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Feline Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles insignis is the largest living member of the essentially Australo-Papuan owlet-nightjar family, which further has living representatives on Halmahera in the northern Moluccas and on New Caledonia, as well as a prehistorically extinct species on New Zealand that apparently inclined towards gigantism.

West Papua birding hotspots

Where to go birding in West Papua? In declining order of importance, the territory's paramount centers of avian endemism are the isolated Arfak Mountains on the Bird's Head Peninsula, the oceanic twin islands of Biak-Supiori plus nearby Numfor in Geelvink or Cenderawasih Bay, the Snow Mountains along the central cordillera, and the Waigeo ophiolitic suite comprising the islands of Waigeo, Batanta and Kofiau in the Raja Ampat archipelago. Moreover, the vast expanses of lowland forest effectively isolated to the north and south of the central dividing range, harbor a presently still underestimated endemism component on a grander scale.

An extensive bird-watching itinerary in West Papua therefore ideally combines all these major avifaunal subregions. When restricted by time, however, we always recommend spending longer at fewer sites as this invariably turns out to be more rewarding. Exactly which destinations to choose, may then depend ultimately upon your particular interests, physical strength, or personal taste of priority most-wanted species. Some of the better known birding destinations in West Papua are briefly introduced below.

Arfak Mountains

Not surprisingly, it took the first natural history collectors to penetrate into the Arfak Mountains a good while to recover from their ascertainment that the unreal so-called 'roofed maypole' bowers of the Vogelkop Bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus indeed were no playing houses made by the indigenous children. Copyright © Stephen Lyle

This isolated and rugged mountain range in the eastern sector of the Bird's Head Peninsula is bound to become West Papua's premier birding destination, boasting all presently described Vogelkop endemics and providing straightforward access to largely untouched foothill, hill and montane forests that support a varied avifauna.


Geelvink Islands

Yellow-bibbed Fruit Dove Ptilinopus solomonensis is a widespread Northern Melanesian species that only marginally penetrates into the New Guinea or Papuan avifaunal region, notably on the Geelvink Islands. Copyright © Aniket Sardana

The oceanic twin islands of Biak and Supiori in Geelvink or Cenderawasih Bay harbor the most highly endemic avifauna of any singular land area in the New Guinea region with up to 15 endemic taxa now variously accepted at the species level. Six of these are being shared with nearby Numfor Island which further boasts its own endemic paradise kingfisher and leaf warbler.


Snow Mountains

Snow Mountain Robin Petroica archboldi is one of three bird species that occur only in the Snow Mountains of Indonesian New Guinea and nowhere else on Earth. This little gem appears to be genuinely confined to Peak Trikora or Wilhelmina and Peak Jaya or Carstenz, reliably setting in above 4,000 m elevation only.

A superb selection of New Guinea's wonderfully diverse montane avifauna can be seen in the Wamena area of the Snow Mountains, the heartland of the fascinating Dani peoples, who cultivated the 80 km long and up to 20 km wide Grand Baliem upland valley completely unnoticed by the outside world until as recently as 1938.



Bruijn's Brushturkey Aepypodius bruijnii is among a suite of 54 West Papua endemics which occur only in Indonesian New Guinea and nowhere else on Earth. Copyright © Fabrice Tortey

At the northern end of the Raja Ampat archipelago, Waigeo and Batanta, once fused to a single landmass 'Waitanta', support a varied lowland and hill forest avifauna with a peculiar endemism component. Nearly mythical feathered life forms like Bruijn's Brushturkey Aepypodius bruijnii, Wilson's Diphyllodes respublica and Red Bird-of-paradise Paradisaea rubra all call Waitanta home.



Kofiau Paradise Kingfisher Tanysyptera ellioti is entirely confined to the Raja Ampat island of Kofiau where it is moderately common and readily seen.

Situated roughly mid-way between Halmahera and the Bird's Head Peninsula, still within the Raja Ampat group, this rarely visited oceanic island features a generally rather depauperate avifauna with a decidedly Moluccan influence, yet importantly also includes two endemic allospecies: the delightful Kofiau Paradise Kingfisher Tanysiptera ellioti and the Kofiau Monarch Monarcha julianae.


Northern lowlands

Victoria Crowned Pigeon Goura victoria is the world's largest pigeon and a flag-ship species for the conservation of lowland forest in the northern watershed of New Guinea. While hunted out or trapped to near-extinction in many accessible still forested localities, this majestic species is still readily seen around our secluded Muaib jungle camp near Jayapura. Copyright © Ashley Banwell

The vast flat alluvial lowland forests west of the Cyclops Mountains near Jayapura are an excellent place to secure a wonderful selection of New Guinea's northern lowlands specialties, including Victoria Crowned Pigeon Goura victoria, actually the world's largest pigeon, and the little-known Pale-billed Sicklebill Drepanornis bruijnii.


Trans-Fly and Wasur NP

The Spotted or Black-eared Catbird Ailuroedus melanotis complex has recently been proposed to be dismantled into six separate species whereby the population that inhabits the monsoon forests of the Trans-Fly region in New Guinea's southern lowlands is being retained in Black-eared Catbird. Copyright © Fabrice Tortey

Many key birds of New Guinea's southern lowlands, including the delightful Southern Crowned Pigeon Goura scheepmakeri and the Greater Bird-of-paradise Paradisaea apoda, can be seen in and around the famous Wasur National Park near Merauke, which supports a variety of wetlands, savanna and monsoon forest types, and is a haven for staging and wintering waders and waterfowl.


Vogelkop lowlands

This restricted-range Red-breasted Paradise Kingfisher Tanysiptera nympha is mysteriously absent from many seemingly suitable forested localities within the Vogelkop lowlands, and could be the highlight of a birding excursion around Sorong. Copyright © Kriangkrai Suwannaphak

The lowlands of the Bird's Head Peninsula still support extensive tracts of pristine alluvial and foothill forest inhabited by a wonderfully varied and colorful avifauna, including eight restricted-range species and a whopping seven widespread lowland bird-of-paradise species. Red-breasted Paradise Kingfisher Tanysiptera nympha, Black Lory Chalcopsitta atra, and Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise Seleucidis melanoleuca stand out as particularly sought-after here.


At early morn, before the sun has risen, we hear a loud cry of 'Wawk—wawk—wawk, wok—wok—wok' which resounds through the forest, changing its direction continually. This is the Greater Bird of Paradise going to seek his breakfast. Others soon follow; lories and parroquets cry shrilly, cockatoos scream, kingfishers croak and bark, and the various smaller birds chirp and whistle their morning song. As I lie listening to these interesting sounds, I realize my position as the first European who has ever lived for months together in the Aru Islands, a place which I had hoped rather than expected ever to visit. I think how many besides myself have longed to reach these almost fairy realms, and to see with their own eyes the many wonderful and beautiful things which I am daily encountering.
A. R. Wallace, 1869