Wintertime Taiwan is a Birdwatcher’s Paradise

Long recognized as a biodiversity hotspot, Taiwan is a remarkable ecotourism destination that straddles the Tropic of Cancer. Between June and September, the country’s lowland landscapes swelter. In winter, by contrast, its rugged uplands receive dustings of snow. Between these two extremes, there are a dozen different environments, and each has distinct fauna and flora. 

Among Taiwan’s unique lifeforms are 28 bird species seen nowhere else on Earth, and a further 55 endemic avian subspecies. Including vagrants – creatures that got lost or were blown to Taiwan by a typhoon – and migrants, no fewer than 674 bird species have been recorded within the country’s borders. That is more than in the UK, which is almost seven times the size of Taiwan. 

Given the number of unique birds here, plus the near certainty that birdwatchers can spot 30 or more different species in a single day, it is hardly surprising that Taiwan is near the top of the must-visit list for birders across the world. Thanks to the ease with which travelers can get around, an excellent range of accommodation options, delicious and inexpensive food, and a well-deserved reputation for safety and convenience, the country is ideal for multi-day birdwatching tours. 

Unlike some other ecotourism destinations, birdwatching in Taiwan is not an activity that revolves around foreign visitors. Birders from other countries will find themselves welcomed by the growing cohort of locals who share their passion, donate to conservation projects, and lobby politicians to preserve sensitive areas. Taiwan’s 54 internationally recognized Important Bird Areas (IBAs) cover more than one sixth of its land area. 

The island’s feathered treasures include the Mikado pheasant and the much smaller Taiwan barbet. Birders have a fair chance of seeing the former if they venture into the mountains when there is low cloud or light rain. Taiwanese people often call the latter wuse niao, literally “five-color bird,” on account of its multi-colored plumage. Unlike the Mikado pheasant, it is often possible to see the Taiwan barbet in the heart of Taipei, where the authorities have been working with conservation experts to ensure an abundance of squirrel-proof nesting spots. 

Richard Foster, a Northern Irishman who has been guiding foreign birdwatchers around Taiwan since 2012, advises incoming travelers who are serious about this hobby to buy a copy of the Wild Bird Society of Taipei’s Field Guide to the Birds of Taiwan, a comprehensive and beautifully illustrated 416-page introduction to the country’s avifauna.  

Wherever they might find themselves, tourists interested in nature can use eBird ( to find out which species were recently seen there, says Foster. He and other Taiwan-based birders are enthusiastic supporters of this global database. 

“Throughout Taiwan, facilities are good,” says Foster. “Clean bathrooms are easy to find. So is free piping hot water. That’s a real bonus when you’ve been up chasing birds since dawn and need some tea or coffee!” 

When it comes to birdwatching, it is impossible to say that one region in Taiwan is better than any other. That said, every keen birder aims to spend some time in the southwest during the winter, when migrating waterbirds flock to estuaries, saltpans, and other coastal locations. 

This influx is a consequence of Taiwan’s position on the East Asian–Australasian Flyway, the migration corridor through which tens of millions of birds migrate between breeding grounds in Siberia and Northeast Asia and warmer regions where they spend the non-breeding season. 

Among the shorebirds, waders, and waterfowl that make Taiwan their temporary home are Chinese sparrowhawks, Kentish plovers, black-winged stilts, and eastern curlews. But one bird species has caught the public imagination like no other: the black-faced spoonbill.  

Thanks to its elegant appearance and a great deal of media coverage since the mid-1990s, the spoonbill is now better known among Taiwanese people than several of the country’s endemic species. Its return from the brink of extinction resulted from growing environmental consciousness. The black-faced spoonbill population in east Asia has climbed from 288 in 1988 to 6,603 earlier this year, with three out of five spending last winter in Tainan or Chiayi in Taiwan’s southwestern region. 

To learn more about the spoonbill, and see some of these beautiful creatures if it is the right time of year, visitors should head to the Qigu Lagoon in Tainan. The Black-faced Spoonbill Ecology Exhibition Hall is close to birdwatching hides positioned to look out over the mudflats. [Note: The Black-faced Spoonbill Ecology Exhibition Hall is under renovation. The reopening date will be announced on:

Given the southwest’s avian riches, it is no surprise that the region was chosen as the venue for the 2023 Taiwan International Birdathon. This 24-hour non-stop birdwatching competition, held on the weekend of October 28-29, saw teams of birders working their way from the lagoons and wetlands of Tainan, Chiayi, and Yunlin eastward toward Alishan and Taiwan’s mountainous interior. Aiming to compile as long a list of species as possible, they photographed or recorded the song of each type of bird they encountered. 

Those interested in joining the 2024 event should keep an eye on the Southwest Coast National Scenic Area’s website ( The scenic area – part of which overlaps with Taijiang National Park – encompasses several attractions which have nothing whatsoever to do with birds, such as salt-industry remnants in Tainan’s Beimen District. 

For the better part of four centuries, much of the southwest coast was divided into sun-baked evaporation ponds from which salt was harvested. The Jingzaijiao Tile-Paved Salt Fields celebrate this heritage by preserving both ancient saltpans and the labor-intensive technique by which the commodity was extracted from seawater. In addition to being educational, this location is fabulously photogenic, especially in the hour before sunset. 

The way in which the authorities cooperated with local people to repair the long-abandoned saltpans, develop grassroots tourism, and create a path for the community’s revitalization proved so successful that Jingzaijiao was in 2021 recognized as one of the world’s Top 100 Good Practice Stories by Netherlands-based Green Destinations. 

In 2023, the Southwest Coast National Scenic Area earned a place on Green Destinations’ 2023 Top 100 Stories list. Over the course of several years, various stakeholders worked together to restore the ecological functions of typhoon-damage farmland in Yunlin County, allowing it to emerge as a destination where visitors can enjoy birdwatching, cycling, and other low-impact forms of tourism.  

The recently-launched Southwest Coast Tourism Union aims to add depth to the region’s appeal by integrating and coordinating government and private-sector resources, among them community projects and ultra-local businesses. 

Thanks to Taiwan Tourist Shuttle bus services, it is not necessary to rent a car, motorcycle, or bicycle in the Tainan area. The 88 Loop Route connects the railway station with major attractions such as the Confucius Temple, Chihkan Tower, and Shennong Street. The 99 Anping Taijiang Route also sets out from the railway station, and ventures into the city’s historic Anping District. Five of the seven daily services travel on to the headquarters of Taijiang National Park, the bird-rich Sihcao Wildlife Conservation Area, and Qigu’s Salt Mountain and Salt Museum. For booking information, special offers, and details of similar services throughout Taiwan, see the multilingual website   

The website of the Taiwan Wild Bird Federation ( offers useful English-language resources, as does the website of Taijiang National Park ( 

For additional information about visiting Taiwan, please contact the tourism hotline at 0800-011-765, or go to the Taiwan Tourism Administration’s website (