To see a fair spectrum of the endemics, divide your time between rainforest, spiny forest and dry deciduous forest. Add wetlands if time permits. During a stay of two or three weeks, you should be able to tick off most of the island’s sought-after ‘lifers’. Here are some birding hotspots:
Rainforest birding is best from mid-September to January. Around Andasibe you can see most of the broadly distributed rainforest endemics. Specials include collared nightjar, red-fronted coua, Rand’s warbler, coral-billed nuthatch vanga and Tylas vanga. In rank herbaceous growth, look for Madagascar wood rail, white-throated rail and Madagascar fluff tail.
At Mantadia the pitta-like, scaly (rare) and short-legged ground-rollers occur, as do velvet asity, common sunbird-asity and brown emutail. Two wetlands nearby, Torotorofotsy and Ampasipotsy, hold Madagascar rail, Madagascar snipe, grey emutail and Madagascar swamp warbler.
Ranomafana is best known for ground-rollers (pitta-like and rufous-headed especially) as well as brown mesite, yellow-browed oxylabes, Crossley’s babbler, grey-crowned greenbul, forest rock thrush and Pollen’s vanga. Velvet and common sunbirdasities are plentiful. On high ridges, look for yellow-bellied sunbird-asity, brown emutail and cryptic warbler. Birding in Masoala is exceptional. Specials include brown mesite, red-breasted coua, scaly ground-roller and the helmet and Bernier’s vangas. The extremely rare Madagascar serpent eagle and Madagascar red owl have a stronghold here but both are highly elusive.
Western tropical dry deciduous forests
An outstanding birding locality year-round, Ankarafantsika holds most of the western specials, including white-breasted mesite, Coquerel’s coua, Schlegel’s asity and Van Dam’s vanga. Several other vangas (sickle-billed, rufous, Chabert’s, white-headed, blue and rufous) abound.
Raptors include the Madagascar fish eagle, Madagascar harrier-hawk and Madagascar sparrow-hawk. You can also find Madagascar crested ibis and Madagascar pygmy kingfisher. In the Betsiboka Delta look for Humblot’s heron, Madagascar teal, Madagascar white ibis and Madagascar jacana.
A seriously unmissable experience year-round, Zombitse is included in all birding itineraries for the Appert’s greenbul. It also holds an impressive variety of other endemics, such as giant and crested couas.
Look out for Madagascar partridge, Madagascar buttonquail, Madagascar sandgrouse, greater and lesser vasa parrots, grey-headed lovebird, Madagascar green pigeon, Madagascar hoopoe, Thamnornis warbler, common newtonia, common jery, long-billed green sunbird, white-headed and blue vangas, and Sakalava weaver.
Birding in this zone is excellent year-round; start just before daybreak. The spiny bush at Ifaty is home to some extremely localised birds, notably sub-desert mesite, long-tailed ground-roller, Lafresnaye’s vanga and Archbold’s newtonia.
Look for running coua, sub-desert brush-warbler, banded kestrel and Madagascar nightjar. On the lower coral ragg scrub around St Augustine’s Bay and Anakao, you will find Verreaux’s coua, littoral rock thrush and the recently described red-shouldered vanga. At puddles along the road look for Madagascar plover.
Read more about Madagascar’s fantastic flora and fauna in our pioneering guidebook: