus saularis

This is quite akin to the European Robin in terms of it’s mannerisms although it has a much longer tail and is black with white bars on the wings and a white lower chest. A pair often visit my yard at dusk to have some water I have put out for the birds.

Asian Pied Starling, Sturnus contra

When I first saw these I thought they might be juvenile Common Myna’s but in fact they are quite different once you get to know them, having a lot of white, creamy patches. This photo was taken on the racetrack although I often see a group of them in the little field at the south side of Inya lake.

Common Myna, Acridotheres tristis

In my youth, the Myna bird was only ever seen in cages, kept for their ability as ‘talkers’. I remember the first one I ever saw in the wild which was in Singapore where they were feeding from leftovers at the restaurant I was at just like starlings might do in the UK. The Common Myna is the main songster of Yangon. Their ability to mimic might confuse you as to what you are hearing sometimes although after a while you can distinguish them quite easily.

Common Myna

Jungle Myna, Acridotherus fuscus

The other Myna commonly seen in Yangon is the Jungle Myna, although I note that the other option, the White-vented Myna, is also seen in cities. They both have a sort of crest coming from the base of the beak but the big difference, other than the call, is that the Jungle Myna has a dark bill which is half yellow whereas the White-vented’s bill is all yellow. The Jungle Myna is distinguished from the Common Myna by its more charcoal colour and crest.

Jungle Myna

Red-whiskered Bulbul, Pycnonotus jocosus

The easiest of the Bulbuls to identify by it’s pointy crest standing straight up from its head. When I first got to Yangon I feel that I saw them regularly and definitely saw them on our neighbour’s roof, however, I feel like I am seeing less of them at the moment.

Red-whiskered Bulbul

Red-vented Bulbul, Pycnonotus cafer

The most common of the Bulbuls in Yangon and easy to spot. It’s head has an obvious wedge shaped crest and it has a distinctive red patch on its rump. Often seen in pairs.

Ayeyarwaddy Bulbul or Streak-eared Bulbul, Pycnonotus blanfordi

This bird has been re-named to the Ayeyarwaddy Bulbul which, although I like it as it has a Myanmar flavour I also bemoan it as it was actually called something logical. As you can see this bird does actually have streaks on its ears which is its only distinctive feature. Both the books I have describe it as a non-descriptive bird. They are also quite furtive and it took me a while before I was able to get the below photo.

Ayeyarwaddy Bulbul

Plain Prinia, Prinia inornata

I had been seeing this bird down among the reeds by the side of the lake since we first got to Yangon but had no idea what it was for a long time. Being fairly non-descript it really needed a good photo to get an idea and I only really got to know what it was after our trip to Sri Lanka where guides pointed them out to me. They are certainly ‘plain’ from a distance but if you get the right angle they have nice spots on the tail and a slightly rufous tone on the wings.

Plain Prinia
Plain Prinia

Common Tailorbird, Orthotomus sutorius

This is a very common bird in Yangon although it is heard more than seen. It is called a tailor bird as it makes its nest out of a large leaf which it then literally sews together. I have not seen a real nest of these birds but am on the lookout. It is quite wren like in mannerisms.

Olive-backed Sunbird, Nectarinia jugularis

Taking the evolutionary niche of the Hummingbird in Asia, this bird is extremely common in Yangon but as it is very small and flits around quite a bit, it is not often seen by the untrained eye. A nest was on the balcony of some friends of ours and the pair feeding the chicks were easily visible.

Olive-backed Sunbird

House Sparrow, Passer domesticus

Common but not as common as the Tree Sparrow (below). Distinguished from that bird by the grey head and lack of cheek spot as well as being slightly larger. This shot taken at the Shwedagon Pagoda.

House Sparrow – Passer domesticus

Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus

When I first got to Yangon I must confess that I assumed that the tree sparrow was in fact the house sparrow but was delighted to learn of my mistake, never having seen a tree sparrow before. I have built bird boxes for them and have had many nests built but so far no eggs.

Note the spot on the cheek and the brown head.

Pied Wagtail/White Wagtail, Mocatilla alba

For a long time the Americans called this bird the White Wagtail, whereas I grew up knowing it as the Pied Wagtail. Now I see that it is being called both names even by them. Maybe they will eventually be convinced. I have seen this bird on the roof tops of the school where I work and also at Inya Lake. Very distinctive from the bobbing tail and pied black, white and grey appearance.

Asian Golden Weaver, Ploceus hypoxanthus

This is a late addition to the list. I had seen them on a birding trip I took back in 2018 but never in Yangon until the last week (May 2020) when I saw them two times at Inya Lake. The female looks like the brown bird here as does the male in non-breeding season. It’s only in the breeding season (rainy season) when the male has the golden plumage of the bird seen here flying.

Scaly-breasted Munia, Lonchura punctulata

This little bird I first noticed at the lake and impressed myself by correctly identifying it first time. I can’t remember where I first saw it but somehow I managed to dredge up the name from my memory. Sometimes they can be found in a group of sparrows and don’t look dissimilar so you have to be watching for them.

Scaly-breasted Munia

Black-Headed Munia, Lonchura malacca

I had been in Yangon for 1 and a half years before I spotted these two nonchalantly eating grass seed by the side of the path on our regular lake walk. Therefore I think they must be rarer in Yangon than their scaly breasted cousin. Very handsome though.

Black-headed Munias

3 thoughts on “Birds of Yangon

Add yours

  1. Holy cow. That’s a lotta birds.

    Kingfishers and bee-eaters never disappoint, do they? I’ve seen hoopoes too, I think in Africa, although I honestly can’t remember now. Name-wise, I think sunbirds win the contest, but that’s because I drove a Pontiac Sunbird as a teenager in the early ’80s. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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