For those who want to participate in some of the Bird Races in Malaysia, this article will highlight where and when these birding events will be held throughout the year.
The only difference is that for some bird races, the dates may change yearly, but it still gives you an idea of where and where they are being held and other information needed to participate.
Bird Races in Malaysia
The original bird race that started in 1988 was the Fraser’s Hill International Bird Race and had been running for 33 years since 2022. The Sarawak Mini Bird Race in Kuching was next and followed by the Borneo Bird Festival, which has a bird race, bird photography race and many other activities.
And in recent years, many other states and national parks in Malaysia have also shown interest by organising their bird races; therefore, this list I have created will provide all the information you need to start planning.
Below is a summarised list of all the bird races in Malaysia.
- Selangor Bird Race (Wings of KKB)
- Fraser’s Hill International Bird Race
- Rompin State Park Bird Race
- Sarawak Bird Race
- Borneo Bird Race
- Taiping Bird Race
- Sabah Bird Race
- Putrajaya Bird Race
What is a Bird Race?
Before I continue, some new birders may want to know what a bird race is. It is a team event, usually in groups of three that race each other in a given time to see which team spots the most species of birds.
At the end of the race, it is not about the prize money but the spirit of participation and the experience that makes it all worthwhile. However, some may think otherwise, but it should be about the experience and not the money or prizes.
Anyway, let us get on with the Bird Races in Malaysia, which is listed according to the month of the year;
April: Selangor Bird Race
This particular series was known as the Wings of KKB, and in 2018, it was rebranded to be known as the Selangor International Bird Race. They have conducted two series, which were in 2018 and 2019. Since the pandemic is over, the next event would be the Selangor International Bird Race 2023, which should be in April.
In 2022, they organised the Selangor Bird Race at Kuala Selangor on the 22nd of October, which clashed with the Borneo Bird Festival 2022. I seriously wonder why they did that because it clearly shows that no one was paying attention to events that were already pre-set.
June – Fraser’s Hill International Bird Race
This is the oldest and longest-running bird race in Malaysia, and in 2022, it was the 33rd time the event was held here at Fraser’s Hill in Pahang. Anyone in birding or birdwatching knows of this world-class birding event here in Pahang.
I have been following the FHIBR events for over ten years now, and just being an observer, documenting the birding event for my publication. More birders will attend this event each year due to the minimal publicity done, and after 33 years, the event needs to be on a world-class birding map, but sadly it has not reached this status.
For beginner birders, the Fraser’s Hill International Bird Race is highly recommended to join due to the easy logistics and cool climate here. If you have never joined a bird race in Malaysia, this is the one to start with.
September: Rompin State Park Bird Race
This is the first time the state park on the Pahang side of Endau-Rompin organised its inaugural bird race. A total of five teams took part, four local and one from Singapore, where each team spent a good eight hours spotting the most number of birds around the park.
The Rompin State Park Bird Race started at 8.00 AM and ended by 4.00 PM, and everyone was a winner, considering that this was the first time a privately-managed state park had organised it. If they want to do another, we look forward to the next bird race at Rompin State Park in 2023.
September: Sarawak Bird Race
This particular race is organised by the Ministry of Tourism Sarawak and the Malaysian Nature Society Sarawak Branch. Not much information is available on this because it is usually done without shouting. The first time I heard about the Sarawak Bird Race 2015, I was interested in attending, but I never got the chance.
The next time the event was held, it was unheard of because back then, there were not many birders around compared to now. So, the last event held was the Sarawak International Bird Race 2016. After that, there were no other bird races conducted.
October: Borneo Bird Race
The Borneo Bird Race was done only twice; the last time was in 2014; the international bird race covered three destinations – Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei with participants from around Asia.
This incredible race saw teams travel over 1000 kilometres around the island of Borneo, spotting birds with marshalls following along. It is unknown whether there will be a follow-up Borneo Bird Race coming in 2023 or 2024.
October: Taiping Bird Race
Done twice before the pandemic, this birding event in Taiping Perak seems to take an entire week, where many educational programs are conducted on the weekday, while the main bird race will be done on the weekend. Again, the organisers need to be more open to contacting specialised media like mine to cover their events.
October 22-23: Borneo Bird Festival (Sabah Bird Race)
Malaysia’s second oldest bird race and festival and the largest in Borneo are no other than the Borneo Bird Festival. They have been around since 2007 and are one of the most successful bird festivals. The bird race event here is known as the Sabah Bird Race.
The Borneo Bird Festival 2022 will also see many birding enthusiasts travelling to this part of Malaysia as birds here are entirely different from the Peninsular. The last Borneo Bird Festival 2019 saw an exciting turnout from non-locals due to the popularity of avian tourism here.
November: Putrajaya Bird Race
This is Putrajaya’s main birding event and is organised by NEST and the Putrajaya Corporation. It is now in its second year since the Covid 19 pandemic put a hold on all events. While the mission of Nest is to educate the younger generation and the public, the main objective is to develop avitourism in Putrajaya and Malaysia.
Sadly, due to the 15th Malaysia General Elections (GE15) held on the 19th of November 2022, the Putrajaya Bird Race was cancelled, and the organisers could not even postpone it because of the GE. The next event will be the Putrajaya Bird Race 2023.
Other Bird Races in Malaysia
As I write this article, several other bird races are being planned in Malaysia, and they will most likely happen in 2023. Now, it also depends on who organises the bird races; through experience, if it is fully state organised, we won’t hear much about it because of the lack of communication from these bodies.
From what I hear or what the little birds are singing, there are plans for;
- Panti Forest Bird Race or Johor Bird Race
- Penang Bird Race
- Langkawi Bird Race
- Melaka Bird Race
- Terengganu Bird Race
- Perlis Bird Race
- Kedah Bird Race
From what I observe, it also looks like the Nest Society in Malaysia will be one of those charging ahead to capatilise on birding through education around Malaysia, namely working with the forestry and state departments. But they really need to communicate with birdwatching media like me.
Why? Because no one else seems to be interested in developing avitourism in Malaysia, it was a matter of time before someone saw the potential in this genre of tourism.
As a birdwatching writer for the last 15 years, I have seen how slow avitourism in Malaysia has been growing. Sadly, only Sabah has been the forerunner in this, as the private sector took the lead in developing it at their own expense.
The bird races in Malaysia mushroomed just before the Covid 19 pandemic, and after a two-year break, many are now starting up their campaigns and so on. The only problem is that this genre of avitourism has not fully matured in Malaysia, namely the peninsular.
I would give it another 3 to 5 years before we see more participation from the tourism ministry, tourism boards, forestry departments and even the local councils. Only then will we see the true potential for bird races in Malaysia.
And even I, as a birdwatching writer, have been the only one in the industry that covers all the birdwatching events in Malaysia. Usually, I have to approach the organisers for any info or to do any coverage.