10 Best Bird Sanctuaries in India for Birdwatching

India is a bird watcher's paradise, particularly in bird sanctuaries where the critical habitat has been preserved. Winter is generally the best time for birding, as many places receive migratory birds that are attracted by the warmer weather of India's subtropical climate. In order to maximize bird sightings, go very early in the morning and/or around sunset.

  • 01 of 10

    Keoladeo Ghana National Park, Rajasthan

    Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary.
    ••• SoumenNath/Getty Images.

    Formerly Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, this renowned 30 square kilometer national park was once a duck hunting reserve of the maharajas. It has more than 350 species of birds, including a large congregation of non-migratory resident breeding birds. The park is open from sunrise until sunset all year round, although a third of it is often submerged during the monsoon season. Inside the park, it's possible to walk, ride bicycles (recommended), or take a cycle rickshaw or boat (when the water level is high).

    Stay at Royal Farm guest house and enjoy delicious home cooked organic food, or splurge at the heritage Chandra Mahal Haveli.

    • Location: Bharatpur, 50 kilometers from Agra.
    • Entry Fee: 75 rupees for Indians and 500 rupees for foreigners.
    • Open: Sunrise until sunset.
    • When to Visit: August to November for resident breeding birds and November to March for migrant birds.
  • 02 of 10

    Mangalajodi, Odisha

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    ••• Birds at Mangalajodi. Sharell Cook.

    The serene wetlands at Mangalajodi are an important flyways destination for migratory water birds. However, what's really exceptional is how unusually close-up you get to see them by boat! Mangalajodi is also an inspiring success story of community-based eco-tourism. Villagers used to be expert bird hunters, in order to make a living. Now, the former poachers have become protectors, using their formidable knowledge of the wetlands to guide visitors on bird watching trips. Plan your trip there with this Mangalajodi travel guide.

    • Location: 70 kilometers southwest of Bhubaneshwar, on the northern edge of Chilika Lake in Odisha.
    • Entry Fee: Free (apart from cost of boat trips).
    • Open: Always.
    • When to Visit: mid December to February.
  • 03 of 10

    Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttarakhand

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    ••• Himalayan bulbul. Mayur Kotlikar/Getty Images.

    One of the last remaining patches of natural oak forest in the Himalayas of Uttarakhand, Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is said to be home to 200 species of birds (animals are rarely seen) and offers some spectacular mountain views. There are a number of treks and walks that you can do.

    Stay inside the sanctuary at KMVN Rest House, Khali Estate, Idyllic Haven Homestay, or Binsar Forest Retreat.

    • Location: About 35 kilometers north of Almora, in Uttarakhand. It's located atop the Jhandi Dhar hills.
    • Entry Fee: 150 rupees for Indians and 600 rupees for foreigners. Plus, 250 rupees per vehicle.
    • Open: Sunrise until sunset.
    • When to Visit: October to February. Although it's cold in winter, this is the best time for birding as some species descend from higher altitudes and migratory birds arrive.
  • 04 of 10

    Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Karnataka

    Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary
    ••• Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. Niels van Gijn/Getty Images

    Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, the largest in Karnataka, can be visited on a day trip from Bangalore or Mysore. This sanctuary is comprised of a series of islands and islets on the Cauvery River. Take a ranger-guided boat tour along the river to spot the many migratory birds (and crocodiles!).

    • Location: Near Srirangapatna, 19 kilometers from Mysore in Karnataka.
    • Entry Fee: 50 rupees for Indians and 300 rupees for foreigners. Boating also costs 50 rupees for Indians and 300 rupees for foreigners.
    • Open: 8.30 a.m. until 6 p.m.
    • When to Visit: Peak nesting time is February.
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, Haryana

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    ••• Kishore Bhargava/Getty Images

    What Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary lacks in size (it's spread over 1.45 square kilometers) it makes up for in convenience, as it's situated not far from Delhi. This makes it a particularly popular place for bird watching (and picnics). The picturesque park has a decent number of both local and migratory birds. You'll find birds from as far as Siberia flocking to its lake and the view is largely obscured, making them easy to spot. There is a tourist center, circular walking trail and four watchtowers. However, depending on water levels, the birds may be quite far off. It's worth hiring binoculars there.

    • Location: 50 kilometers southwest of Delhi, in the Gurgaon district of Haryana.
    • Entry Fee: 10 rupees for Indians. 600 rupees for foreigners. Cameras 50 rupees.
    • Open: 7 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. Closed on Tuesdays and usually during breeding season (from June to August or September).
    • When to Visit: December to February.
  • 06 of 10

    Thattekkad Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Kerala

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    ••• Retheesh Kalathil Photography/Getty Images

    Tranquil 25 square kilometer Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary is situated on the north bank of Kerala's Periyar River. It has a dense canopy populated with over 300 species of migratory and resident birds. Unlike most parks, these birds are in the forest, rather than the water. You can spot them by going on a two to three hour trek. Butterflies are an added highlight. Stay at Jungle Bird Homestay, riverside tented Hornbill Camp, or the more luxurious Soma Birds Lagoon Resort.

    • Location: 12 km from Kothamangalam, in the Ernakulam district of Kerala. It's a 2 hour drive from Kochi airport.
    • Entry Fee: 10 rupees for Indians and 100 rupees for foreigners. Cameras 25 rupees.
    • Open: Sunrise until sunset.
    • When to Visit: January and February.
  • 07 of 10

    Vedantangal Bird Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu

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    ••• Tim Graham/Getty Images

    A top side trip from Chennai, Vedantangal Bird Sanctuary is one of the smallest and oldest sanctuaries of its kind in India (its history dates back to British Raj era). Measuring just 0.3 square kilometers, it's an important breeding ground for the migratory water birds that come to nest in its open mangrove habitat. Common species include storks, pelicans, and ibises. Locals rely on bird droppings in the water to increase its nitrogen content and create a natural fertilizer.

    • Location: Around 50 kilometers southwest of Mammallapuram, in Tamil Nadu.
    • Entry Fee: 25 rupees for adults, 5 rupees for children. This is one of the rare places in India where the price is the same for Indians and foreigners. Cameras are 25 rupees.
    • Open: Sunrise until sunset, between November and March.
    • When to Visit: December and January.
  • 08 of 10

    Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary, Gujarat

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    ••• Rupal Vaidya/Getty Images

    The substantially sized 120 square kilometer Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary is made up of Nalsarovar Lake and surrounding wetlands. Around 200 different types of migratory birds can be found there, including moorhens, spoonbills, pelicans, lesser and greater flamingos, storks, bitterns, cranes, grebes, ducks and herons. Unfortunately, it's not set up very well for tourists though. Facilities are poor and boat operators are not properly regulated.

    • Location: 65 kilometers southwest of Ahmedabad, in Gujarat.
    • Entry Fee: 55 rupees for Indians on weekdays, 60 rupees for Indians on weekends, and 250 rupees for foreigners. Cameras 100 rupees. The cost of boat trips is additional (be prepared to haggle hard with the boatmen).
    • Open:  Sunrise until sunset.
    • When to Visit:  December to February. If you want a peaceful experience, avoid weekends and holidays.
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh

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    ••• Hira Punjabi/Getty Images

    If you like adventure far off the beaten track, there's no better place to go bird watching than vast Namdapha National Park. A biodiversity hotspot, it covers an astonishing 1985 square kilometers and has 500 species of birds, along with an unparalleled array of other wildlife. There's a forest rest house and campsites inside the park, and porters and guides can be hired. Kipepeo also runs guided treks and tours there. Do note that permits are required to enter Arunachal Pradesh.

    • Location: The park lies along the Noa-Dihing River at the border between India and Myanmar, in Arunachal Pradesh. The access point is Miao, although the park headquarters are located further in at Deban. It's best reached from Dibrugarh in Assam (160 kilometers away). The nearest railway station is at Tinsukia.
    • Entry Fee: 50 rupees for Indians. 350 rupees for foreigners. Ordinary camera 100 rupees. DSLR camera with zoom lens 500 rupees.
    • When to Visit: November to March.
  • 10 of 10

    Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, Kerala

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    ••• Elmar Akhmetov/Getty Images

    This well known bird sanctuary is a popular attraction along the Kerala Backwaters (there are some lovely hotels and resorts in the area too). However, a common complaint is that it's difficult to find many birds there. The sanctuary can be explored on foot or best by canoe, hired from local fishermen at the entrance.

    • Location: Vembanad Lake, near Kottayam in Kerala.
    • Open: Sunrise to sunset.
    • Entry Fee: 50 rupees for Indians. 150 rupees for foreigners.
    • When to Visit: Between June and August, the breeding season for resident wetland birds. The migratory bird season is from November to February.