Bird Watching in Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat Bird Watching

One of the things I managed to do during my scuba diving trip was bird watching in Raja Ampat in West Papua. You may already know from my niche travel blog that I am a scuba diver, adventurer and bird watcher, having done these since 2007.

Bird Watching in Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat Green Parrot
On my trek, an Eclectus Parrot was spotted.

Raja Ampat is located in West Papua and has always been a dream destination or major bucket list for me, and in September 2017, this dream came true.

Working with the Indonesia Ministry of Tourism, under the Wonderful Indonesia Campaign for 2017, we were invited on a scuba diving adventure to three islands in the far east of Indonesia. Raja Ampat in West Papua was the last stop. 

This gave me some free time, and without fail, I immediately booked a local village birdwatching guide who took me for a half-morning birding experience here in Raja Ampat.

Of course, my main objective was to spot the unique Bird of Paradise, the endemic star bird here. And it is also one of the top birds to spot in the world by many bird watchers.

Bird Watching Resort Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat Dive Resort, where I stayed at.

On this trip, my sole purpose for visiting Raja Ampat was scuba diving; with my free time, I utilized it to the fullest for my bird watching.

I stayed at the Raja Ampat Dive Resort, and around the resort area, I must have spotted at least 10 species of birds. 

Every morning, I would be woken up by the calls of the Red Bird of Paradise, Parrots and many other canopy birds that are really loud. While having coffee, I saw some lory and parrots flying above for their morning feed.

Raja Ampat Grey-headed Cicadabird
A White-bellied Cuckooshrike was spotted eating a cicada on Piaynemo Island.

West Papua is known to be a bird watchers' paradise as over 704 bird species (as of 2016) can be found throughout Indonesia. However, my trip was only to Waisai in the Raja Ampat Regency, and thus, I could only do bird watching around here. 

The balance of bird species is also incredible, as 640 islands make up the Raja Ampat Regency. Some large islands and many smaller ones attract both lowland and water birds. I could spot about 10-20 species an average day, even without trying.

Raja Ampat Great Frigatebird
A Great Frigatebird was spotted flying over my dive boat in Raja Ampat.

This place is a birding wonderland because the pristine rainforest has been preserved with very little development. The area is not crowded with villages or people, making it ideal for avian life. 

My Raja Ampat Bird Watching Experience 

For my extraordinary birding adventure, I paid IDR300,000 (US$22.00) for a half-morning trek, and this was via foot from my resort to the Bird of Paradise spot.

The journey is about one hour trek inland and then uphill. This was, of course, a special rate for the little time I had.

Raja Ampat Paradise Kingfisher
The beautiful Paradise Kingfisher was spotted at about 6:00 a.m. on my trek.

I started at about 4:00 a.m. and ended at 8:00 a.m., so in actual fact, I only managed to do two hours of solid birding. But the one-hour walks were equally fruitful as there were many birds to spot along the way. 

There are two locations in the rainforest where you can spot the Red Bird of Paradise; if the first location is quiet, the guide will bring you to the second location. At the sites, makeshift benches, which are organically made by the local bird guides, are available.

Raja Ampat Red Lory Parrot
The Eclectus Parrots are easily spotted in Raja Ampat.

Your guide will ask you to be extremely quiet near the area. Even walking, you should try not to break any twigs. Hand signals are used, or he will approach you and whisper in your ear.

At the first location, I sat for 10 minutes with no movement. But it was at the second location where I spotted two Red Birds of Paradise, which was pretty amazing, though I did not get a good photo.

Raja Ampat Red Bird of Paradise
I managed to photograph the Red Bird of Paradise, well, part of it only.

Luck was not on my side as time was crucial; when I spotted the Red Bird of Paradise, I could barely see them as they were plucking the top canopy leaves and, of course, blocked by the canopy.

I could get glimpses of them with my 600mm lens and Omicron Binoculars; however, I needed to wait for the right moment to photograph them, which was quite frustrating.

Soon, I needed to be back at the dive resort to go for my 8:30 a.m. dive, and it was already 7:30 a.m. when I spotted the birds.

I took whatever photos I could, but I saw them through my binoculars, and they were indeed beautiful birds. 

Looking at the time, I had to abandon my mission and head back one hour to the resort to prepare for my dive.

Well, at least I managed to spot the Red Bird of Paradise, which motivated me to plan another trip back here.

Birding Raja Ampat
Some of the common Willie Wagtails were spotted hanging around the resort.

Star Birds or Raja Ampat

Without fail, one bird comes to mind: the Bird of Paradise, which is endemic to Papua. However, I learned that 33 species of the Bird of Paradise were found all over Papua, which shocked me.

The good news is that there are four main Bird of Paradise that people look for in West Papua. Most serious bird watchers will have these four on their checklist. 

Here is a list of star birds of Raja Ampat that birders want to spot;

  • Wilson's Bird of Paradise
  • Red Bird of Paradise
  • King Bird of Paradise
  • Western Crowned Pigeon
  • Western Parotia
  • Northern Cassowary

Raja Ampat Bird Watching Tours
A raptor is seen in the skies near Piaynemo; I can't tell if this is a Honey-Buzzard.

Random Bird Photos Taken in Raja Ampat


Raja Ampat Birding Tours
A Hooded Butcherbird was spotted high on the canopy near the resort.

Raja Ampat Pacific Reef Egret
Pacific Reef Heron was spotted at sea just before my dive.

Birding in Raja Ampat
A Helmeted New Guinea Friarbird was spotted on a branch.

Bird Watching Tours in Raja Ampat

From what I know, bird watchers usually book a 10-day or 30-day birdwatching tour around West Papua, and this is to make sure that they get to spot the best of the best on this trip.

Well, it is not cheap to get here, and once you plan your trip, you have to make the best of it in all possible ways. 

I advise only booking a one-day tour if you are here specifically for a business trip, a quick honeymoon, or even a dive trip; then, you can book this bird tour for a day.

That was how I did my bird watching here, with limited time, but adamant about doing it. In the end, it was an eye-opener for me.

Raja Ampat Grey-backed Tern
 A Black-naped Tern flies near my dive boat.

Price for Bird Watching Tours in Raja Ampat

Please note that the prices below for the Raja Ampat birdwatching tour are based on actual figures from various operators.

Some bird tours may offer cheaper or more expensive packages; it is up to you to see what is provided in each birding package. 

Raja Ampat Bird Watching Prices 2018 
  • 1/2 Day Raja Ampat Birding Tour - IDR 450,000 / US$33.00 (RM140.00)
  • 1 Day Raja Ampat Birding Tour (2 Locations) - IDR 600,000 / US$45.00 (RM187.00)
  • 5-Day West Papua Birding Tour - IDR 8,041,425 / US$ 595.00 (RM2,512)
  • 12-Day West Papua Birding Tour - IDR 79,130,325 / US$ 5855.00 (RM24,728)
  • 30-Day West Papua Birding Tour - IDR 121,071,000 / US$ 8958 (RM 37,835)
*Prices are based per person, with a minimum of two or four. You need to double check with the operator on this.

*Prices are also without flights, and accommodations, food, and transport are included for longer days. 

West Papua Bird Watching
A Spice Imperial Pigeon was spotted on one of the trees on my trek back.

How to go to Raja Ampat?

Generally, some flights connect from Makassar in Sulawesi directly to Sorong, the capital of West Papua. Once you arrive in Sorong, take another flight or the Bahari Ferry to Waisai Harbour. 

From Waisai Harbour or the airport, your birdwatching guide will pick you up and send you to your resort. In simple layman's terms, you need one whole day just to travel from Bali or Jakarta.

However, if you are flying in from elsewhere, be prepared to spend two days just travelling to Raja Ampat one way. Usually, if you book tours, it only includes the pick-up from the port of entry. 

You can also read my other article on getting to Raja Ampat, which explains everything in detail. That can give you a better idea of the travels to this part of the world. 

Final Thoughts on Bird Watching in Raja Ampat

If you are an avid bird watcher or want to see some of the most beautiful birds in the world, this place is your next destination.

It was my first time setting foot on this exotic and mysterious land, and how could I not even try a little birding here. 

For my bird count, I spotted at least 45 species of birds during my five days here. This includes the many sea birds, raptors and lowland birds.

On my birdwatching morning trip, I counted the number to be around 25 species of birds spotted in a total of four hours.

R4 Bird Watching
A Metallic Starling juvenile was seen on Arborek Island, Raja Ampat.

I would pack my bags again to visit Raja Ampat in West Papua for some serious bird watching, probably for a week. Well, only some have the luxury of doing a 30-day birding tour.

But I know some birders who are all out to get the world bird count numbers out and would engage on tours like that. 

The good thing about birding here is that most guides are professional and know what they are doing. They are well knowledgeable about the local birds and know the best times and spots to locate them.

Piaynemo Raja Ampat
Piaynemo in Raja Ampat is one of the iconic places in West Papua.

They also understand the difference between a bird watcher and a bird photographer. The best part is that they communicate in English, making birdwatching in Raja Ampat easy.

Conclusion

You can also read about my other birdwatching articles from Malaysia, Borneo and other places. I always try to do this whenever I visit a new destination.

I also manage another dedicated bird portal called Bird Watching Asia, which focuses on birding around Malaysia. Since 2018, all of my birding articles have been written there.

For anyone planning to do bird watching in Raja Ampat, ensure you are prepared and ready to spend at least five to seven days at a minimum.
Malaysia Asia

Blogging since 2007, but writing online since 1997. I belong to the 1st generation of worldwide bloggers, which is of course old-school. Since 2008, I created Malaysia Asia and this travel, flood, gadget and lifestyle blog has won numerous physical awards from tourism boards around Malaysia. (Not those online awards). After 12 years of blogging, I have semi-retired and now blog about things I like, do product reviews and enjoy life. My work has been featured in Lonely Planet, CNN Travel, Yahoo Travel, Wall Street Journal, and many other international publications. Find out more about me and thank you.

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