Birding on Sumba

Sumba is part of East Nusa Tenggara, famous for its megalithic traditions, one of which is Pasola. On this island, grassland and monsoon forest are still well preserved place for various animal species. Approximately ± 200 species of birds, ± 110 species of butterflies, ± 35 species of herpetofauna and ± 23 species of mammals. In particular, Sumba island has 36 endemic species and about 14 species of islands endemic.

For birdwatchers, Lewa, Yumbu-bridge and Manurara are mandatory locations to seek endemics. In August 2017 we found a new birding site in Sumba island. In the area of the only national park on the island, named Billa. This location is better than Lewa, especially for bird-photography. Almost all endemic species are within a very close distance and can be accessed by foot. Yet, by far the best location to see Sumba Buttonquail, is the grassland around Yumbu.

The following information on the birding site in Sumba:

Billa, Praingkareha Resort

It is part of Manupeu Tana Daru and Laiwangi Wanggameti National Park, located in the southern part of the island. Administratively entered into District Tabundung East Sumba, Nusa Tenggara province. To get to Billa from Waingapu is about 4-5 hours (110 Km).

Almost all endemic species can be found (except for Sumba Buttonquail) without moving from one site to another. Paradise for bird-photographers especially in August – October when the river dries up until the remaining small pools.

All passerine like Spectacled Monarch, Sumba Brown Flycatcher, Sumba Jungle Flycatcher, Sumba Flycatcher, Orange-backed Thrush, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Arafura Fantail, Oriental-dwarf Kingfisher, Paradise-flycatcher and Elegant Pitta Paradise will come for a drink, easy to taking a photo. On the edge of the river can be found Red-naped Fruitdove, Sumba Green Pigeon, Sumba Cicadabird.

There is a hill called Laibola, about 30 minutes from the camping area to its peak. The best location in the morning to see Billa landscape along with the rising of the Sun, the birds will start actively looking for perch such as dozens of Sumba Hornbill before the breeding period, Yellow-crested Cockatoo, Electus Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, Great-billed Parrot and Marigold Lorikeet.

Greater Sumba Boobook easy to find in Billa

At night, just go to the public toilet Greater Sumba boobok will sound and be easily observed along with a dozen Least Sumba Boobooks and Meesi Nightjar.


A village located in the middle of the island, still has a nice monsoon forest to see the endemics, accessible by driving from Waingapu (City center) about 1 hour 30 minutes (55 Km).

The main location consists of several sections along the connecting roads of West and East Sumba, among others: a patch of degraded forest east of Lewa at KM51 on the road, c10km west of Lewa at KM68-72; c20km south of Lewa near the village of Watumbela; and about 30km west of Lewa at KM93-98.

Elegant Pitta, endemic race of the island

The birds might be can see Sumba Green Pigeon, Elegant Pitta, Chestnut-backed Thrush, Mees’s Nightjar, Orange-crested Cockatoo, Sumba Hornbill, Pale-headed Munia, Five-coloured Munia, Barn Owl, Greater Sumba Boobook, Little Sumba Boobook, Sumba-jungle Flycatcher, Sumba Flycatcher, Sumba-brown Flycatcher.

Yumbu Grassland

This site was commonly visited for Sumba Buttonquail. An area of open savannah like grassland east of town (12km from the airport). Aim for a road bridge at Yumbu. Walked the grasslands south east of the bridge, and also briefly north of the bridge.

Access and Accommodation

The best way for you to get to all the locations in Sumba is by renting a car, because it makes it easier to reach each site. The trails can be a bit confusing so you may consider asking a local for assistance as a guide.

In Billa there are no hotels or homestays. Asking local people for stay at night or build a tent on a camping area (close with spring water and public toilet). Unlike Lewa and Yumbu, you can stay at night at Hotel in Waingapu and drive to the site in the early morning.

New Birding Site on Sumba Island DISCOVERED!

Only Sumba Buttonquail Turnix everetti and Mees’s Nightjar Caprimulgus meesi were not seen through our binoculars or lenses during the 9 days we were in Sumba. Sumba is an island in southern Indonesia, rich in various ikat weavings, vast grasslands, a strong ethnic culture and an endless list of interesting spectacles for tourists to enjoy. We came here looking for new birding spots to see the island’s endemic birds.

Depart from Juanda International Airport and transit briefly at Ngurah Rai International Airport and arrive at Umbu Mehang Kunda Airport, Waingapu, East Sumba Regency at 11:40 on 17 August. From 18 August to 22 August 2017 we attended the 2017 Birding and Photo Competition held by Manupeu Tana Daru & Laiwangi Wanggameti NP at Praingkareha resort in Billa Village, which was attended by about 55 participants from many regions in Indonesia. After the event was over, we stayed for the next 3 days and nights to watch and take documentation of the birds.

The day before the competition started, we went to Lambanapu village, 7 Km south of Waingapu for a short birding. We met with Pak Kornelis, a woven ikat craftsman who still practices in the traditional style using natural dyes. He kindly let us, with permission, go birding in his garden and rice fields, only 300 meters from his house.

Ikat weaver of Lambanapu village, East Sumba

His garden area contained many plants including Tamarind, Morinda, Kapok Randu, Indigo. We were accompanied by two teenagers, who acted as our guides. For nearly two years, the boys have been diligently documenting the local biodiversity including birds around the Village, so they are well aware of the birds that live there.

Around big Tamarind tree we observed Arafura Fantail, Broad-billed Flycatcher, Indonesian Honeyeater, Sumba Flowerpecker, Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Ashy-bellied White-eye and our main target Asian “Nusa Tenggara” Paradise-flycatcher.
Around 15:00 we continued observations from the edge of the paddy fields that were filled with shrubs along the banks of the river. We saw Pale-headed Munia, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Scaly-breasted Munia, Pied Bush-chat, Paddyfield Pipit, Brahminy Kite and at the end of the session a few flocks of “Timor” Zebra Finch.

That night we stayed at Waingapu then on the following day along with the participants, we left for Billa using local public transport called OTO. OTO is a truck modified in such a way as to transport humans, agricultural produce and even livestock!. It was an epic form of public transportation!

The trip from Waingapu to Billa (110 km to the south) took 4 hours , including about 1.5 hours of fine asphalt road, and numerous stops along the famous Wairinding hill, and several other interesting locations to enjoy views of the picturesque Sumba landscape. The rest of the journey (2.5 hours) was along an ugly 1980s asphalt road that wasn’t in good condition at all, making the ride very bumpy and uncomfortable.

We finally arrived at Praingkareha resort, Billa Village at 15:00, and headed to a river that still runs as a small stream, with some puddles at the end of the dry season. Along the river various kinds of trees grow, the fallen leaves scattered on the rocky bottom, yet the water still flows over them.

During our stay (until 25 August 2017) the river was an ideal place to search for endemic and resident birds.

Birds that we met here such as:

Endemic Chestnut-backed Thrush , which can be found every day, sometimes perched on a branch above the river or looking for insects behind leaves and near puddles. Orange-footed Scrubfowl scavenged busily on the ground oblivious of us despite being in plain sight, from morning to afternoon. Mixed flocks of Spectacled Monarch, Arafura Fantail, Broad-billed Flycatcher often visit the river in the afternoon to bathe or drink. They all got very close to us , all the better to take photographs.

Clear view of Chestnut-backed Thrush

Sumba Brown Flycatcher, Sumba Flycatcher, Sumba Warbler (Jungle)-Flycatcher visited one by one, to perch on small branches and swoop down to catch their prey or simply wait silently on stones.

Sumba Flowerpecker were also seen eating tiny yellow fruits that grow on riverside plants. In the undergrowth, at least two individuals of Elegant Pitta were heard but trickier to catch a glimpse. Little Cuckoo-dove and Asian “Gray-capped” Emerald Dove would appear at the edges of the river to drink, and above female Pale-shouldered “Sumba” Cicadabird move from branch to branch.

We found a big dry tree that in the morning hosted many species such as Great-billed Parrot, Sumba Green-pigeon, Marigold Lorikeet, Green Imperial Pigeon, the endemic race of Yellow ‘Citron”-crested Cockatoo, Red-naped Fruit-dove and even Sumba Hornbill.

The smaller branches were observed being picked by Red-naped Fruit-dove for material to construct their nests.

Jewelry Sumba forest, Red-naped Fruit-dove | Ptilinopus doherty

We visited the Laibola hill on 20 August 2017 at around 06.00, from this location one we enjoyed a beautiful panorama of the landscape around Praingkareha resort. As the sun slowly rose the birds began actively seeking perches, and we managed to see several pairs of Electus Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot, dozens of Slender-billed Crow and around 40 Sumba Hornbills.

Flock of Sumba Hornbills | Rhyticeros everetti from Laibola hill

Below the hill there is a forest patch, great for seeing Cinnamon Banded Kingfisher especially in the morning before 09:00 this bird can be easily located from their chirping, and seen perched quite low. From this vantage point, it is easy to find Sumba Myzomela, Apricot-breasted Sunbird, Wallacean Drongo, Ashy-bellied White-eye, Yellow-spectacled White-eye, Black-naped Fruit-dove, Helmeted Friarbird, Rusty-breasted Whistler, Short-tailed Starling. Along the forest patch we heard Elegant Pitta calling one to the other.

During our last three days in Billa, especially in the evening, we focused on finding two endemic species of boobooks. We found one only 400 meters from the camping ground, using playback techniques to discover a pair of Greater Sumba Boobook.

Couples of Greater Sumba Boobook

On the final night after observing the Greater Sumba Boobook, we searched for Little Sumba “Least” Boobook. After walking about 3 Km from the camping ground we stopped in a vast grassland, started calling, and scoped around the area. At the far end of grassland in the middle of a tree trunk, we finally saw one individual. We tried to get as close as we could and managed to get a photograph.

The bird flew into the forest so we had to follow it in, looking for the elusive critter. Surprisingly, we soon heard at least fours individuals, managing to get clear and short views better than before. At 23:30 we finished owling, and set off back to the camp.

Little Sumba "Least" Boobook

On the last day prior to Waingapu, we returned to the river. We waited on the other side of the almost dry pool, when at 08:00 an Elegant Pitta, which is usually only heard, came down from behind a bush.

The gorgeous bird started flipping leaf litter with its bill while hopping to the nearest pool. We did not stop pressing the camera shutter while sitting as still as we could behind some rocks. Finally, the bird perched on the highest rock, and in that moment we were amazed at the blend of colour all over its body.

Although we were only in Sumba for 9 days, and only visited two locations we successfully managed to spot 19 endemic species, and 43 resident species, missing only Sumba Buttonquail and Mees’s Nightjar. Although, according to the park ranger, these Lesser Sunda endemics are also present on Billa.

The bird of the last day in Billa, Elegant Pitta

We were amazed by Billa, a place to see almost all endemic Sumba by just sitting waiting by the river, or simply walking around the camp area. We called it One Stop Birding Site, the best place to photograph almost all the endemics! Hopefully we will go to Sumba again to complete the endemic list, and explore more, anyone want to join? Feel free to contact us via e-mail for information about the site and organising a tour.

Sumba Birds List (18 – 25 August 2017)

  • Orange-footed Scrubfowl | Megapodius reinwardt reinwardt
  • Green Junglefowl | Gallus varius | Heard Only
  • Eastern Spotted Dove | Spilopelia chinensis
  • Little Cuckoo-dove | Macropygia ruficepsorientalis
  • Barred Dove | Geopelia maugeus
  • Asian “Grey-capped” Emerald Dove | Chalcophaps indicaindica
  • Sumba Green-pigeon | Treron teysmannii
  • Green Imperial-pigeon | Ducula aeneapolia
  • Black-naped Fruit-dove | Ptilinopus melanospilus melanauchen
  • Red-naped Fruit-dove | Ptilinopus dohertyi
  • Savanna Nightjar | Caprimulgus affinis
  • Glossy Swiftlet | Collocalia esculenta sumbawae
  • Australian “Brush” Cuckoo | Cacomantis variolosus | Heard Only
  • Common Barn-owl | Tyto alba sumbaensis | Heard Only
  • Sumba Boobook | Ninox rudolfi
  • Least Boobook | Ninox sumbaensis
  • Oriental Honey-buzzard | Pernis ptilorhynchus orientalis
  • Brown Goshawk | Accipiter fasciatus tjendanea
  • Brahminy Kite | Haliastur indus intermedius
  • Spotted Kestrel | Falco moluccensis microbalia
  • Sumba Hornbill | Rhyticeros everetti
  • Blue-tailed Bee-eater | Merops philippinus
  • Oriental Dwarf-kingfisher | Ceyx erithaca rufidorsa
  • Common Kingfisher | Alcedo atthis floresiana
  • Collared Kingfisher | Todiramphus chloris chloris
  • Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher | Todiramphus australasia australasia
  • Yellow “Orange/Citron”-crested Cockatoo | Cacatua [sulphurea] citrinocristata
  • Marigold Lorikeet | Trichoglossus capistratusfortis
  • Eclectus Parrot | Eclectus roratuscornelia
  • Red-cheeked Parrot | Geoffroyus geoffroyi floresianus
  • Great-billed Parrot | Tanygnathus megalorynchos sumbensis
  • Elegant Pitta | Pitta elegans maria
  • Indonesian Honeyeater | Lichmera limbata
  • Helmeted Friarbird | Philemon buceroides neglectus
  • Sumba Myzomela | Myzomela dammermani
  • Rusty-breasted Whistler | Pachycephala fulvotincta fulviventris
  • Pale-shouldered (Sumba) Cicadabird | Coracina dohertyi
  • White-shouldered Triller | Lalage sueurii
  • Arafura Fantail | Rhipidura dryas sumbensis
  • Wallacean Drongo | Dicrurus densus sumbae
  • Broad-billed Flycatcher | Myiagra ruficollis ruficollis
  • Spectacled Monarch | Symposiachrus trivirgatus trivirgatus
  • Slender-billed Crow | Corvus enca
  • Large-billed Crow | Corvus macrorhynchos
  • Olive-backed Tailorbird | Orthotomus sepium | Heard Only
  • Yellow-spectacled White-eye | Heleia wallacei
  • Ashy-bellied White-eye | Zosterops citrinella
  • Short-tailed Starling | Aplonis minor
  • Chestnut-backed Thrush | Geokichla dohertyi
  • Sumba Brown Flycatcher | Muscicapa segregata
  • Sumba Jungle-flycatcher | Cyornis stresemanni
  • Sumba Flycatcher | Ficedula harterti
  • Pied Bushchat | Saxicola caprata francki
  • Thick-billed Flowerpecker | Dicaeum agile tinctum
  • Sumba Flowerpecker | Dicaeum wilhelminae
  • Apricot-breasted Sunbird | Cinnyris buettikoferi
  • Scaly-breasted Munia | Lonchura punctulata sumbae
  • Black-faced Munia | Lonchura molucca propinqua
  • Pale-headed Munia | Lonchura pallida
  • Timor Zebra Finch | Taeniopygia guttata
  • Eurasian Tree Sparrow | Passer montanus
  • Paddyfield Pipit | Anthus rufulus albidus