Cambodia is a unique habitat for birds, utterly dominated and shaped by the annual inundation of the Mekong flood plain and Tonle Sap Lake, the awesome effects of which are difficult to over-exaggerate and which dramatically govern almost all aspects of life for its peoples and wildlife alike.

Dam projects upriver, both at home and beyond in both Laos and China, together with highly questionable land concessions and poor management of resources are certain to drastically change the realities of everyday life for all the inhabitants of Cambodia, potentially catastrophically. For now, Cambodia remains home to 551 bird species, many of which are already critically endangered.  

Prek Toal Bird Reserve, close to Siem Reap and Angkor, on the western shore of Tonle Sap Lake has over 150 species of bird and is an important haven for Lesser and Greater Adjutants, Milky and Painted Storks, Black-headed Ibis, Oriental Darter, Spot-billed Pelican and Grey-headed Fish Eagles among many other water birds including Herons and Egrets.

To the north of the lake, Ang Trapaeng Thmor Sarus Crane Reserve is a dry season home to a population of over 300 of these endangered creatures, who are present between January and May. If you arrive at other times, you may miss the Cranes, but with 198 other residents, some 18 of which are of global concern, a visit is still well worthwhile. Other inhabitants include Asian Openbills, Red Avadavets, Lesser Whistling and Comb Ducks, Blue-breasted Quail, Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, Black Kites and Eastern Marsh Harriers, together with many of the species found at Prek Toal.

On the western fringes of Tonle Sap Lake, the Bengal Florican Reserves are host to one of the most globally significant populations of Bengal Floricans, which can be found along with Greater Adjutants, Painted Storks, Sarus Cranes and Manchurian Reed Warblers.

Around Ankgor Wat, the preservation of this vast archaeological site has offered refuge to local bird populations and provides a unique opportunity to combine watching the comings and goings of feathered creatures while visiting these astonishing monuments. Commonly encountered species include Oriental Pied-Hornbills, White-crested Laughingthrushes, White throated and Blue Rock Thrushes, Forest Wagtails, Yellow-browed and Pale-legged Leaf Warblers, Taiga, Asian Brown and Hainan Blue Flycatchers, and Olive-backed Pipits.

A little way beyond the archaeological park, Phnom Kulen National Park, home of the famous underwater Khmer carvings, is host to a rich variety of interesting birdlife, despite continuing degradation of their habitats, within which can be found Crested-serpent and Rufous-bellied Eagles, Rufous-winged Buzzards, Spotted and Asian-barred Owlets, together with Heart-spotted, Greater Flameback, Greater Yellownape, Black-headed, Grey-capped Pygmy and Great Slaty woodpeckers among a variety of warblers, bulbils, babblers and orioles.

In northern Cambodia, within Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, are the Prey Veng, Tmatboey and Preah Vihear birdwatching sites, at which can be found Giant and White-shouldered Ibis, White winged Ducks, Greater Adjutants, Black-necked and Woolly-necked Storks, Greater-spotted Eagles, White-rumped Falcons, Collared Falconets, Brown Fish Owls, Brown and Spotted Wood Owls, Green Peafowl, Black Baza, Crested Treeswifts, Burmese Shrikes, Black-hooded Orioles, white-shouldered Starling and Masked Finfoot. At Preah Vihear, the ‘Vulture Restaurant’ provides a facility to watch the feeding frenzies of Red-headed, Slender-billed and White-rumped Vultures.

To the east, near Kratie, along the Mekong River, the Mekong Wagtail is the star attraction among Little-ringed Plovers, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, White Wagtails, Golden Weavers and Chesnut-capped Babblers.

In eastern Cambodia, beyond the Mekong River, the Seima Protected Forest plays host to Orange-necked and Scaly-breasted Partridges, Green Peafowl, Germain’s Peacock Pheasants, Red-vented Barbets, and White-browed Scimitar Babblers, among many others sharing their habitat with Macaques and Gibbons.

On the southern coast of Cambodia, the estuary and wetlands of the Sre Ambel River, to the north of Sihanoukville, are another place to observe water birds, though in far smaller numbers than at other sites in the country. Species found here include Milky, Painted, Woolly-necked and Black-necked Storks, Giant and White-shouldered Ibis and Sarus Cranes, while at nearby Bokor National Park, Siberian Blue Robins, Emerald Doves, Green-eared, Blue-eared and Moustached Barbets, Streaked Wren-babblers, Racket-tailed Treepies, Little Spiderhunters and Black-throated Sunbird are among the stars.