Birding in Iran


Iran (formerly known as Persia), with a land area of 1,648,184 km², borders Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The country has over 2,000 km of coastline in its southern region, along the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.


With 491 recorded species, Iran has a very rich and divers bird fauna, despite the fact that large portion of the country is arid to semi-arid. This diversity can be seen in eight major habitat types:


True desert and semi-desert


The desert environment occurs throughout the central desert basin from south of the capital city Tehran through the great Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut deserts to the Jaz Murian basin in central Baluchistan and locally along the southern coastal lowlands from north-west Khuzestan to Baluchistan. Bird species include Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata, Hooded Wheatear Oenanthe monacha  and Bar-tailed Desert Lark Ammomanes cincturus, Hoopoe Lark Alaemon alaudipes, Desert Warbler Sylvia nana, Desert Wheataer Oenanthe deserti,  and Trumpeter Finch Rhodopechys githaginea.


 Although Iran has no true endemic species, one species, Pleske Ground Jay Posoces Pleskei, which occurs widely in the deserts of central and eastern Iran, is almost confined to the country, and is known elsewhere only in extreme western Pakistan.


Semi-arid steppe


Much of Iran's land surface supports steppe vegetation dominated by the low shrub Artemisia herbaalba. The steppe is home to many of Iran's commonest and most widespread birds. Characteristic species include Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus, Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis, European Roller Coracias garrulous, European Bee-eater Merops apiaster, several species of lark, including the ubiquitous Crested Lark Galerida cristata, Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina, and Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala.


High mountains


Iran’s two major mountain ranges Alborz and Zagros, and the higher peaks of ranges in Azerbaijan, Khorasan, Kerman and Baluchistan provinces have fauna typical of all high mountain ranges of Western Europe to the Himalayas. Species include Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus, Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba, Eurasian Crag-martin Hirundo rupestris, Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris, Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus, Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris, Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis, Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros, Wall Creeper Tichodroma muraria and Snow Finch Montifringilla nivalis.


Caucasian Snowcock Tetraogallus caspius, confined to high mountain ranges in Turkey and Iran, is locally common on the higher peaks in the Alborz and Zagros.


Forests and woodland


Although of rather limited extent, Iran's forested regions have a very rich bird fauna barely different from that of the central European woodlands. Common species include  Woodpigeon Columba palumbus, Green woodpecker Picus viridis, Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major, Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis, Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio, Jay Garrulus glandarius, Wren Troglodytes troglodytes, Dunnock Prunella modularis, Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla, Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina, Robin Erithacus rubecula, Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos, several species of Turdus, several species of Tit Parus and Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs.


The drier and more open oak woodlands of the western Zagrous have a Mediterranean element and include species such as Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus, Masked Shrike Lanius nubicus, Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica and Rock Bunting Emberiza cineracea.


In the even drier woodlands in the eastern Zagros, the Kerman highlands, and isolated mountains in northern Baluchistan, only a handful of western Palearctic species occur. Characteristic birds here include a mixture of Middle Eastern specialties, e.g. White-throated Robin Irania gutturalis and Plain Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus neglectus, eastern Palearctic species, e.g. Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus and Hume's Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia althaea, Indo-Malayan species, e.g. Bay-backed Shrike Lanius vittatus and western Palearctic species at the extreme edge of their ranges e.g. Blackbird Turdus merula.


Finally, throughout the remoter mountain ranges of Iran there still exist good stands of juniper Juniperus woodland with specialties such as Red-Fronted Serin Serinus pusillus and, in the northeast, White-winged Grosbeak Mycerobas carnipes.


The southern lowlands


The hot tropical climate of the southern coastal lowlands supports a flora and fauna quite unlike that of the rest of Iran. From north-west Khuzestan to eastern Iranian Baluchistan, open park-like stands of Acacia, Prosopis and tamarix and extensive date palm groves provide suitable habitats for a variety of Indo-Malayan/Afro-tropical species, such as Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis, Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis, Green Bee Eater Merops orientalis, White-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus leucotis, Graceful Warbler Prinia gracilis, Common Babbler Turdoides caudatus, Purple Sunbird Nectarinia asiatica and Yellow-Throated Sparrow Petronia xanthocollis.


 A number of species of Indo-Malayan origin, such as Indian Sand Lark Calandrella raytal, Common Myna Acridotheres tristis, and Sind Sparrow Passer pyrrhonotus, are confined to extreme south-east Iranian Baluchistan, while several others extend only as far west as the Bandar Abbas region, e.g. White-eyed Buzzard Butastur teesa, Indian Grey Francolin Francolinus pondicerianus and  Sind Woodpecker Dendrocopos assimilis.


In the west, the riverside poplar thickets and marsh-edge habitat of Khuzestan hold several specialties, such as Grey Hypocolius Hypocolius ampelinus, Iraq Babbler Turdoides altirostris and Dead Sea Sparrow Passer moabiticus.




The south Caspian Sea, with 700km of sandy shoreline, and the freshwater lakes, marshes and brackish lagoons in central Gilan, the Gorgan Bay area, and the Turkoman steppes provide a complex of breeding and wintering areas for waterfowl. Estimates for mid-winter population of ducks, geese, swan and coots are well over a million birds, with perhaps as many birds occurring on passage in spring and autumn. In addition, there are large wintering populations of Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus, Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus rubber, grebes, herons and egrets, shorebirds and gulls. During the spring and autumn migration seasons, large numbers of shorebirds pass through the south Caspian on their way between breeding grounds in the Arctic and wintering grounds in the Persian Gulf and eastern and southern Africa, and in summer the marshes teem with breeding Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, herons, egrets, gallinules including Purple Swamphen Porphyrio prophyrio, and Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus.


The other major wetland areas in Iran are not less spectacular. The wetlands around the highly saline Lake Urmiya support large breeding colonies of waterfowl, notably Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber, Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus, Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, White Stork Ciconia ciconia, Common Shelduck Tradorna tradorna, Ruddy Shelduck Tradorna ferruginea, Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta, Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus, Armenian Gull Larus armenicus and Slender-billed Gull Larus genei.


These wetlands are important for passage shorebirds and in mild winters can hold over 50.000 wintering ducks and geese.


The flood-plains of the Dez-Karun and Karkheh rivers in Khuzestan, the complex for fresh, brackish and saline lakes at the inland delta of Hiramnd river in Sistan of the Afghan border, and the network of fresh and saline lakes in central Fars, particularly Bakhtegan, Tashk, Maharlu, Parishan lakes and the dasht-e Arjan marshes all provide habitat for many hundreds of thousand of wintering waterfowl. In addition to a wide range of ducks, geese and shorebirds, these wetlands are particularly important for wintering of Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus (Fars and Sistan), Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus (Khuzestan), White stork Ciconia ciconia (Khuzestans and Fars), Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber (Fars) and Common Crane Grus grus (all three areas).


In years of good rainfall, wetlands in all three regions can be of great importance for breeding waterfowl, particulary herons, egrets, Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus, White-tailed Lapwing Vanellus leucurus and Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola.


Persian Gulf and Makran coastal habitats


The tidal mudflats, mangrove, sand beaches, rocky shores and sea-cliffs of Iran's south coast support a variety of breeding and wintering waterfowl and seabirds. Breeding species include Crab Plover Dromas ardeola, Great Thick-knee Burhinus recurvirostris (only in the sea), several species of herons and egrets such as Indian Pond-Heron Ardeola grayii, Western Reef Heron Egretta gularis and Goliath Heron Ardea goliath in mangrove, and several species of terns.


Wintering species include Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Osprey Pandion haliaetus, White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla,and also many shorebirds notably African Black Oystercatcher Heamatopus ostralegus, Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica, Curlew Numenius arquata and Plovers Charadrius spp., Scuas Stercorarius spp., Gulls Larus spp., and Terns Sterna spp.


Offshore Islands


The many small and uninhabited islands in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz provide ideal breeding grounds for large colonies of seabirds. The main species are Great Crested Tern Sterna bergii, Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis, White-cheeked Tern Sterna repressa and Bridled Tern Sterna anaethetus, but small colonies of Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus, Socotra Cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis and Saunders' Tern Sterna saundersi have been found, and Persian Shearwater Puffinus persicus probably breeds.


Protection and International Conventions


Environmental protection measures in the country have started since 1950s. At present there are four types of protected areas: National Park (Seven), Wildlife Refuge (23), Protected Area (43), National Nature Monument (Four).


Iran is party to the Ramsar Convention and World Heritage Convention. As of December 1993 Iran had designated 18 Ramsar sites (covering a total of 1,357,550 ha) but no Natural World Heritage Sites. All the Ramsar sites are major birds and wildlife areas.


Iran has signed but not ratified the Biodiversity Convention. It participated in the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme and, as of December 1999, had designated nine Biosphere Reserves (covering a total area of 2,609,731 ha). Iran has ratified the Regional Convention for Cooperation on the Protection of the Marine Environment from Pollution and the Action Plan for the Protection and Development of the Gulf, Marine and the Coastal Areas. A joint agreement was signed with the USSR in 1973 to fight pollution in the Caspian Sea.




A very informative report, prepared by Dr. Jamshid Mansoori. Most of the information in this page is from his comprehensive report, with minor corrections and added English names of the birds.


An excellent site for bird information. I used it mainly for the English names.


Birds of Iran

Eskandar Firouz, et al., Department of Environment, Tehran, 1976.


The only field-guide for birds of Iran (in Persian).