Bardia’s birds

The Bardia National Park is a jewel of nature in western Nepal, and a birder’s paradise

Changeable Hawk Eagle. All bird photos: Umang Jung Thapa

Bardia National Park is naturally famous for being the easiest place in the world to see tigers in the wild. But since visiting this jewel in the plains of western Nepal five times in the last 40 years, what attracts me most about Bardia besides its charismatic mammals is its fabulous birdlife.

The park has recorded over 525 bird species and 61 mammals, and is recognised as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area and so of global importance for birds and other wildlife.

By area, Bardia is Nepal’s largest national park in the Tarai, and much of it consists of the alluvial plain of the Karnali River in the west as it bursts out of the mountains, and the pristine Babai River valley to the northeast.

birds of Nepal

To the north, the Chure Range rises to 1,440m which means the park has diverse vegetation types ranging from extensive grasslands to climax forests, and over 70% of the reserve is covered by sal forests. 

Then there are riverine forests of acacia and sissoo in the lowlands and deciduous and chir pine forests higher up. The park is dotted with pools, many of them manmade, to provide water for wildlife.

But what makes Bardia special are its birds. Just woodpeckers, there are 16 species, including the globally Vulnerable Great Slaty Woodpecker (Mulleripicus pulverulentus): a gangling and prehistoric-looking bird that is one of the largest woodpeckers in the world. 

Great Slaty Woodpecker
Great Slaty Woodpecker, easily located by its distinctive whinnying cackle and often in small groups.

Then there is the scarce White-naped Woodpecker (Chrysocolaptes festivus) which is endemic to the Subcontinent. 

Great Hornbills (Buceros bicornis) are frequently seen, but the loss of large fruiting trees as nest sites and food source, as well as hunting for food and medicinal purposes have put the hornbill in the globally vulnerable category.

The Great Hornbill
The Great Hornbill in flight when it makes a sound like a steam engine starting up.

Bardia is rich in raptors, and among them is the Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis), a winter visitor. Rapid recent declines have led to it being listed as globally Endangered. The rare local Grey-headed Fish-Eagle (Icthyophaga ichthyaetus) can be seen on pools and streams. 

Grey-headed Fish-Eagle
Grey-headed Fish-Eagle feeds almost entirely on fish, sometimes supplemented by birds and mammals.

The Rufous-bellied Eagle (Lophotriorchis kienerii) is another uncommon resident in the park and listed as Near-threatened globally because of widespread deforestation. An aerial hunter, it often captures prey on or near the ground or treetops after spectacular dives.

Bardia has an impressive list of 14 resident owl species. The magnificent Mottled Wood Owl (Strix ocellata) was only discovered for the first time in Nepal in 2015 when a pair was photographed in Khata Corridor in the Buffer Zone and has been frequently recorded since. India is the only other country where Mottled Wood Owl is regularly seen.

The Mottled Wood Owl NT
The Mottled Wood Owl is nocturnal, if lucky can be spotted before dusk falls.

The Dusky Eagle-owl (Bubo coromandus) often breeds in a deserted stick raptor nest in the top of tall mature trees, at the forest edge or in grassland.

Brown Fish-owl (Ketupa zeylonensis) is a commonly seen resident, usually roosting in the daytime camouflaged in thick foliage of large trees in a secluded site near water in forest.

Bardia supports a host of smaller bird species like the Blue-bearded (Nyctyornis athertoni) and Asian Green (Merops orientalis) Bee-eaters are fairly common residents, while Chestnut-headed (M. leschenaulti) and Blue-tailed (M. philippinus) Bee-eaters are common in summer.

Spot Bellied Eagle Owl.

Other colourful and fairly common summer visitors are Indian (Pitta brachyura) and Western Hooded (P. sordida) Pitta.

In March the gorgeous scarlet flowers of the silk cotton tree attract an array of nectar feeders: Hair-crested Drongo (Dicrurus hottentottus), Black-hooded Oriole (Oriolus xanthornus), Scarlet Minivet (Pericrocotus flammeus), and Spot-winged Starling (Saroglossa spiloptera), to name a few.

Grassland specialities include Golden-headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis), Yellow-bellied Prinia, (Prinia flaviventris), White-tailed Bushchat (Saxicola leucurus), Indian Grass-babbler (Graminicola bengalensis), and Chestnut-capped (Timalia pileata), Striated (Argya earlei) and Yellow-eyed (Chrysomma sinense) Babblers.

Orange-breasted Green Pigeon.
Orange-breasted Green Pigeon.

The striking Siberian (Calliope calliope) and Himalayan Rubythroat (C. pectoralis) are winter visitors to scrub and grassland as well as several wintering bush-warblers: Aberrant, Grey-sided, Pale-footed and West Himalayan Bush-warbler.

The rivers and streams support a rich diversity of birdlife: Greater Painted-snipe (Rostratula benghalensis), River Lapwing (Vanellus duvaucelii), Stork-billed (Pelargopsis capensis), Pied Kingfishers (Ceryle rudis) and Black-backed Forktail (Enicurus immaculatus) which are all resident. While in winter there is Blue Rock-thrush (Monticola solitarius), Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria), Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) and many wader species.

Stork-billed Kingfisher
Stork-billed Kingfisher is impressive, with a massive red bill.

While crossing the Babai Bridge on the East-West Highway, there are stunning views of the unspoilt Babai River valley with its forested hills and wild river.

The Critically Endangered Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) and Vulnerable Mugger (Crocodylus palustris) can be easily seen in the cold season, basking on sandbanks. The Gharial is exclusively a fish-eater, and it hunts underwater with sharp interlocking teeth and long narrow snout. 

The Mugger preys on fish, snakes, birds, and mammals and is also a scavenger. The Himalayan or Golden Mahseer (Tor putitora) is an Endangered fish which can reach up to 2.75m and turtles such as the Endangered Indian Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia gangetica) can often be seen on the Babai.

Nepal tripled its tiger population to 360 in the past 14 years, and nearly 160 of them are estimated to be in Bardia and its buffer zone.

Bardia National Park is in the alluvial plains of the Karnali River, and is dotted with pools. Photo: CAROL INSKIPP

The park is one of the best places to see Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) in the wild. Other mammals are: Leopard (Panthera pardus), several deer species including Spotted (Axis axis) and Swamp Deers (Rucervus duvaucelii), Nilgai (Bosephalus tragocamelus), as well as Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) which has been successfully re-introduced from Chitwan National Park. If you are lucky, you can spot the Endangered Gangetic River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica) on the Karnali River. 

Bardia is relatively isolated, and this has helped to protect its wide range of wildlife and habitat, and is much quieter than Chitwan. It is well worth the effort to get there.

Bardia birds books

Getting to and Staying in Bardia

Babai River Bardia
The pristine Babai River valley is situated at the northeastern part of the Bardia National Park. Photo: CAROL INSKIPP

Fly to Nepalganj from Kathmandu, and take the two-hour jeep ride through the park to the Park Headquarters at Thakurdwara.

There is a range of accommodation in the Buffer Zone from luxury resorts to tented camps and homestays. Some suggestions: Royal Tiger Cottage, Burhan Wilderness Camp, Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge.

Experienced and very knowledgeable local guides are available for safari and jungle walks. Allow at least three days for your visit.  

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