Madagascar Nature

Birding Madagascar

Madagascar is known as “The Eighth Continent” largely because its birds, animals and plants are absolutely nothing like those of any of the other seven continents and presents travelers with an “other-worldly” experience. Despite being a stone’s throw from the African mainland (250 miles from coast of Mozambique), it’s nothing at all like Africa proper. This is likely because it has been isolated for so long – when it split away from India, it gradually drifted towards Africa and is now very close – albeit not close enough to have shared its birds or other wildlife, judging by its amazing faunal and floral uniqueness.

Over 70% of the 250,000 wildlife species in Madagascar are found nowhere else in the world. The same is true of the birds, with over 100 endemic species being found (more than half the total bird species), plus a further twenty near-endemics. And if you are a collector of bird families there are four here that are endemic - the Mesites, Asities, Bernierids, and Ground-Rollers. The Long-tailed Ground Roller, for example, represents an entire genus endemic to a small part of southwestern Madagascar.

Mammals are another key reason for visiting including many species of lemur. Although there is all of this variety to see, one challenge is that due to massive deforestation the species are mainly found in small pockets of habitat, often one hundred miles or more from each other, and it is only through the efforts of conservationists that we are able to enjoy these species today. Efforts to save species are continuing and recently the Madagascar Pochard has been found to survive at Lake Sofia. This is one of the world’s rarest birds and has disappeared from many sites where large areas of marshland have been converted to rice paddies.

A typical tour of Madagascar will allow you to see around 200 species of birds. Anyone deciding to visit independently should secure the services of an official national park guide at each site; these guides are absolutely brilliant at finding the birds and without their help you would be hard pressed to find many of the birds. This is a relatively expensive destination to visit but one to see soon before any more habitat is lost to agriculture.

Madagascar has the dubious distinction of  being where internationally renowned bird watcher Phoebe Snetsinger saw her last bird - the Red-shoulderd Vanga (pictured below)- before her 1999 death in a vehicle accident. Contributed by Keith Betton/African Bird Club.

Calicalicus_rufocarpalis_-_Redshouldered_vanga by Attis1979 Wikimedia Commons


What to See in Madagascar

Notable Birds in Madagascar (click species name to see related articles)

  • Anjouan Scops Owl
  • Appert's Tetraka
  • Archbold's Newtonia
  • Banded Kestrel
  • Bernier's Teal
  • Bernier's Vanga
  • Blue Coua (1)
  • Blue Vanga
  • Brown Emutail
  • Brown Mesite
  • Chabert Vanga
  • Collared Nightjar (1)
  • Common Jery
  • Common Newtonia
  • Common Sunbird-Asity
  • Coquerel's Coua
  • Crested Coua (1)
  • Crossley's Vanga
  • Cryptic Warbler
  • Dark Newtonia
  • Dusky Tetraka
  • Forest Fody
  • Giant Coua (1)
  • Green Jery
  • Grey Emutail
  • Grey-crowned Tetraka
  • Grey-headed Lovebird
  • Helmet Vanga (2)
  • Henst's Goshawk
  • Hook-billed Vanga
  • Humblot's Heron
  • Karthala Scops Owl
  • Lafresnaye's Vanga
  • Littoral Rock Thrush
  • Long-billed Bernieria
  • Long-tailed Ground-roller (4)
  • Madagascan Blue Pigeon
  • Madagascan Buttonquail
  • Madagascan Buzzard
  • Madagascan Cisticola
  • Madagascan Cuckoo-Hawk
  • Madagascan Cuckooshrike
  • Madagascan Fish Eagle
  • Madagascan Flufftail
  • Madagascan Grebe
  • Madagascan Green Pigeon
  • Madagascan Harrier-Hawk
  • Madagascan Hoopoe
  • Madagascan Ibis
  • Madagascan Jacana
  • Madagascan Lark
  • Madagascan Magpie-Robin
  • Madagascan Mannikin
  • Madagascan Owl
  • Madagascan Partridge
  • Madagascan Plover
  • Madagascan Pochard
  • Madagascan Pratincole
  • Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher
  • Madagascan Rail
  • Madagascan Sandgrouse

    Notable Mammals and Other Wildlife

    • Golden Bamboo Lemur
    • Greater Bamboo Lemur
    • Rufous-tailed Dwarf Lemur
    • Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur
    • Red-ruffed Lemur
    • Eastern Avahi
    • Standing’s Gecko
    • Verreaux’s Siffaka
    • Short-nosed Chameleon
    • Parson's Chamelion

    Other Attractions

    • Avenue of the Baobabs- home to Africa's "upside down trees" and an array of wildlife
    • Royal Hill of Ambohimanga- a UNESCO World Heritage site, location of ancient city ruins and significant Madagascar history
    • Peyrieras Reptile Reserve- a reptile,butterfly and nature farm this is a unique and popular stop for tourists traveling between Antananarivo and Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
    • Cape Sainte Marie- this southernmost point of Madagascar houses the Cap Sainte Marie Special Reserve. This is the only location in the world that holds populations of Radiated and Spider tortoise. The coast is also popular from August-November when Humpback whale migrate through with calves

    Where and When to Go

    Nature & Birding Hotspots in Madagascar

    • Ankarafantsika Reserve
    • Ampijoroa National Park
    • Ranomafana National Park
    • Anja Lemur Reserve
    • Plateau l’Horombe
    • Mantadia National Park
    • Masoala National Park
    • Nosy Mangabe

    Madagascar Ecolodges/Accommodations

    • Le Karthala guesthouse
    • Tsara Guest House
    • Hotel Sakamanga
    • Merina Lodge

    Best Time to Go

    Visit from September-December to check out breeding plumage and behavior, which conveniently happens to fall between the cold, dry season and hot rainy season!

    If your'e looking for attractions outside the birding world,  January-March is peak season for Herpetofauna as well as orchids!

    July-August, although the coolest time of the year, Whale watching season is in full swing!

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