(Cover photo: Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash)

Avid birders are continually adding to their life list - and one of the best ways to increase their chances of seeing rare and unfettered birdlife is via small-ship cruise. 

You’ll have access to remote destinations larger ships can’t go and glimpse some of the 10,000 species of birds in our world in their native habitats. From puffins to penguins, Antarctica to the Amazon, here are some of the world’s top birding destinations. 


Best Birding Time: May 15-June 15; after August 15


Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Each summer, hundreds of bird species migrate to Alaska’s Arctic region, crossing over the Inside Passage. In Glacier Bay National Park, you can expect puffins and the rare Kittlitz’s Murrelet, and on South Marble Island, nesting puffins, kittiwakes, cormorants, bald eagles and Peregrine falcons. In Glacier Bay National Park alone, approximately 240 species of birds have been recorded. Include Adak, in the western Aleutian Islands, in your Alaska birding experience and you’ll find Asiatic birds during their journey north, including tufted duck, smew, garganey, whooper swan, Siberian rubythroat, brambling and many more. A few other Alaska birding hot spots: Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, the city of Nome, Denali National Park, Kenai Fjords, Kodiak and the Copper River Delta.


Galapagos Islands 

Best Birding Time: Year-round 


Photo by Andy Brunner on Unsplash

The Galapagos Islands are home to 56 native bird species - 80 perfect are found only there. Avid birders will delight in the 13 species of Darwin’s finches - although they can be tricky to identify. If you seek the waved albatross, choose a trip that includes Espanola Island between May and November (breeding season). You’ll find flightless cormorants on Fernandina and Isabela islands. Look, too, for flamingoes and the Galapagos penguin, the northernmost penguin in the world. 


The Amazon

Best Birding Time: December-May

Photo by Juliana Amorim on Unsplash

You won’t want for birds here in the Amazon rainforest - an ornithologist’s dream. There are 1,700-plus bird species here (which is close to 20 percent of the world’s total) - more than 300 species are endemic. One one Amazon River cruise alone, you might add 100 birds to your life list, including colorful macaws and toucans, Antbirds and Hoatzin’s. 



Best Birding Time: November-December for courtship, nesting and eggs; January-February for baby and tween chicks 


Photo by Susan Tuckey, Penguins2PolarBears - South Georgia 2019

Penguins, yes, but you’ll see colonies of up to a million birds when you take a small-ship cruise in Antarctica. Meet Chinstrap, Adelie, Gentoo and, if you include South Georgia and the Falkland Islands on your itinerary, King penguin. Look, too, for wandering albatross, petrels, skuas and more. Your small-ship expedition will offer birdwatching opportunities from open decks and from on shore. Birding-specific departures may include the accompaniment and expert ornithologists such as Fabrice Genevois. 


Kuril Islands 

Best Birding Time: May-September


Photo by Paul Carroll on Unsplash

The Pacific Ring of Fire, where you’ll find the Kuril Islands in Russia’s Far East, provides the perfect conditions for seabirds. Volcanic and geothermal activity have created deep trenches and the currents that surround many of the islands. The rich birdlife here includes tufted and horned puffins, parakeet, whiskered and rhinoceros auklets, spectacles and pigeon guillemots, cormorants, petrels, kittiwakes and the Laysan albatross - to name a few! 


Papua New Guinea

Best Birding Time: October-November


A small-ship cruise to Papua New Guinea is a boon for birders. You’ll not only see a stunning diversity of bird species, but also have the opportunity for authentic cultural interactions and snorkeling. Be on the lookout for the endemic Raggiana, Blue and Wilson’s Birds of Paradise, as well as the rare Fire-Maned Bowerbird.  


Binoculars ready? Let’s chat about the world’s best birding destinations.