Discover Unique and Charming Endemic Birds of Sri Lanka

Written by Mihiran Gunarathne
Junglefowl - Endemic Birds of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, with its lush landscapes and diverse ecosystems, is a birdwatcher’s paradise. It boasts a remarkable collection of 34 bird species found nowhere else on Earth. These endemic birds have evolved distinctive features to thrive in Sri Lanka’s various habitats, from misty highlands to coastal wetlands and tropical rainforests. In this article, we’ll take you on a captivating journey to meet all 34 of these fascinating birds, exploring their unique characteristics, habitats, and conservation status.

Let’s start our avian adventure!

  1. Sri Lanka Blue Magpie 
    • The Sri Lanka Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornata) is a true beauty of the island. With glossy blue plumage and a reddish-brown head, neck, bill, and wings, it’s a striking sight. Their vibrant red-eye rings add a touch of elegance. These magpies call the wet zone of southern Sri Lanka, including the Sinharaja Rainforest, their home. Unfortunately, habitat loss has led to their vulnerable status on the endemic bird list.
  2. Sri Lanka Junglefowl 
    • Meet the national bird of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Junglefowl (Gallus lafayetii). The males are larger and boast vivid plumage, including orange-red bodies, dark wings, and a striking comb. These birds can be found throughout Sri Lanka, from sea level up to 2,000 meters in elevation.
  3. Sri Lanka White Eye 
    • Sri Lanka White-eye (Zosterops ceylonensis) is a small endemic bird recognized by the ring of tiny white feathers around its eyes. Their dark olive-green bodies and love for nectar earned them the nickname “Flower Birds.” You’ll find them forming social flocks in the highland forests and woodlands.
  4. Red-faced Malkoha 
    • The Red-faced Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus) is a rare member of the cuckoo family. These large birds have a distinctive red patch around their eyes and are mainly found in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and surrounding areas, as well as dry zone forests like Yala and Udawalawe.
  5. Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill 
    • The Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis) is a common and widespread endemic bird with grey wings and a long black tail. They can be found throughout the wet-zone lowlands and hills up to altitudes of 1,200 meters.
  6. Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot 
    • The Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot (Loriculus beryllinus) is a small, colourful resident bird that loves to hang upside down to reach its fruits. These parrots inhabit the forests of the low-country wet zone and hills up to 1,200 meters.
  7. Layard’s Parakeet 
    • Layard’s Parakeet (Psittacula calthrapae) is a green parrot species with a unique red and brown bill. You can spot them in forests, wooded areas, and even home gardens throughout Sri Lanka.
  8. Red-backed Flameback 
    • The Red-backed Flameback (Dinopium psarodes) is a medium-sized woodpecker with a bright red back and a prominent crest. You’ll find them in dry zone forests, wet lowland forests, and even mangrove forests.
  9. Crimson-backed Flameback 
    • Crimson-backed Flameback (Chrysocolaptes stricklandi) is a large woodpecker with a crimson upper part. These woodpeckers lack the prominent white eyebrow seen in red-backed flamebacks and are occasionally found in disturbed areas or home gardens.
  10. Dull-blue Flycatcher 
    • The Dull-blue Flycatcher (Eumyias sordida) is a small, near-threatened bird with ashy-blue colouration and a bright blue forehead. They prefer deciduous mountain forests at altitudes above 600 meters.
  11. Legge’s Flowerpecker
    • Legge’s Flowerpecker (Dicaeum vincens) is a tiny bird with a blue-black upper body, a white throat, and a yellow breast and belly. Kitulgala and Sinharaja rainforests are the best places to spot them.
  12. Serendib Scops Owl 
    • The Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) is a recently discovered endangered owl. These small owls are reddish-brown with pale underparts and yellow eyes. They are primarily found in wet zone rainforests, including Sinharaja, Kitulgala, and Kanneliya.
  13. Chestnut-backed Owlet 
    • The Chestnut-backed Owlet (Glaucidium castanotum) is a small owl with chestnut brown plumage and white underparts with black streaks. These owlets are common residents of wet zone forests like Kitulgala and Sinharaja.
  14. Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon 
    • The Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon (Columba torringtoni) is a vulnerable endemic pigeon with grey plumage and distinctive black-and-white stripes on the nape. They prefer damp evergreen woodlands in the central highlands, particularly the woods of Horton Plains National Park.
  15. Sri Lanka Green Pigeon
    • The Sri Lanka Green Pigeon (Treron pompadora) is a medium-sized green pigeon with a maroon back in males and a green back in females. They prefer dry lowland forests, including Yala, Wilpattu, and Kaudulla.
  16. Green-billed Coucal
    • The Green-billed Coucal (Centropus chlororhynchos) is a medium-sized bird with purple-black plumage on the head and body. Their greenish bill sets them apart from the greater coucal, and they’re mostly found in the wet zone jungles, including the Sinharaja Rainforest.
  17. Crimson-fronted Barbet 
    • The Crimson-fronted Barbet (Megalaima rubricapillus) is a small barbet with a vibrant head, orange, yellow, blue, black, and green. They’re commonly found in tropical lowland forests up to 1,300 meters in elevation.
  18. Yellow-fronted Barbet 
    • The Yellow-fronted Barbet (Megalaima flavifrons) is a small resident bird with a distinctive yellow forehead and blue face. These barbets have fewer bristles at the corner of the mouth and are commonly seen in the hill country at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 meters.
  19. Sri Lanka Spurfowl 
    • The Sri Lanka Spurfowl (Galloperdix bicalcarata) is a secretive bird with brown upperparts and white spots and streaks covering the body. They have bright red bills and legs and can be found in the deep jungles of the wet zone and hill forests.
  20. Black-capped Bulbul 
    • The Black-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus melanicterus) is a unique bird with a crestless black head and a bright yellow underside. They inhabit various habitats, including forests, open woodlands, and gardens.
  21. Yellow-eared Bulbul 
    • The Yellow-eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus) is a small endemic bird with olive upperparts and a distinctive tuft of yellow feathers over the ear. Their white streak in front of the eye helps distinguish them from other bulbuls. These birds are frequently spotted in rocky hills in the central highlands.
  22. Sri Lanka Hill Myna 
    • The Sri Lanka Hill Myna (Gracula ptilogenys) is a hill country bird with green-glossed black plumage, yellow wattles, and orange-red bills. They reside in the canopy of hill forests, nearby gardens, and woods.
  23. Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush 
    • The Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush (Garrulax cinereifrons) is a small bird with the reddish-brown body, grey heads, and white throats. Their habitat is the rainforest, and they are often seen in deep jungles or dense thickets in the wet zone.
  24. Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush 
    • The Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush (Zoothera imbricata) is a secretive bird with black scaling on a white or yellowish background. Their extensive black scales distinguish them from other thrushes. These birds inhabit the lowlands and mountains of Sri Lanka’s wet forests.
  25. Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush 
    • The Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush (Myophonus blighi) is rarely seen and prefers undisturbed forests. They have dark blue plumage with a bright blue shoulder patch in females. You’ll find them close to streams and ravines in dense mountain forests above 1,200 meters.
  26. Spot-winged Thrush 
    • The Spot-winged Thrush (Zoothera spiloptera) is a medium-sized thrush with double wing bars of white spots. They frequent forests and gardens, mostly in the wet zone but also in the dry zone.
  27. Sri Lanka Bush Warbler 
    • The Sri Lanka Bush Warbler (Bradypterus palliseri) is a secretive, earthy-brown bird with pale grey underparts and a graduated tail. They can be found in dense forest undergrowth near water in the highlands above 1,200 meters.
  28. Brown-capped Babbler 
    • The Brown-capped Babbler (Pellorneum fuscocapillus) is a small endemic bird with a cinnamon underpart and a brown cap. They prefer dense thickets in evergreen broadleaf forests and are often seen on or near the ground.
  29. Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler 
    • The Sri Lanka Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus melanurus) is a striking bird with a long, downcurved, bright yellow-orange bill and deep chestnut upperparts. They have a wide distribution throughout the island in shady forests and woods, particularly near streams.
  30. White-faced Starling
    • The White-faced Starling (Sturnus albofrontatus) has dark grey upperparts and a paler head than its belly. Their distinct white face sets them apart from other starlings, and they prefer undisturbed rainforests and fruiting trees in adjacent areas.
  31. Orange-billed Babbler 
    • The Orange-billed Babbler (Turdoides rufescens) is a resident endemic bird with plain orange-brown below and a reddish-brown body. Their orange legs and bills distinguish them from other babblers. They are commonly found in the wet zone forests and are quite common at Kitulgala and Sinharaja.
  32. Sri Lanka Swallow 
    • The Sri Lanka Swallow (Cecropis hyperythra) is a large swallow with deeply forked tails and chestnut underparts. They are the only swallows in Sri Lanka with unmarked deep reddish-brown undersides and blue rumps. You can spot them in open paddy fields, hillsides, and lightly wooded areas.
  33. Sri Lanka Woodshrike 
    • The Sri Lanka Woodshrike (Tephrodornis affinis) is a small grey-brown bird with a heavy bill and white eyebrows. They inhabit open wooded areas in lowlands and ascend to mid-elevations in hills.
  34. Sri Lanka Crested Drongo 
    • The Sri Lanka Crested Drongo (Dicrurus lophorinus) is a glossy black bird commonly found in the low country wet zone forests. They have a large, upright body, a long, deeply-forked tail, and a tuft of feathers above the bill. You’ll encounter them in various habitats, including forests, urban areas, and foothills of Sri Lanka’s wet zone.

In conclusion, Sri Lanka is home to a diverse array of endemic birds, each with its unique characteristics and habitats. These avian treasures are a natural heritage worth protecting for generations to come. Let’s celebrate and preserve the rich biodiversity of Sri Lanka’s birdlife.

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