Sabah, Borneo: A Birdwatcher’s Tropical Paradise

Borneo – the third largest island in the world – is mind-blowingly rich in biodiversity. Its rainforests, ancient groves thickened by the passage of time, stretch far and wide into the wilderness. There are more tree species in just a few hectares of Borneo’s Lowland Dipterocarp Forests than on the entire North American continent! These nature wonderlands are home to all sorts of tropical life, including invertebrates, reptiles, frogs, and mammals… as well as a whole myriad of exotic bird species.

Borneo Birding
Whitehead's Trogon

In case you didn’t already know, the island of Borneo is comprised of three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, with most of the rare and endemic avian life concentrated in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Covering a wide area of Borneo’s northern region from beautiful shores and majestic rivers to towering mountains and ancient rainforests, Sabah is definitely blessed with abundance. It also has a growing number of accessible conservation areas with dedicated infrastructures and facilities in place. It’s no wonder so many environmentalists, scientists and nature enthusiasts from all over the world are drawn to Sabah – also known as the Land Below the Wind.

Sabah, as you might expect, is also prime stamping ground for birdwatchers both near and far. It offers an array of beautiful and colourful enigmatic bird species that are a delight to watch, observe and photograph. Many of them are unique to certain birding hotspots throughout the state – namely the mountain forests surrounding Kinabalu Park, the flood plains of Kinabatangan, and the untamed jungles of Danum Valley!

Borneo Birding
Buffy Fish Owl

Recognised as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, Kinabalu Park is a veritable treasure trove of nature that rests at the base of mighty Mount Kinabalu, one of the tallest mountains of Southeast Asia. Over 300 species of birds can be found here, with approximately 31 of them endemic to the area! Some of the feathered species that can be sighted in Kinabalu Park is the Whitehead’s Trogon, Mountain Wren Babbler, Bornean Green Magpie, Golden-Naped Barbet, Kinabalu Serpent Eagle, and Bornean Forktail. Higher up along the trails of Mount Kinabalu, cloaked in a chilling mist, is a completely different avifauna scene – home to unique birds such as the Bornean Whistling Thrush, Sunda Laughing Thrush, Mountain Blackeye and Mountain Barbet. Amazing flora is also known to grow here – such as the Rafflesia, the biggest (and smelliest!) flower species in the world, as well as Rothschild’s Slipper Orchid, the rarest and most expensive orchid on Earth.

Borneo Birding
Hornbills on tree

If Borneo’s highlands aren’t your cup of tea, then there’s always the East Coast – where the floodplains of Kinabatangan meander along waterways and lowland rainforests. This is protected area, having been upgraded to a “bird sanctuary” in 2001, and boasts one of the most important bastions of wildlife in Asia: the Kinabatangan River. It’s one of the few places in Borneo where all 5 of its most iconic species – Orangutans, Proboscis Monkeys, Saltwater Crocodiles, Hornbills, and Pygmy Elephants – can be found! Approximately 325 bird species can be spotted here, including all 8 of the majestic hornbill species, unique-looking Large Frogmouths, Storm Storks – the rarest of all storks, and the crown jewel of many a birdwatcher’s most wanted list when visiting Borneo… the Bornean Bristlehead! They can be difficult to spot – so your best bet would be to take a river safari cruise, accompanied by an eagle-eyed guide, along the snaking Kinabatangan River.

Deeper inland, tracts of ancient rainforest grow in great density, untouched by logging or plantation activities. The Danum Valley Conservation Area is one such location – a ‘lost’ world that is still mostly pristine, boasting one of the world’s most complex ecosystems in its 438 sqkm of lowland dipterocarp forests. About 328 bird species can be found in this untamed land, including the Blue-Headed Pitta, Bornean Banded Pitta, Golden-Whiskered Barbet and Yellow-Crowned Barbet. Birders out on a birdwatching excursion here may also be treated to other wildlife sightings and encounters – including rare species such as the Sunda Clouded Leopard, Bornean Pygmy Elephants, Orangutans and Maroon Leaf Monkeys, just to name a few.

Borneo Birding
Blue-eared Kingfisher

So, whether you’re a birding enthusiast or a nature and wildlife lover, or just love being in the great outdoors… look no further. Borneo beckons you with its natural wonders, incredible diversity of cultures, and exotic animal species, many of which can only be found here and nowhere else on the planet. For birdwatchers in particular however, it might be in your best interests to get a good guide – preferably birding specialists on your treks across Borneo. Their knowledge, experience, and sharp eyes will definitely make the experience a whole lot more fulfilling.

Borneo Birding
Borneo Birding

Luckily, there’s no shortage of birding specialists in Sabah! With over 25 years of experience and dozens of accolades, multi-award-winning tour operator Borneo Eco Tours are well-equipped to make this dream birdwatching destination a reality for you. To book your complete, custom-tailored birding tour, visit or contact directly via email: or Phone: +60 88-438 300

Last reviewed: July 24, 2019

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