Anjuna Beach, Goa. Image: David Williams
The coastal state of Goa is the land of emerald beaches and dark hills covered in deep forests. Located in the Konkan region of the Central west coast of India, Goa is wedged between the Arabian Sea on the west and the Western Ghats (Sahayadri range) on the east. The Western Ghats are one of the richest reservoirs of biodiversity in the world with a bewildering complexity in plant, animal and bird life.
This tiny state is bounded by the Indian states of Maharashtra in the north, and Karnataka in the east and south. Altitudes here ranges from sea level along the 100 km coastline to more than 700 mts above sea level in the Western Ghats which run north-south along the eastern boundary.
Goa is India's richest state, and tourism is Goa's leading industry attracting 12% of all international travellers to India. Tourists visit the beaches, archaeological sites and many come for the rewarding birdwatching experience. Other industries in Goa include mining, agriculture, fishery and industry.
Goa is under the influence of two global biomes - the marine biome of the Arabian Sea and the terrestrial forest biome of the Western Ghats. Within this geographical canvas are a wide range of ecosystems. Laterization caps which occur on account of the tropical moist climatic conditions are extensive over most of the area, and they have by and large determined the nature of the region’s vegetative cover.
Physiographically, Goa can be divided into three ecological zones:
Coastal plains: The coastal belt with sandy beaches broken by the wide mangrove-lined estuaries of the Mandovi and Zuari rivers and interspersed with estuaries, salt-pans, marshes and tidal mudflats. This coastal habitat extends into the interior as far as the tidal influence reaches along the large rivers.
Middle Plateau: The midland region is distinguished by large lateritic table-lands with stony outcrops and marked by thorny scrubland and plantations. The plateau slopes at the foothills of the Sahayadris have patches of secondary and degraded moist-deciduous and semi-evergreen forests.
Western Ghat region: The Sahyadris of the Western Ghats are covered by mixed moist deciduous forests, semi-evergreen and evergreen forests interspersed with bamboo and cane brakes.
Goa falls in the Malabar Coast moist forests (IM0124) bio-geographic zone. The ecoregion represents the semi-evergreen forests along India's Konkan Coast, a thin strip of land lying between the Arabian Sea to the west and the Western Ghats Mountains to the east. The original vegetation was tropical evergreen (Champion and Seth 1968), but the forests have been largely replaced or interspersed with teak, giving the vegetation a semi-deciduous character.
Goa has three forest types. Forests occupy 33% of the land area.
(i) Tropical Evergreen.
(ii) Tropical Semi-Evergreen.
(iii) Littoral and Swamp forests.
These forests are characterized by the following species: Tetrameles nudiflora, Stereospermum personatum, Dysoxylum binectariferum, Ficus nervosa, Ficus glomerata, Pterocarpus marsupium, Salmalia malabarica, Terminalia bellerica, Terminalia tomentosa, Anogeissus latifolia, Dalbergia latifolia, Lannea coromandelica, Madhuca indica, Garuga pinnata, Syzygium cumini, Olea dioica, Pouteria tomentosa, Bridelia retusa, Mangifera spp., Actinodaphne angustifolia and Myristica swamps.
Goa's diversity of ecosystems comprising coastal, mangrove, estuarine grassland, wetland and Western Ghat habitats favour a great diversity of bird species. The bird list reaches almost 500 species including 17 species endemic or near-endemic to the region. Key birds include Red Spurfowl, Malabar Trogon, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Malabar Parakeet, Malabar and Malabar Pied Hornbills, Brown-backed Needletail, Oriental Bay Owl, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Grey-headed Bulbul, Wynaad Laughingthrush, White-bellied Woodpecker, White-bellied Blue-flycatcher, White-bellied Treepie, eight kingfisher species including Collared and Blue-eared and a host of shorebirds and surprise rarities like the Black-legged Kittiwake.
Malabar Pied Hornbill
Sri Lanka Frogmouth
Great Crested Tern
What makes Goa a great place for birding is a well-developed birding industry covering a relatively small area. Nowhere else in India will you find trained guides and birding infrastructure in the scale and quality available at Goa. This makes birding in Goa fruitful, and it is possible to see over 250 species including regional endemics.
Goa birding map
Goa birding hotspots
Baga village is located on the beach, 18 km from Panjim. Birds in the grassland are open area Indian species such as pipits, larks, munias, swallows, rollers, bee-eaters and raptors. Forested areas around Saligao Zor hold barbets, cuckoos, green pigeons, sunbirds, flowerpeckers, woodpeckers, orioles, starlings etc. The marshy areas behind the Beira Mar hotel can be a good place to see crakes, rails, bitterns, painted-snipes, sandpipers, raptors and other inland waders.
Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary
Bondla WLS lies 50 km east of Panjim & is a short drive from Backwoods Camp. The sanctuary is only 8 sq. km in area but is covered with good mixed forest at the foothills of the Western Ghats. Good forest birds here include Black Eagle, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Malabar Trogon, Grey Junglefowl, Orange-headed Thrush, Indian Pitta, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Forest Wagtail, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, woodpeckers, barbets, orioles, wood shrikes, parakeets, flycatchers and many more.
Carambolim is a large, marshy, lotus-covered lake about 10 km from Panjim. The lake margins have areas covered with good scrub, woodland and agricultural land. Carambolim is good place to catch up with Indian waterbirds and wintering wildfowl. Species seen here include kingfishers, terns, reed-birds, cormorants, jacanas, lapwings, storks, pratincoles and other common wader species. Regular wildfowl include Lesser Whistling-duck, Cotton Pygmy-goose, Garganey, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Comb Duck, Spot-billed Duck and others. It is also a good place for raptors like Marsh Harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle, Indian Spotted Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Booted Eagle and Osprey. The woodlands hold various species of wintering warblers, woodpeckers, barbets, orioles and cuckoos. The scrub holds wagtails, pipits, munias, larks, starlings, bulbuls etc.
Dr. Salim Ali WLS, Chorao Island and Mayem Lake
Chorao Island lies in the middle of the Mandovi River and is subject to tidal influence. It is a good place to find waders and species like Western Reef Egret, Lesser Adjutant and Woolly-necked Stork.
Mayem Lake is close to Chorao Is. and has extensive tree cover around it. A popular place to find your Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Indian Scimitar Babbler, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon or Brown Fish Owl.
Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary
Coatiago WLS is covered with mixed deciduous forests and is very similar to Bondla in terms of species diversity. It is 85 km south of Panjim.
The mangrove-lined Cumbarjua Canal south of Carambolim Lake is a place to find the Collared Kingfisher. Other species seen on the Zuari cruise include most of the tern and kingfisher species in the area and raptors like Osprey and White-bellied Sea-eagle.
Fort Aguada occupies the headland on the northern shore of the Mandovi River. There is good scrub around the ruins of the fort and a place to easily catch up with some Indian resident species. The nearby Nerul River has a few mangrove patches where you can look for kingfishers, waders and shorebirds.
Mollem is about 60 kms from Panjim and is the gateway to the 250 sq. km Bhagwan Mahavir National Park and WLS in the Sahyadri Hills of the Western Ghats. Mollem holds a number of specialities including Malabar Pied Hornbill, Dark-fronted Babbler, Indian scimitar babbler, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Common Flameback, White-naped Woodpecker, Brown-breasted, Rusty-tailed Flycatchers and others.
Image: David Williams
This is a high tide roost and is the best place to find gulls, terns and shorebirds. Morjim lies to the north of Baga. Good birds here include Slender-billed Gull, Great and Lesser Crested and Caspian Terns, Crab Plover, sandplovers, pratincoles, and the White-bellied Sea-eagle.
Where to stay
Goa has an abundance of hotels catering to tourists of all kinds. Accommodation is largely concentrated along the coastline at places like Candolim, Calangute, Baga, Arpora, Anjuna, Majorda, Colva, Cavelossim and Mobor. There are some hotels that specialize in handling birdwatchers or are located in suitable areas for birdwatching. These include:
Matkan, Tambdi Surla, Sancordem, Sanguem, Goa
Contact: Loven Pereira +91 982 214 4939
Marinha Dourada, Arpora
Riverside Regency, Baga
Beira Mar, Baga
Ronil Royale, Baga
Marbella Guesthouse, Sinquerim
Entry and travel
Dabolim Airport near Panjim is the easiest entry point into Goa for both foreign and Indian visitors. There are also well-developed road and rail systems connecting Goa with the rest of the country. For getting around in Goa, hired cabs are the preferred means of transport. Many drivers are familiar with key birding sites.
Important Facts and figures
Area: 3,702 sq. km
State capital: Panaji or Panjim
Language: Konkani. English is widely used.
Staple food: Fish curry and rice.
Key rivers: Mandovi, Zuari, Terekhol, Chapora and Sal.
Bhagwan Mahaveer WLS and Mollem National Park
Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
Temperatures: Hot and humid for most of the year. High 35C; Low 21C
Location: Between 14º 53' to 15º 48' N and 73º 40' to 74º 21' E
Birds of Goa by ENVIS
Birds and Birdwatching Potential in Goa - Goa Tourism
Biodiversity in Goa - Goa Foundation
Wikipedia page on Goa
Important Bird Areas in India - Goa by IBCN
A Birdwatcher' Guide to India by Krys Kazmierczak and Raj Singh
Checklist of Birds of Goa by Parag Rangnekar