List of birds of Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka is a tropical island situated close to the southern tip of India. The bird life of Sri Lanka is very rich for its size and about 433 species have been recorded. In addition to the many resident birds, a considerable number of migratory species winter in the country to escape their northern breeding grounds.

There are 233 species which are resident, of which 26 are endemic. The other resident species are also found in the nearby Indian mainland, but over 80 have developed distinct Sri Lankan races. Some of these races are very different in their plumage characteristics from the related forms in India.

Bird distribution in Sri Lanka is largely determined by its climatic zones. The dry zone is largest of the three, covering more than half of the island, with a prolonged dry and hot period and only one monsoon (the north east monsoon from October to January).

The wet zone, with two monsoons, is in the south western quarter of the island, where the few remaining rain forests are found and humidity is high.

The central hill zone rises to over 2450 m (8-10,000 ft) and has a cool temperate climate. Most of the 26 endemic species are confined to the wet and the hill zones, with only a few extending into the dry zone as well.

Recent updates and sighting information can be obtained through the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka website. The following list is prepared according to An Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka on 2010 by Sarath Kotagama and Gamini Ratnavira.

Table of contents

See also        References        Further reading


Little grebe in non-breeding plumage

Order: Podicipediformes   Family: Podicipedidae

Grebes are small to medium-sized diving birds. They breed on fresh water, but often visit the sea whilst migrating and in winter. They have lobed toes and are excellent swimmers and divers; however, their feet are placed far back on their bodies, making them quite ungainly on land. There are 19 species worldwide. Of these, one species has been recorded in Sri Lanka.

Name Binomial Status
Little grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Resident

Shearwaters and petrels[edit]

Order: Procellariiformes   Family: Procellariidae

The procellariids are the main group of medium-sized "true petrels", characterised by united nostrils with medium septum and a long outer functional primary. There are 75 species worldwide of which twelve have occurred in Sri Lanka.[1]

Short-tailed Shearwater.jpg
Common name Binomial Status
Cape petrel Daption capense
Barau's petrel Pterodroma baraui
Bulwer's petrel Bulweria bulwerii
Jouanin's petrel Bulweria fallax
Streaked shearwater Calonectris leucomelas
Flesh-footed shearwater Puffinus cameipes
Wedge-tailed shearwater Puffinus pacificus
Sooty shearwater Puffinus griseus
Short-tailed shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris
Audubon's shearwater Puffinus lherminieri

Storm petrels[edit]

Order: Procellariiformes   Family: Hydrobatidae

Storm-petrels are small birds which spend most of their lives at sea, coming ashore only to breed. They feed on planktonic crustaceans and small fish picked from the surface, typically while hovering or pattering across the water. Their flight is fluttering and sometimes bat-like. There are 22 species worldwide, two of which has been recorded in Sri Lanka.[1]

Common name Binomial Status
Wilson's storm petrel Oceanites oceanicus
Swinhoe's storm petrel Oceanodroma monorhis


Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Phaethontidae

Tropicbirds are slender white birds of tropical oceans, with exceptionally long central tail feathers. Their heads and long wings have black markings. There are three species worldwide of which two have occurred in Sri Lanka.[2]

Common name Binomial Status
Red-tailed tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda
White-tailed tropicbird Phaethon lepturus


Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Pelecanidae

Spot-billed pelican, once common, now rare and endangered

Pelicans are large water birds with a distinctive pouch under their beak. As with other members of the order Pelecaniformes, they have webbed feet with four toes. There are eight species worldwide of which three occur in Sri Lanka.[2]

Common name Binomial Status
Spot-billed pelican Pelecanus philippensis Resident, but rare, probably once bred. Globally threatened[3]
Dalmatian pelican Pelecanus crispus Migrant
Great white pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus Migrant


Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Sulidae

The gannets and boobies in the family Sulidae are medium to large coastal seabirds that plunge-dive for fish. There are nine species worldwide of which three have occurred in Sri Lanka.[2]

Common name Binomial Status
Masked booby Sula dactylatra
Red-footed booby Sula sula
Brown booby Sula leucogaster


Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Phalacrocoracidae

Little cormorant, a resident breeding species

Phalacrocoracidae is a family of medium to large coastal, fish-eating seabirds that includes cormorants and shags. Plumage colouration varies; the majority of species have mainly dark plumage, but some are pied black and white, and a few are more colourful. There are 38 members of this family worldwide, of which three are resident in Sri Lanka.[2]

Common name Binomial Status
Indian cormorant Phalacrocorax fuscicollis Resident
Great cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Resident
Little cormorant Phalacrocorax niger Resident


Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Anhingidae

Oriental darter. Adult of this now rare species

Darters are often called "snake-birds" because they have long thin necks, which gives a snake-like appearance when they swim with their bodies submerged. The males have black and dark-brown plumage, an erectile crest on the nape, and a larger bill than the female. The females have much paler plumage, especially on the neck and underparts. The darters have completely webbed feet and their legs are short and set far back on the body. Their plumage is somewhat permeable, like that of cormorants, and they spread their wings to dry after diving. There are four species worldwide, of which one is resident in Sri Lanka.[2]

Common name Binomial Status
Oriental darter Anhinga melanogaster Resident, but rare and globally threatened, formerly bred[4]


Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Fregatidae

Frigatebirds are large seabirds usually found over tropical oceans. They are large, black and white or completely black, with long wings and deeply forked tails. The males have coloured inflatable throat pouches. They do not swim or walk and cannot take off from a flat surface. Having the largest wingspan-to-body-weight ratio of any bird, they are essentially aerial, able to stay aloft for more than a week. There are five species worldwide of which three occur in Sri Lanka.[2] None are resident.

Common name Binomial Status
Christmas Island frigatebird Fregata andrewsi
Great frigatebird Fregata minor
Lesser frigatebird Fregata ariel

Bitterns, herons and egrets[edit]

Order: Ciconiiformes   Family: Ardeidae

The family Ardeidae contains the bitterns, herons and egrets. Herons and egrets are medium to large wading birds with long necks and legs. Bitterns tend to be shorter necked and more wary. Unlike other long-necked birds such as storks, ibises and spoonbills, members of this family fly with their necks retracted. There are 61 species worldwide of which 17 occur in Sri Lanka.[5]

Yellow bittern
very common resident and winter visitor
Common name Binomial Status
Grey heron Ardea cinerea Resident
Goliath heron Ardea goliath
Purple heron Ardea purpurea Resident
Eastern great egret Ardea modesta Resident
Intermediate egret Egretta intermedia Resident
Little egret Egretta garzetta Resident
Western reef egret Egretta gularis Resident, globally vulnerable[6]
Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis Resident
Indian pond heron Ardeola grayii Resident
Chinese pond heron Ardeola bacchus
Striated heron Butorides striata Resident
Black-crowned night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax Resident
Malayan night-heron Gorsachius melanolophus
Yellow bittern Ixobrychus sinensis Resident
Cinnamon bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus Resident
Black bittern Ixobrychus flavicollis Resident
Eurasian bittern Botaurus stellaris


Order: Ciconiiformes   Family: Ciconiidae

Storks are large, long-legged, long-necked, wading birds with long, stout bills. Storks are virtually mute, but bill-clattering is an important mode of communication at the nest. Their nests can be large and may be reused for many years. Many species are migratory. There are 19 species worldwide of which seven occur in Sri Lanka.[5]

Painted stork
Common name Binomial Status
Painted stork Mycteria leucocephala Resident
Asian openbill Anastomus oscitans Resident
Black stork Ciconia nigra
Woolly-necked stork Ciconia episcopus Resident
White stork Ciconia ciconia
Black-necked stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus Resident, globally threatened[7]
Lesser adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus Resident

Ibises and spoonbills[edit]

Order: Ciconiiformes   Family: Threskiornithidae

Threskiornithidae is a family of large terrestrial and wading birds which comprises the ibises and spoonbills. Its members have long, broad wings with 11 primary and about 20 secondary flight feathers. They are strong fliers and, despite their size and weight, very capable soarers. There are 36 species worldwide of which three occur in Sir Lanka.[5]

Common name Binomial Status
Black-headed ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus Resident, globally threatened[8]
Glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus
Common spoonbill Platalea leucorodia Resident, globally endangered[9]


Order: Ciconiiformes   Family: Phoenicopteridae

Common name Binomial Status
Lesser flamingo Phoenicopterus minor
Greater flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber

Ducks, geese and swans[edit]

Order: Anseriformes   Family: Anatidae

The family Anatidae includes the ducks and most duck-like waterfowl, such as geese and swans. These birds are adapted to an aquatic existence with webbed feet, flattened bills, and feathers that are excellent at shedding water due to an oily coating. There are 131 species worldwide of which 18 occur in Sri Lanka.[10]

Male cotton pygmy-goose
Common name Binomial Status
Fulvous whistling-duck Dendrocygna bicolor
Lesser whistling-duck Dendrocygna javanica Resident
Greylag goose Anser anser
Ruddy shelduck Tadorna ferruginea
Comb duck Sarkidiornis melanotos
Cotton pygmy-goose Nettapus coromandelianus Resident
Eurasian wigeon Anas penelope
Gadwall Anas strepera
Common teal Anas crecca
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Spot-billed duck Anas poecilorhyncha
Northern pintail Anas acuta
Garganey Anas querquedula
Northern shoveler Anas clypeata
Marbled teal Marmaronetta angustirostris
Red-crested pochard Netta rufina
Common pochard Aythya ferina
Tufted duck Aythya fuligula














Little green bee-eater (Merops orientalis) at Yala National Park, Sri Lanka.



See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Onley, Derek; Scofield, Paul (2007). Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters of the World (Helm Field Guides). Christopher Helm Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-7136-4332-3. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Harrison, Peter; Peterson, Roger Tory (1991). Seabirds: A Complete Guide to the Seabirds of the World (Helm Identification Guides). Christopher Helm Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-7136-3510-X. 
  3. ^ BirdLife International (2004). Pelecanus philippensis. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 10 May 2006.
  4. ^ BirdLife International (2006). Anhinga melanogaster. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is near threatened
  5. ^ a b c Walters, Michael P. (1980). Complete Birds of the World. David & Charles PLC. ISBN 0-7153-7666-7. 
  6. ^ BirdLife International (2004). Egretta eulophotes. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is vulnerable
  7. ^ BirdLife International (2006). Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is near threatened
  8. ^ BirdLife International (2006). Threskiornis melanocephalus. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is near threatened
  9. ^ BirdLife International (2006). Platalea minor. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 9 May 2006. Database entry includes a range map and justification for why this species is endangered
  10. ^ Madge, Steve; Burn, Hilary (1988). Wildfowl: An Identification Guide to the Ducks, Geese and Swans of the World (Helm Identification Guides). Christopher Helm. ISBN 0-7470-2201-1. 
  11. ^ de Silva Wijeratne, Gehan; Warakagoda, Deepal; de Zylva, T.S.U. (2007). "Species description". A Photographic Guide to Birds of Sri Lanka. New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-85974-511-3. 
  • "Splitting headaches? Recent taxonomic changes affecting the British and Western Palaearctic lists" - Martin Collinson, British Birds vol 99 (June 2006), 306-323

Further reading[edit]

  • A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka by John Harrison and Tim Worfolk
  • Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka by G.M.Henry