Dubai may be best known for its combination of dazzling skyscrapers and luxury hotels, but did you know it can also be an excellent place to discover exciting wildlife? The emirate happens to be an incredible destination for birdwatching, whether you're a serious twitcher who wants to dedicate several days of their break to spotting new species, or you're simply a wildlife fan keen to spend a few hours discovering something new.
Dubai's quality of birdwatching is thanks in no small part to its location. Every year, hundreds of species from both Asia and Europe fly through the UAE on their migratory route. In fact, some 400 species pass through during their migration between Asia and Africa alone. Outside of the migration, there are interesting native birds to spot all year round.
Top spots in Dubai for birdwatching
Al Mazmar Park
Best visited during winter or migration, Al Mazmar Park is particularly perfect for birdwatchers in April and May, and from September to November. The start of April is especially good if you're hoping to see some migrating birds - in fact, it is during the first two weeks of the month (approximately) when it is possible to see white-throated robins; this is the only time of year they're visible here. Among the other species possible to spot in the park are masked shrikes, rufous-tailed rock thrushes and yellow wagtails.
As well as being an excellent place for birdwatching, this beach park has plenty of other attractions. It has five beaches, swimming pool (which has dedicated adults' and children's areas), barbecue sites, play areas for children and much more. So, it's possible to have a really varied day out here should you wish - though of course you can simply focus on enjoying the local wildlife!
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
Like Al Mazmar Park, Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary provides the most interesting birdwatching opportunities during migration and winter. Situated not far from the hustle and bustle of central Dubai, this sanctuary is home to three bird reserves at the mouth of Dubai Creek. More than 500 flamingoes call this park home and, while they are often the star attraction, they have plenty of company - great egrets, grey herons, sandpipers and many more can be spotted among the cloud of pink feathers.
In total, the sanctuary provides a home for more than 20,000 waterbirds. Come here in the morning if you can - the birds usually feed between 9am and 9.30am.
Mushrif National Park
This is another destination like Al Mazmar Park in that as well as being great for birdwatching, it has plenty of other attractions as well. In terms of birds, however, pallid scops owls and wintering raptors are among the highlights to look out for. Pallid scops owls are particularly rare, so don't pass up the chance to see them. They're most easily spotted in the trees or on the grass around the mosque. You might also come across yellow-throated sparrows, rufous-tailed robins and Arabian babblers, among many others of wonderful Middle Eastern birds.
Among the other attractions here are the botanical gardens, which are ideal for a gentle stroll, and barbecue areas.
Top species to see
- White-throated robin: This small bird can only be spotted in Dubai for a few weeks of the year, so catching sight of it is a really special experience. Similar to the European species, it is somewhat smaller. Males are more distinctive than females, while a grey upper body, black face and white throat, and orange underneath.
- Pallid scops owl: Also known as the striated scops owl, this rare bird has small ears and looks fairly similar to the Eurasian scops owl. Native to the Middle East and Africa, it has distinct streaks on its back and primarily eats insects, spiders, lizards and small mammals.
- The greater spotted eagle: This large bird of prey has a wingspan of five to six foot, and looks similar to the lesser spotted eagle, which is its closest relative - though the greater spotted eagle has darker head and wing coverts. A migratory bird, it breeds from northern Europe and makes it was to the south-east, then Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It hunts small mammals, and is classed as vulnerable to extinction.
- Yellow wagtail: This small bird is yellow and green, and earned its name through the distinctive wagging motion of its tail and it walks or runs along the ground.
- Scrub warbler: With pale brown colouring, the scrub warbler blends into its desert environment. It can be spotted by its short wings, which are somewhat rounded, and its white-tipped tail, which is often moving from side to side.
- Rufous-tailed rock-thrush: The males and females of this species of thrush are very different in appearance. The male has a blue-grey head, dark brown wings, an orange breast and a white back. In contrast, the female is largely pale brown, with a darker brown head and wings, and reddish-brown tail feathers. Eating mostly insects and berries, this thrush spends much of its time on its perch searching for food, and it usually nests in small rock cavities.
Birdwatching in Dubai
Thanks to its location, Dubai provides plenty of excellent opportunities for birdwatching year-round. In addition to our top spots for seeing winged creatures, it's possible to admire all kinds of exciting species if you keep your eyes peeled while out and about sightseeing or enjoying activities in Dubai - particularly on golf courses.