Hong Kong might be synonymous with skyscrapers, but it has a huge amount of green space and an amazing array of wildlife. Here, we kick of our new nature series with a look at some facts, trivia and tips about the birds of Hong Kong.
#1 Small … but full of birds!
Think of the size of mainland China. Now compare Hong Kong. Yet, despite this massive discrepancy, Hong Kong has around 41 percent of the total bird species recorded in China, with approximately 578 different types here, compared to 1,413. Five percent of the world’s birds can be found in Hong Kong.
#2 A nice place to nest
Why? Mostly because of the ideal combination of different environments favoured by different species – from coastline to wetlands, to areas filled with woods, shrubs and farmland, and city parks. Many of the birds love our subtropical weather, too.
And it’s not just nesting birds. Hong Kong is perfectly located as a stopover for migratory birds as they head south for the winter. In fact, the number of migratory birds outnumbers resident birds by more than three to one.
#3 Twitching time
All of this, of course, makes Hong Kong a twitcher’s paradise. And, if you thought twitching was a hobby of yesteryear, think again. The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, for example, has more than 1,700 members and around 19 full-time staff, and holds regular birdwatching tours and meetings. See the website to find out more.
There are loads of social media groups, forums and blogs to discover too, such as the Hong Kong Bird World group on Facebook.
#4 What’s in a name?
While we love birds, we wouldn’t call ourselves twitchers. If we were, though, we reckon the 10 Hong Kong birds we’d most like to tick off our list would be these wonderfully named creatures:
- Scaly-sided merganser
- Tundra bean goose
- Slaty bunting
- Mrs Gould’s sunbird
- Streak-breasted scimitar babbler
- Eyebrowed thrush
- Lesser yellowlegs
- Middendorff’s grasshopper-warbler
- Zitting cisticola
- Chinese penduline tit
#5 A favourite owl
Another bird with a cool name is the collared scops owl. This very popular and beautiful bird is common in Hong Kong (hence its appearance on a postage stamp), but that doesn’t make it easy to spot. It’s nocturnal, for one thing, but the owl also prefers to nest in the remote corners of the territory.
The collared scops owl caused a bit of frenzy in 2018, when a rare sighting of a family of seven of the birds could be seen together in trees near a Hong Kong playground. Police had to be called in after crowds got too big, potentially placing a huge amount of stress on the birds.
#6 Birds of prey
There aren’t too many highly built-up urban areas where you can watch a majestic bird of prey going about its business. Hong Kong is one of them. The black kite is often seen flying over Victoria Harbour, and swooping down to snatch a meal of a dead fish from the surface of the water. There’s a large nesting area of these birds on the east side of the Peak, which is said to be one of the largest of its kind in all of East Asia.
Recently, a craft beer company in Hong Kong named itself after this awesome bird. Cheers to them!
#7 Protecting Hong Kong’s birds
Since 1976, there has been a Wild Animals Protection Ordinance in place to provide for the conservation of birds and other animals. The legislation states: “No person shall, except in accordance with a special permit, hunt or wilfully disturb any protected wild animal.” Also: “No person shall, except in accordance with a special permit, take, remove, injure, destroy or wilfully disturb a nest or egg of any protected wild animal.”
#8 Where and when to watch
Keen to see some birds in Hong Kong? The best time of year is autumn through to spring – so, from around September to the following May. This is when you’ll see migratory birds from Siberia making their way to warmer places like Australia.
As for where, the New Territories is the obvious place to head to, with areas like the Mai Po Marshes and Tai Po Kau Forest Reserve teeming with bird life. Then there are spots like Po Toi in the south and Lantau Peak to the west. But any area of vegetation with, say, a stream or a pond can be a gold mine for seeing Hong Kong’s birds at play.
And there’s also the famous flamingo pond in Kowloon Park, of course!
#9 What to take
Right now seems like the perfect time for a quiet, solo stroll through nature to see some birds. But make sure you go prepared! A basic kit for a day out with the drongos, doves and ducks should include: a pair of binoculars, a camera, a water bottle, some snacks and some mozzie repellent. It’s a good idea to wear dull-looking clothes, too, so leave that fluorescent pink rain jacket at home. Oh, and take a book: we recommend Birds of Hong Kong and South China by Clive Viney, Karen Phillips and CY Lam.
#10 An egg-cellent way to end
Finally, here’s a bit of trivia we learnt while compiling this piece that has nothing specifically to do with birds in Hong Kong but is interesting nonetheless! The colour of a chicken’s earlobes can help you to tell what colour eggs it will produce; generally, a chicken with white earlobes will lay white eggs, while a chicken with red earlobes will lay brown eggs. (We didn’t even know that a chicken had earlobes, let alone this game-changing fact…)
Read on for more features about living in Hong Kong.