The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines

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Pinoy Kasi
Bird tourism

Pinoy Kasi
Bird tourism
By Michael Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:21:00 10/22/2008

Whenever I have visitors coming in from other countries, I email them to ask if there's anything in particular that they want to do or see in the Philippines. Last year, with one particular American visitor, I was surprised when he emailed back and said he wanted to see birds.

Fortunately, it was an interest I had as well. Only a few months earlier, I had joined two bird-watching tours organized by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines so I was able to arrange for the bird-watching quite quickly. Conveniently, one of the best birding sites in the country is the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City, where my visitor, Jim, was staying. This year, when Jim came visiting again, he joined another birding tour organized by the club.

I would like to think Jim will be one of many foreigners visiting the Philippines in the years to come, coming to enjoy our eco-tourism activities. Bird-watching will undoubtedly be a major attraction since we have 600 different bird species, 200 of which are endemic, meaning, they are found only in the Philippines.

Birdwatching in the Philippines, Volume 1
Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano is convinced that we can build bird tourism, and he’s walked the talk by supporting the publication of what will be a series of manuals, “Birdwatching in the Philippines.” Volume 1 was launched last September, produced within a few months by the Department of Tourism in cooperation with the Wild Bird Club and the Recreational Outdoor Exchange. The manual was written by Carlos M. Libosada Jr., and Robert Alejandro handled the book design. Arnel Telesforo did the illustrations; many photographs came from a team of professional photographers, all bird-watchers themselves.

The manual is a guide to several bird-watching sites: Puerto Princesa City’s Subterranean River National Park; Rasa Island (Narra, Palawan); Hundred Islands National Park; Bangrin Marine Protected Area (Bani, Pangasinan); Subic Bay Freeport Zone; Balanga City (Bataan); Candaba Marsh (Pampanga); Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat; Mt. Palay-Palay National Park (Ternate, Cavite); Villa Escudero (Tiaong, Quezon), Alcoy Forest (Cebu); Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary (Lapu-Lapu City) and the Philippine Eagle Center (Davao City).

I intentionally named all the sites to show that there’s bound to be a good bird-watching site near you. When the other volumes come out, I’m hoping we’ll have a guide to the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman and nearby Ateneo de Manila University. Yes, the rivalry between the two schools runs all the way up to birds, and so far UP Diliman has chalked up almost a hundred bird species. (We’ll leave the basketball rivalry with Ateneo to De La Salle University for now.)

Now that I’ve gotten you excited about the manual, I have some bad news: it’s not available yet in our bookstores. Apparently, tour operators bringing in foreigners have been given priority. I got my copy through the Wild Bird Club, which had a few copies available for its members.


I’m hoping that eventually not just the tourism department but also other government agencies, and NGOs can pitch in to make bird-watching and bird tourism for Filipinos. After my American friend Jim got back from his UP bird-watching, I was almost embarrassed as he named all kinds of birds that he had seen, birds with which I wasn’t familiar. In the tourism department’s manual, several sites are listed with a note that local guides are not available, which means the bird-watchers will have to rely on the manual or one of the other guides, produced mainly by foreigners. (The best one, published by Oxford, is “A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines” by Robert S. Kennedy, Pedro C. Gonzales, Edward C. Dickinson, Hector C. Miranda Jr. and Timothy H. Fisher. I got my copy from a Powerbooks bookshop a few years ago.)

Promoting bird-watching shouldn’t be an activity for foreigners alone, or for the upper classes with leisure time to spare. Bird-watching should be part of education on science and the environment. Biology textbooks usually refer to the birds of the Galapagos Islands, whose different kinds of beaks showed how diverse bird species adapted to the environment. Only after I joined the bird-watching tours did I integrate photographs of our local birds to explain evolution and adaptation, which become so much more real as students appreciate why the “maya” has such a short beak as compared with the kingfisher.

With so many kinds of birds in the Philippines—woodpeckers, herons, sunbirds, flycatchers, eagles, hawks, sparrows—there’s so much biology that can be taught painlessly, pointing out differences in feathers, colors, legs, wingspan, even socialization patterns.

Bird lore

Bird-watching isn’t some imported western fad. Birds are impossible to ignore and all cultures, including our own, have observed these amazing creatures, naming them, imitating them in song and dance and, sadly, capturing them for their plumage, their beaks (the “kalaw,” or hornbill), their eggs, their meat.

How do we revive the more benign pleasures that come with bird lore? Children’s books and TV programs can resurrect the birds from our folklore, from songs and riddles to epics. We’ve even made up mythical ones like the “sarimanok.”

Learn to appreciate the folk science around birds. Their names alone tell us how intensely the birds were observed. Recognizing the variations in environment, we have pipit cogon, pipit “gubat” [forest], pipit “parang” [meadow], for example. The blue rock-thrush is called “solitaryo,” telling us this bird isn’t the sociable type.

From the “ti-ok” (white-breasted waterhand) to the “ta-ta-li-lik” (Philippine woodpecker), many bird names are onomatopoeic, taken from their calls. The noise from one bird gave it a local name, “rak-rak-it” as well as the English clamorous reed-warbler.

My social science side makes me wonder at times about how we keep vacillating about a national bird. At one time it was the tiny “maya,” or sparrow, which led social commentators to ask if it reflected our tendency to think small. So we shifted, almost as if to compensate, to the fierce monkey-eating eagle. Does it say something about our society?

WBCP VP Alice VIlla-Real conducts a guided trip
outside the Vargas Museum
Enough of pop psychology for now. I did want to plug Bird Season, a photographic exhibit of Philippine birds at the UP Vargas Museum in Diliman. These are stunning photographs of birds, from close-ups to birds in flight, many almost as if the birds were posing for the photographers. The exhibit was supposed to end early October but has been extended to the 26th, so you only have this week left.

You can also still sign up for one more guided bird-watching expedition at UP Diliman, to be held this Saturday at 6 a.m. Joining one such birding makes you eligible to join the Wild Bird Club. For more information, contact the Vargas Museum itself at 928-1927, or email Alternatively, you can look at the Wild Bird Club website: