Endemic Birds, Sri Lanka

  1. Ceylon Wood-pigeon (Columba torringtonii)

It prefers large forested stretches in the highlands, but it makes seasonal movements to the lower hills, descending as low as Sinharaja. Generally likes well-forested areas, although it can be seen visiting gardens. It has a bluishgrey body with a black and white marking on the purplish hind-neck. The biggest pigeon on the island, distinctly larger than a feral pigeon. Horton Plains National Park and the botanical gardens in Hakgala are two of the most reliable sites for it. It often resorts to staying ‘frozen’ to avoid detection, but when busy feeding on a fruiting tree, is less likely to take notice of the presence of people. Flies away with a clapping noise.

  1. Ceylon Whistling-thrush (Arrenga) (Myophonus blighi)

This bird is confined mainly to the cloud-forests in the central highlands and the knuckles. It has also been recorded in Easetern Sinharaja which is at a much higher elevation than the western end which is subjected to most of the visitation. The male is brownish-black, with a blue gloss on the fore parts and a blue shoulder patch. The female is brown with a blue shoulder patch. Whistling-thrushes are sensitive to light at the ultra-violet end of the spectrum. Their blue patches make strongly contrasting patterns when viewed in ultra violet, although in the range of human vision they can at times look nondescript. It is best located early in the morning or late in the evening by its shrill grating call, sree sree  sree sree. It is mainly insectivorous, but will opportunistically eat vertebrate animals such as geckos and agamid lizards.

  1. Ceylon Rufous Babbler (Turdoides rufescens)

Always found in noisy flocks. The orange bill and legs, rufous body and constant chattering help to separate it from the other babblers. This bird is an important nucleus species of mixed-species feeding flocks. The largest constituent of a feeding flock, its numbers help the Sri Lankan feeding flocks to be the largest in the world with an average total number of 41 birds. Usually seen in the wet-zone rainforests, mainly in the lowlands but also in the highlands, and tends to occur only where extensive, undisturbed forests remain. It is almost absent from the extensive but heavily disturbed habitats, but always within a short flight from good quality forest.

  1. Orange-billed Babbler (Turdoides rufescens)

This forest bird is usually found in small groups of 10-15 in undisturbed forests and peripheral villages where it is often heard before seen. It leads the mixed species bird flock of Sinharaja Forest where it could be seen along with some other endemic birds. It is found in most undisturbed wet zone forests up to 2100-m altitude.

  1. Brown-capped Babbler (Pellorneum fuscocapillum)

This bird prefers thick undergrowth and is distributed in both wet and dry zone habitats up to 1600-m altitude. It utters a characteristic call which is heard like ‘pretty dear’, often heard in the mornings and evenings. It is found even outside forests where suitable scrub vegetation provides the ideal habitat. The reforestation site in Hunas Falls Hotel is one of the easiest places to spot it in the evenings.

  1. Ashy-headed Laughingthrush (Garrulax cinereifrons)

This bird is found associated with Orange-billed Babblers in the mixed species bird flocks in Sinharaja where it could be easily seen in the undergrowth often making constant chattering. It is recorded up to 1300 m altitude strictly in undisturbed forests of wet zone.

  1. Sri Lanka Myna (Gracula ptilogenys)

This fruit loving bird is restricted to the forests of wet zone from 300-1,600m altitude and is often found perched on tall trees. Lowland forests of Kithulgala, Gilimale and Sinharaja are some of the locations to catch a glimpse of this rare bird where the loud calls made from the top of the forest canopy are often heard a long distance away helping to locate it.

  1. Yellow-eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus)

This montane bird is usually found in forested habitats above 1700 m in the higher hills. Horton Plains is probably the easiest location to see this endemic bird in large numbers. However it is also known to be present in higher elevations of Sinharaja and Knucles range below 1700 m.

  1. White-faced Starling (Sturnus albofrontatus)

This rare bird usually occupies the canopy of the forest and is an unmistakable member in the mixed species bird flocks in Sinharaja. This strictly arboreal bird could be seen in undisturbed forests of wet zone from 300-1200 m altitude. It could be seen also in Kithulgala and in the Knucles range.

  1. Sri Lanka Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornata)

Undoubtedly one of the most colourful endemics of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie is a rare bird, which prefers undisturbed wet zone forests up to 2100 m altitude. Their loud calls often betray their presence.

  1. Sri Lanka White-eye (Zosterops ceylonensis)

This primarily hill country bird is recorded mainly above 1000 m altitude. It could be seen in pairs in its breeding season and in large flocks during non-breeding season. Horton Plains National Park is probably one of the best locations to see this small endemic bird.

  1. Sri Lanka Junglefowl (Gallus lafayettii)

This large terrestrial bird is found in both dry and wet zone forests up to 2100 m altitude. It is more often heard than seen in most of its range. Sri Lanka Junglefowl could be seen on roadsides close to the forest in Sinharaja often followed by its harem.

  1. Sri Lanka Spurfowl (Galloperdix bicalcarata)

This shy terrestrial bird is mainly restricted to the undisturbed forests of the wet zone and is more often heard but rarely seen. Like the former it could be seen on roadsides in forested areas. Sinharaja, Kanneliya and Dombagaskanda are some of the locations to see this elusive bird.

  1. Red-faced Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus)

This forest dwelling bird could be seen up to 1300 m altitude in undisturbed wet zone forests and along few of the tall riverine vegetation areas in the dry zone forests. Red-faced Malkoha could be seen in the mixed species bird flock in Sinharaja forest where it is often found in tall trees.

  1. Sri Lanka Green-billed Coucal (Centropus chlororhynchos)

This bird is found in undisturbed wet zone forests up to 800 m altitude, often in places where there is dense bamboo vegetation. One of the best locations to see this elusive endemic bird is Dombagaskanda.

  1. Dull-blue Flycatcher (Eumyias sordida)

This confiding bird is not bothered the close presence of birdwatchers. It is normally found in forested areas between 1600m- 2000m altitudes: Hakgala, Corbett’s Gap and Horton Plains are a few of the locations it could be observed with relative ease.

  1. Sri Lanka Bush-warbler (Bradypterus palliseri)

This hill country bird is found mostly above 1500 m in dense undergrowth. Horton Plains is arguably the best location to see this rare endemic bird where it is mostly found around bamboo vegetation along the streams.

  1. Spot-winged Thrush (Zoothera spiloptera)

This mostly terrestrial bird is mainly found in the wet zone forests between 300m-1300m altitude and is often heard Sinharaja, Kithulgala and Dombagaskanda are some of the locations where it could be seen at dawn and dusk especially along the forest footpaths.

  1. Yellow-fronted Barbet (Megalaima flavifrons)

One of the commonest endemic birds of Sri Lanka, Yellow-fronted Barbets could be observed in forests as well as peripheral villages. It makes a peculiar call, which is audible over a distance and could be observed in the mixed species bird flocks in Sinharaja.

  1. Layard’s Parakeet (Psittacula calthropae)

This parakeet is recorded up to 1700-m altitude in forested and well-wooded garden habitats and could be easily identified by the call often made while on flight. It is also occasionally present in the mixed species bird flock in Sinharaja.

  1. Sri Lanka Hanging-parrot (Loriculus beryllinus)

This small bird is distributed widely in the wet zone where it is quite common, up to the mid hills. In the dry zone it is found in small isolated pockets, often in riverine areas or where intermediate forest is present. It roosts almost like a bat with the body hanging down: the reason for its common name. They make a sharp repeated call while in flight making it easy to notice a passing bird.

  1. Chestnut-backed Owlet (Glaucidium castanonotum)

This rare bird is found up to 2000-m altitude restricted to the undisturbed forests of wet zone where it can often be heard during the day Sinharaja, Gilimale and Kithulgala are some of the locations it could be seen. It is found on tall trees of the forest canopy making it difficult to spot it in the dense foliage.

  1. Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis)

This large bird is mostly seen in pairs and is distributed in the dry and wet zone forested areas alike, ascending to an elevation of 1,200 m in the central hills. Like most hornbills, the Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill nest in holes in big trees where the female imprisons herself up by building a wall like structure with its droppings covering the opening of the cavity, leaving only a small opening for receiving food brought by the male. When the young matures, the female breaks her way out and rebuilds the wall and joins the male in feeding the young. Proposed Endemic Bird.

  1. Black-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus melanicterus)

This is a fairly common species in forests and nearby gardens in wet lowlands up to the lower hills. It is also found in the dry zone forests of the North Central Province (e.g. Giritale), intermediate forests in the South (e.g. Kekunadura in Matara) and Giritale, tall forests and riverine forests in Udawalawe NP and Yala NP (Blocks 1 & 3). An easy bird to see as it frequents low trees and bushes in edge habitats. Usually seen in pairs but sometimes seen in small flocks. The bird often hovers briefly like a Sunbird as it picks off insects off a tree. In flight, the white tip to the tail is prominent. The call is a rapid ‘pit-pit-pipit-….’ and it has soft whistling songs, some of them sad-sounding.

  1. Ceylon Small Barbet (Megalaima rubricapillus)

A small, beautiful Barbet common throughout the lowlands to the mid hills. The only endemic bird regularly seen in major cities like Colombo. But easily overlooked due to its small size and colouration. Predominantly green with red forehead, blue lower face, orange throat and “spectacles”. These features and uniform green underparts readily distinguish it from the Coppersmith Barbet in areas where both can be found. Lives in pairs but often single birds are seen on tall trees. Flocks may be found on fruiting trees. . The male has two songs, uttered from tall tree tops: a slow repeated ‘pop, pop, pop, …’ and a repeated rapid ‘popo-popo-popo-pop’ with a variable number of syllables.

  1. Pompadour Green Pigeon (Treron pompadora)

The commonest of the Green Pigeons occurring in small flocks throughout the island up to the mid hills. In the dry lowlands large flocks may at times be encountered. See the Orange-breasted for details on separating the females of the two species. Visitors are most likely to see them in the national parks in the south. At times good numbers may be seen and at other times they may be virtually absent due to local migrations. The song is a beautiful, soft, modulated human-like whistle.

  1. Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni)

The Serendib Scops Owl is known only from a few lowland wet zone forests. It seems to require fairly large, undisturbed tracts of forest.

  1. Crimson-backed Flameback (Chrysocolaptes stricklandi)

Distinguished from the similar Black-rumped Flamedback by its ivory coloured bill and different call. The females has a black crown flecked in white. It is found mainly in wet zone forests ascending all the way to the highlands. It prefers more heavily wooded habitats than the Black-rumped Flameback. Although perceived largely as a wet zone bird, it does occur in suitable habitat in the dry zone as well, sometimes even wandering into coconut groves.

  1. Ceylon Swallow (Hirundo hyperythra)

Found throughout the lowlands and ascends the lower hills. It is easily distinguished from the migrant Barn Swallow by the conspicuous red rump and chunkier build. It wanders about a great deal and is equally at home hawking over lightly forested valleys or over paddy fields. Although it flocks, solitary individuals are just as likely to be seen.

  1. Ceylon Woodshrike (Tephrodornis affinis)

A rather small grey coloured bird fairly common in the dry zone. Female is a little duller and browner than the male. Both have a blackish stripe across the eye like that in the true shrikes. Lives in pairs. The calls are a five-to-seven syllabled ‘chee-chee-…-chee’ with the first syllables hurried and the rest descending and a loud ‘twee’ sound often in the same pattern. Scarce and scattered in the wet zone and ascends up to about the mid hills in dryer parts.

  1. Ceylon Scaly Thrush (Zoothera imbricata)

A secretive and fairly big ground thrush which has an attractive colour pattern. Its golden-buff scaly pattern all over the body and stocky shape distinguish it from the other thrushes and immatures of similar birds, with pale spots or scaly pattern. It spends the day time in the undergrowth of thick wet forests and if it appears in the adjoining open patches, it is usually in the early morning. It is an uncommon bird confined to the forests in the lower hills and above of the wet zone. It has a rather soft plain whistle repeated several time at a stretch. It sings this song for few times only at dawn. It also has a short high-pitched alarm call which may be uttered any time of the day.

  1. Ceylon Scimitar-babbler (Pomatorhinus [schisticeps] melanurus)

What better way to wake up in the hills than to the mellow, bubbling calls of the Scimitar Babbler, full of exuberance! It has a variety of calls. In one of its duets, the male sings ‘woop-oop-oopoop’, and in another ‘yok, ko-ko’, and both are answered by the trilling sound of the female. It is found throughout the Island ascending to the higher hills. It can be found in village gardens but is unlikely to be found in areas where good patches of forest are not nearby. The decurved bill and striped head make it distinctive.

  1. Ceylon Crested Drongo (Dicrurus lophorinus)

Formerly regarded as a race of the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, which occurs as a dry zone race. Generally, the Ceylon Crested Drongo has a smaller and brush-like frontal crest and a deeply forked tail, without rackets. In some birds, the crest can be as pronounced as in the Racket-tailed Drongo. This leads to disparities in the published literature. It is a highly vocal bird and is easily located as a result. It is a nucleus species in feeding flocks. It has a variety of loud, bell-like calls and chatter, which enliven the forest. It also has harsh calls, and mimics a variety of birds and a few animals.