Ilocos Norte is starting to become an interesting birding area where one finds rare endemic and migratory birds. I have first birded the province in 2010 when I and Jonard Gabrino were invited by Laoag-based birdwatchers Doc Petrus Calupe and Richard Ruiz of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP). I was joined later by Wild Bird Photographers of the Philippines (WBPP) fellow Rene Bajit and his daughter Maki who came all the way from Nueva Ecija where they are based. I was able to return to the province this April 2014 upon the invitation of Governor Imee Marcos for the Sirib Youth Leadership Camp and SIKA. Together with WBPP Fellow Olan Balbido, we found some time to photograph a few birds during training breaks. Later, WBPP fellow Roy De Guzman Daantos joined us in birding for the last two days.

Gabu, Laoag City

There is a place in Laoag called Gabu where many fishponds are found. Some of the unusual migratory birds sighted there were Gadwall, Spot-billed Duck, Caspian Tern, Plaintive Cuckoo, Great Cormorant, Yellow Bunting, Green Sandpiper, Slaty-backed Gull, Black-necked Grebe, Black-tailed Gull, Red-footed Booby, Green Sandpiper, Mandarin Duck, Red-throated Pipit, and Siberian Ruby Throat, among others. It is a place where one can easily find the endemic Philippine Ducks classified Vulnerable by IUCN, the resident Brahminy Kites, and migratory and resident Grey Herons and various Egrets. The Brahminy Kites are popularly known as "Siwawer" in Vintar. The photos below are those of immature or juvenile (young) Brahminy Kites or Siwawers.

BirdLife International (2013) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List for birds state that the endemic Philippine Duck is listed as Vulnerable because it is undergoing a rapid and continuing decline owing to extensive over-hunting and the widespread conversion of its wetland habitats. Exceptionally high levels of hunting and trapping have been evident since the 1960s. Thousands were reportedly shot weekly in August-October and January-March in the late 1980s. With the passage of the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act in 2001, all huntings in the country have been outlawed.

Lagui, Laoag City

In Lagui, Laoag City, one can find the rare  migratory Yellow Buntings. They breed in Japan, but are uncommon there, and winter mainly in the Philippines, particularly in Ilocos Norte where the windmills are. Also called the Japanese Yellow Buntings, they have been classified by IUCN and Birdlife as Vulnerable because they have a small and declining population, probably resulting from a combination of habitat loss, pesticide use, hunting throughout their range and trapping for cage-bird trade. About 2,500 to 10,000 yellow buntings comprised their dwindling population. Recently the rare Black-Headed Bunting was sighted in the same place.

The White-throated Kingfisher, Eastern Grass Owl and the Java Sparrow can also be seen in Lagui.

The Java Sparrow was introduced to the Philippines many many years ago, and has since then thrived in the country. When I was a kid, I remembered having these birds as pets. These are the most colourful birds that are sold in the market place and in the churches, together with the munias and the chicks which were made colourful only by some dyes or dyobos. There is no need for the Java Sparrows to be dyed, their natural colours makes them stand out from among those traded. Their beauty and colours, however, made them one of the most commonly caught and traded bird pets worldwide. In Indonesia, this bird has been declared by IUCN as vulnerable. Birdlife says it is a native endemic of the islands of Java, Bali, and probably Madura, Indonesia, although it has been widely introduced, with feral populations now established in many parts of the world. It was formerly widespread and abundant in its native range, but numbers have crashed disastrously. It can now be difficult to find, particularly on Java. The rapid and on-going population decline of this species is inferred on the basis of trapping pressure for the international cage-bird trade.

At the cemetery of Laoag City, various migratory starlings, among them European Starlings, have been regularly reported during the migration season. The starlings have been sighted at the mulberry trees that can be found there.

Paoay Lake and Paoay

At the Forest Park in Paoay Lake can be found some more bird species. From the viewing deck of the lake, one can see various ducks and egrets, including the migratory Great Cormorant.

The Ilocano term Cannaoay (Canaoay) might refer to an Egret, though it was described to be black and white (which might be Little Egret) and/or white bird on top of the carabao (which might be Cattle Egret). The photograph above is that of a migrant or resident Great Egret. The appearance of migratory Brown Shrike, locally known as "Tarat," every September signals the start of the bird migration season.

The Chestnut Munia, locally known as "Maya," was once the National Bird of the Philippines. It was later replaced by the Great Philippine Eagle. The munias are considered as pests by the farmers as they not only eat the ripening palays, but they usually cut-off the stalks.


Pasuquin is the place where the rare endemic Spotted Imperial Pigeon can be easily found. Unfortunately, this bird is heavily hunted through trappings along the shorelines during summer when they usually go down to the beach from the forest before they breed. Birders have been clamoring for the protection of these species by the local governments. A mangrove reforestration is presently being undertaken at the area. With this ecotourism plan and with the local government protection, the Spotted Imperial Pigeons may soon be the champion endemic bird species which the province may banner for avitourism. I haven't photograph this species yet, but I hope to do so very soon.

The Lowland White-Eye, Philippine Green Pigeon and the Philippine Pied Fantail, locally known as "Maria Capra," are Philippine endemic birds that can be easily seen around.

The Blue-Tailed Bee-Eater and the Coppersmith Barbet are resident bird species that are so colorful even if they are usual birds. Resident birds can also be found in other countries, though they do not travel from one country or continent to another like migratory birds.

Continue reading at Birds of Ilocos Norte (Part II).

Other photos of Philippine Wild Birds may be viewed at Alain Pascua Photography and at Alain Pascua Homepage.

  • Roxanne Veridiano

    on August 31, 2018

    This is very informative. I am amazed by the diversity of the birds in Ilocos Norte alone. I am interested in your documentation since the Foundation for Philippine Environment is undertaking a process of crafting a conservation management plan together with different stakeholders in the municipalities of Pagudpud and Adams in Ilocos Norte.