Beijing becoming paradise for birdwatching
Published: Jun 16, 2024 10:33 PM
The Yuanmingyuan Ruins Park in Beijing has become a paradise for migratory birds. Photo: VCG

The Yuanmingyuan Ruins Park has become one of the spots for migratory birds in Beijing. Photo: VCG

On the recent 24th International Day for Biological Diversity, the Beijing Municipal Forestry and Parks Bureau (Office of Beijing Greening Commission) announced that Beijing has identified 612 species of terrestrial wild vertebrates, including 519 species of birds, ranking second among the G20 capitals. Beijing is now one of the cities with the most birdwatching activities worldwide and is advancing towards becoming the "Capital of Biodiversity."

Birdwatching is an activity where people observe and study birds to connect with nature. It can be either a leisurely hobby, or part of scientific research. Bird-watchers typically use binoculars, cameras, notebooks, and field guides to identify and record various bird species in their natural habitats.

Pao Jiaoyun, a member of the Beijing Bird Watching Society (BBWS) with over 10 years of birdwatching experience, told the Global Times that Beijing has participated in a number of bird conservation projects dedicated to protecting migratory birds and their habitats.

"With Beijing's forest coverage rate reaching 44.9 percent and urban green coverage at 49.8 percent, the city has established 79 natural reserves, covering 20 percent of the city's total area. These measures provide the necessary habitats for birds and enhance the birdwatching experience," Pao said.

Birdwatching in Beijing began to gain popularity in the late 1990s and gradually flourished in the early 21st century, attracting more nature enthusiasts and environmentalists. Pao noted that the Beijing Bird Watching Society was established in the 1997s, the first dedicated birdwatching organization in China.

Hot spot areas

Beijing's birdwatching sites are concentrated in city parks, water systems, wetlands, and mountain forests. According to the China Bird Report Center's official website, the Olympic Forest Park has become the city's most popular birdwatching site. 

The Olympic Forest Park located in northern Beijing, was built as part of the new infrastructure connected to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The park has designated birdwatching areas suitable for observing birds throughout the year, attracting bird-watchers and experts from all over the world.

According to the park, over 300 bird species have been recorded there. Highlighted species include the Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea), Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus), and Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), among others. Easily observable breeding birds include the Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis), Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyanus), Blackbird (Turdus mandarinus), and Hoopoe (Upupa epops), among others.

The park's environment is designed to mimic natural forest ecosystems, featuring woodlands, grasslands, shrubs, lakes, and wetlands. The high density of reed beds in the wetland areas provides a secure environment for urban biodiversity and species protection.

Since the winter of 2020, the park has taken measures to preserve more reed beds, including cutting reeds only about five meters from visitor pathways and implementing a more complex plan of phased and segmented cutting. Seemingly useless reeds are crucial habitats for many birds, such as the nationally protected Reed Parrotbill, which relies on these areas to survive the winter.

The Arboretum in the Temple of Heaven in southern Beijing is another popular birdwatching spot, often hosting rarities like the Eurasian Eagle-Owl, White's Thrush, Paradise Flycatcher, and Goldcrest, etc.

"The Arboretum holds a high status among Beijing bird-watchers as a significant observation site for many forest birds during migration seasons, contributing to the Temple of Heaven's reputation as the 'Altar of the Gods,'" Wang Peiyu, a birdwatching enthusiast, told the Global Times.

Wang strongly suggested enhancing punishments for some behaviors, such as preying on protected animals including birds, attacking birds with slingshots, and raising or selling protected birds (such as blue-throated robins and red-throated robins).

Similar to the situation raised by Wang, Pao also mentioned that he had witnessed three cases of stray cats killing birds over the past few years, including Mandarin Ducks (Aix galericulata) in Beihai Park in central Beijing. Enthusiasts have recommended strengthening the  regulation of stray animals and distinguish them from and wild animals.

Pao said, "in recent years, access restrictions have been tightened, with specific closing times and enforced exits, which sometimes leads bird-watchers to climb over fences to enter, posing certain safety risks to the birdwatching community."

People watch birds at the Shahe reservoir in Beijing's Changping district. Photo: VCG

People watch birds at the Shahe reservoir in Beijing's Changping district. Photo: VCG

Worldwide influence

On June 13, China's National Forestry and Grassland Administration signed an agreement with New Zealand's Department of Conservation to promote the exchange of data for migratory water birds and seabirds. According to the agreement, both countries will guide bird-related institutions in taking measures to further protect migratory birds and their habitats of mutual concern.

In the eyes of many international bird-watchers, Beijing is a birdwatching paradise, where a myriad of bird species coexist in this vibrant city.

Steven Jurado, a PhD in Biological Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, told the Global Times that there are eight major bird migration routes globally. "The East Asia-Australasia Flyway, which passes over Beijing, sees migratory birds stopping in Beijing for about a month and a half each year in March before continuing north." "If you want to observe bird migration, Beijing is a good choice," Jurado said.

Especially during the peak migration seasons in spring and autumn, international birdwatching groups often organize trips to Beijing's birdwatching hot spots such as the Beijing Wild Duck Lake National Wetland Park in Yanqing district, the Summer Palace, and the Olympic Forest Park.

According to Pao, there is an ancient legend about Beijing Wild Duck Lake National Wetland Park. Long long ago, when the flowers around the lake bloomed in spring, a golden phoenix appeared by the lake, attracting hundreds of birds to worship it, and symbolizing good luck and prosperity.

"To commemorate this beautiful legend, a 'Birdwatching Pavilion' was built in the park," Pao added.

The Beijing Municipal People's Government website announced earlier in 2024 that Beijing and Langfang, North China's Hebei Province had signed an agreement on Chaobai River biodiversity protection to jointly build the Chaobai River National Forest Park in Beijing. The park, with a total area of about 104 square kilometers is expected to be completed in 2029.