There are a few species most visitors are particularly interested in locating in the United Arab Emirates.
Below are a few key species with a bit of information, updated in June 2012 by Oscar Campbell and November 2014 by Tommy Pedersen. Feel free to join our Forum if you want more information.
You can also view a species list here, complete with map info.
Socotra Cormorants, adult and immature photographed by Mike Barth
May be seen from any East Coast watch point throughout the year, though scarce from December to February. Fujairah Port Beach is one of the most reliable locations, also try from one of the headlands at Ra's Dibba. The best way to see this species, and probably the only way to see it well, is to join one of the pelagic trips from Khor Kalba. See this Pelagic link for more details about these.
From land, a telescope is needed; if you locate an offshore feeding group of terns, look for Persian Shearwaters swimming and flying around the group.
A common near-endemic, particularly numerous on the west coast. The Dubai Creek normally holds a few birds between the sea and Dubai Creek Park. The best stretch of coast to see large numbers offshore is between Umm al-Qaiwain Breakwater and Al Jazirah Khor/Ra's al-Khaimah. The best bet here is to try the beach at Umm al-Qaiwain early in the morning.
Offshore Abu Dhabi is also good , for example off Marina Mall and Emirates Palace but numbers tend to be small and most birds immature.
On the East Coast, a few can normally be seen between Dibb'a and Fujairah Port Beach, but be aware of Great Cormorants which are also seen here all year. Look for Socotra Cormorant on the large buoys off Fujairah Port Beach, although they are often quite distant. Numbers are increasing here, with flocks of over hundred sometimes present.
INDIAN POND HERON
A common, but localized winter visitor to Khor Kalba mangroves from late August to May, where they were easy to see at low tide. This species is a lot less secretive than it's cousin the Squacco Heron, who has never been recorded at Khor Kalba. This site has no access since summer 2012, see below for alternative locations.
This species can also turn up away from Khor Kalba; most often recorded at Safa Park (often within the enclosed duck pond); at Al Warsan Lakes (where Squacco Herons are much more common) and Wamm.
CRESTED HONEY BUZZARD
Uncommon passage migrant & winter visitor, but apparently increasing and sometimes recorded in mid-summer. Best sites are on Abu Dhabi Island where several birds are wintering every year, particularly Mushrif Palace Gardens and the surrounding gardens.
Another reliable site in Dubai during winter is Mushrif National Park. Watch for raptors at the large car-park located at 25.214628N , 55.450181E; it is best to visit mid-morning.
This species has also proven to be semi-regular at Hamraniyah Fields in the far north and in the greater Dubai area, in Al Ain it seems Ain al-Fayda has a few wintering birds; it also winters in some years in the plantations at Sila'a in the far west.
EASTERN IMPERIAL EAGLE
A scarce but regular winter visitor. Usually first-winter birds are seen. The single best location is Ra's al-Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai from November until March; watch the sky from outside one of the two hides: Mangrove Hide and Flamingo Hide.
Rare and endangered breeder in the far west of Abu Dhabi Emirate, with regular nesting only on offshore islands from May until September. Virtually all of these are inaccessible to visitors. The species formerly bred on Delma Island but is unlikely to still do; however this is currently the only accessible location for visiting birders, with a regular ferry service.
Sooty Falcons can possibly be seen from the tip of Sila'a Peninsula from June/July to September, but as few birders ever visit this far west in the hot summer months this has not been confirmed. Another possibility would be a wandering bird from Oman (where it is still easy to see, for example near Muscat) on the east coast.
An increasingly rare breeding bird of the Hajar Mountains. One of the more consistent sites is the Green Mubazzarah around the base of Jebel Hafit as wellas at the summit of Jebel Hafit
Found throughout the year (though scarce from May to July). Regular on Abu Dhabi Island in small numbers, but a visitor is probably not guaranteed a sighting here and the birds are often distant. Also seen regularly in Al Jazirah Khor (search with a scope from the large sign above the roundabout at 25.719312N , 55.860869E). Occasionally seen along the east coast, particularly flying offshore along the Fujairah/Kalba coastline but, again, this is a long shot. The single best site , by some margin, was Khor al-Beida, but with access problems and development it is now a difficult site to visit.
Present throughout the year. The best site is the Ghantoot Polo Club, where they can be seen from outside the fence on the grass, although birds become very scarce here from January / February until late spring when they disperse out into the desert to breed. Another good spot is the Al Rafa'a shoreline, especially in the inlet at 25.612732N-55.679091E.
May also found on other grassy areas, such as the Emirates Golf Club & in the desert interior, but hard to find and never guaranteed.
An uncommon passage migrant, and regular breeder at favoured sites. The single best site is the Dubai Pivot Fields, where present throughout the year. Also regularly seen at nearby Al Warsan Lakes where it also breeds.
Normally present and breeding annually at Al Wathba Lake, but access here difficult.
An uncommon, localised passage migrant & winter visitor. The largest concentration of these birds is in the Marawah Marine Protected Area on Marawah Island, but this area is off limits to casual birders.
The single best site is still Khor al-Beida, but with access problems it is now a more difficult site to visit.
A new article on Great Knot in the UAE can be downloaded here: Download Great Knot article
A fairly common and widespread passage migrant & winter visitor, albeit in very small numbers. May be found in any fodder field, extensive area of grass lawns or marshy area, but always outnumbered by Common Snipe. Dubai Pivot Fields can produce this species, possibly still also at the Emirates Golf Club. But watch out; Common Snipe is far more likely at all these places!
A common bird along the East Coast beaches for much of the year but can be tricky to find in October.
May also be found on the west coast, especially the port area in Abu Dhabi and in the mouth of Dubai Creek, although numbers on the Gulf coast are much lower.
GREAT BLACK-HEADED GULL
An uncommon but regular winter visitor from early December until March. May be found along both coastlines, but especially on the Gulf coast. Fairly easy to find along the Abu Dhabi Corniche (and numerous loafing on the difficult-to-access Lulu Island in early spring) and Umm al-Qaiwain Breakwater; less so along the Ra's Dibba to Khor Kalba beaches but worth looking for in any large flocks of big gulls.
A common summer breeding species along the west coast. May be found along any patch of coastline, but is rare here after the breeding season. Easily found from April until August flying along, and sometimes over, Abu Dhabi Corniche and off Marina Mall. Common Tern is much scarcer off Abu Dhabi.
Also fairly common along the East Coast beaches, where a few birds over-winter.
Immature and non-breeding plumage can be very similar to Common Tern; look out for the diagnostic dark rump.
A common breeding summer visitor to the west coast, where it breeds on offshore islands from April until August. However, scarce and hard to find outside this period and, even in summer, is often much further offshore than White-cheeked Tern; can be quite difficult to see well. A common bird along the East Coast, often occurring in huge numbers fishing offshore. Largely absent from November to March, with few confirmed winter records.
A quite common breeding species, mainly on offshore islands along the west coast from late March to August. After this period it becomes scarce, with only a few birds wintering.
A fairly common passage migrant along the East Coast, both in spring and autumn. A few birds wintering. The single best site is the Fujairah - Khor Kalba coastline.
Great care must be taken in separating it from near-identical dark-rumped Little Terns, commonly recorded in the UAE. Little Terns normally have white rumps, but dark-rumped birds with two black primaries are often recorded and photographed. Identification problems are particularly acute on the east coast where Little Terns may be quite numerous; in contrast, they appear to be scarcer along the west coast.
May be found just after dark, drinking in any small waterhole in the mountains.
A common, but elusive breeding species in the Hajar Mountains. The easiest place to see this species is the grounds of the Hatta Fort Hotel at dusk, when shadows can be seen flying overhead, calling, as they fly to drinking sites.
A small lake formed just outside the small farm in Wadi Bih during autumn 2010; this site is sure to have birds come in to drink after dark.
A declining species, as its desert habitat become increasingly developed. Easiest time to see this species is in the mornings (08.00 – 09.30 hrs) as they come to drink. Al Wathba Camel Racetrack; Dubai Pivot Fields and Saih al Salam--Al Qudra Lake are all excellent locations, as is Lulu Island (if you can get onto it!).
Khor Kalba dunes and Khor al-Beida dunes in the late afternoons are other reliable sites where the birds are often sitting down, but these two sites are difficult to access.
STRIATED SCOPS OWL
A common, but localized and rather little-known breeding species, mainly of the northern and eastern emirates. The best single location is Mushrif Park in Dubai, around the mosque after dark. Also possible around Ra's al-Khaimah on plains with extensive Acacia stands.
DESERT EAGLE OWL
An uncommon & localized breeding resident of both the mountain foothills and the open sandy deserts. Probably, about 50 + pairs in the country. Most well known site is Qarn Nazwa, but widespread in the Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi deserts, where it breeds.
At Qarn Nazwa, look for the birds coming out just after sunset to sit on the tops of the two low mountains, often heard calling.
An uncommon passage migrant & winter visitor. It is particularly fond of fodder fields, where it comes to feed on insects at night. Best wintering site is the Al Wathba Camel Racetrack, but can be absent during cold winters with little insect-activity at night.
ARABIAN COLLARED KINGFISHER
The only known site in the UAE are the mangroves at Khor Kalba, where it is easy to see at low tide when it comes out on to the mudflats to feed, often alongside Indian Pond Herons. It is much harder to find at high water. Approximately 40 pairs were located during a survey in April-May 2011. Access is not possible since summer 2012, see the Khor Kalba section under the Sites link for more info.
An uncommon passage migrant and scarce winter visitor. More regular on Abu Dhabi island than anywhere else. Emirates Palace and Mushrif Palace Gardens are both good locations. In Dubai, look for it in Safa Park near the duck pond, and anywhere in Al Mamzar Park. Finding this species is more a matter of luck than strategy.
BLACK-CROWNED SPARROW LARK
A widespread breeding species of the open desert. Nomadic after the breeding season. A good location is around the Bab al-Shams desert in Dubai. Also try the open area at Khor Kalba before the bridge, at position 25.020882N , 56.360373E. Fodder fields near Al Ain, for example, Al Quaa’a or Al Ankah often host this species, alongside Namaqua Doves.
An uncommon and highly localized breeding bird. Inhabitating rocky areas in the sandy desert, just inland from the coast, as in the Bab al-Shams Desert.
Also found on headlands in the extreme west of Abu Dhabi Emirate, along the Saudi Arabian border. The Sila'a Peninsula between the last farm and the peninsula tip is a very reliable location, but the birds are hard to find even here.
GREATER HOOPOE LARK
A common but elusive resident of the open deserts. May be found anywhere where the habitat has not been too disturbed. The Bab al-Shams desert is a good location, particularly at dawn, when it can be located by call in spring. Roadside along the roads to the Liwa Oasis can also be good, as can the open scrubby plains along the shore between Khor al-Beida and Al Rafa'a.
An uncommon & localized winter visitor to fodder fields. The most consistent location is Al Wathba Camel Racetrack in Abu Dhabi, where it may be encountered on the racetrack itself near the main grandstand from November until March. The best strategy is to drive down onto the inside the camel track and then turn sharp right, to drive slowly along the inside of the track. In particular, search the first 500m of track. Birds are often disturbed from here by training camels, so several passes may be required.
An uncommon but regular winter visitor to fodder fields. Best site is the main field at Dubai Pivot Fields. Learn the call and be prepared to tramp all the longer grass (particularly that with barer bits amongst it). Note that Eurasian Skylarks are much commoner here.
PALE CRAG MARTIN
A common resident breeder of the Hajar Mountains and increasingly on tall buildings in Dubai & Abu Dhabi. Very easy to see at Green Mubazzarah and Jebel Hafit.
The only known location for this declining introduced species is the Mushrif Palace Gardens in Abu Dhabi, since 2012 possibly down to one pair.
An erratic and nomadic, winter visitor in variable numbers. Can be found in any plantation in the country, with the formerly good (and very accessible) site of Ghantoot possibly still having birds, at least erratically. Since 2008 one farm on Sila'a Peninsula has proved a reliable wintering site, at least from late November until January (position 24.070195N,51.774336E). The birds have also regularly wintered on the rarely-visited Dalma Island (in the forest near the hospital and big mosque). The difficult to access Lulu Island off Abu Dhabi has also proved a very reliable wintering site, but you will need your own boat to reach there.
A new roosting site was discovered in November 2012; the mangrove patch immediately to the east of Yas Island--Yas Links Golf Course (position 24.485080N,54.589927E).
A common passage migrant and winter visitor to the Hajar Mountains, from the end of September to April. The Green Mubazzarah in Al Ain is a very reliable location, as is Qarn Nazwa.
An uncommon winter visitor, from mid-September to late January only, to gravel acacia plains.
Qarn Nazwa plain at position 24.991528N , 55.662992E and the Wamm gravel area are reliable locations. There are few others.
An uncommon & highly localized resident breeding species in the Hajar Mountains. This species is secretive, and can be difficult to find. Best locations are both in Al Ain: in the grounds of the Mecure Hotel at the top of Jebel Hafeet and in the Green Mubazzarah around the chalets at 24.098898N , 55.750753E.
It has also been recorded around Hatta Dams and Wadi Bih where it probably breeds.
A common and easy to find resident of the Hajar Mountains. Breeds inside the grounds of the Hatta Fort Hotel, as well as on Jebel Hafit and in the Green Mubazzarah. Also easy to find in Wadi Bih and along the road from Masafi Wadi to Wamm Farms.
A scarce and often hard to find resident of the Hajar Mountains. Masafi Wadi is a good location where this species is resident year-round, it is very vocal and may be especially obvious early in the morning. It is not known from Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain.
CLAMOROUS REED WARBLER
A common breeding resident of any mangrove area. Also often present in the central reeds of Dubai Pivot Fields and nearby Al Warsan Lakes. A common passage migrant in parks and gardens during spring and autumn migration.
A widespread and sometimes common spring migrant, from March to May, mainly in the second half of spring. Likely at any site attractive to migrants, including the Acacias trees at Wamm Farm, Masafi and Green Mubazzarah and landscaped parks with Ghaf trees, for example in Abu Dhabi. Less common but still regular in autumn.
The only known location is the mangroves at Khor Kalba, where it is secretive, and often hard to find. Best located along the western edge of the mangroves. Access is not possible since summer 2012, see the Khor Kalba section under the Sites link for more info.
PLAIN LEAF WARBLER
A common winter visitor from late October until early March to the Hajar Mountains. Masafi Wadi is a good location, as is the side-wadi in Green Mubazzarah and Wadi Tarabat. This species is invariably in the crowns of low Acacia trees. Wintering Chiffchaff’s are very scarce in these areas; this species also has a very distinctive, buzzy or sparrow-like call. It sounds nothing like any other local Phylloscopus warbler.
A common breeding resident, particularly in the northern emirates around Ra's al-Khaimah airport and Hamraniyah Fields, as well as Al Jazirah Khor. Near Dubai you can try Mushrif National Park around the position 25.216278N , 55.458323E, and outside Ain al-Fayda park in Al Ain around position 24.090142N , 55.706988E.
An declining resident of both the sandy deserts and the Hajar Mountain, more common in the northern emirates. Can be viewed from the roadside along the Emirates Road E311 from Dubai to Ra's al-Khaimah and around Hamraniyah Fields.
Another good site is the desert around Al Ain Water Treatment Plant and Jebel Hafit.
An uncommon passage migrant and probable occasional breeder in the mountains. Erratic and most of the time absent or very hard to find. A good location is the Dubai Pivot Fields, but absent for most of the year and may even be absent for years on end.
In good years and particularly from late February until April or early May, this species can be seen almost anywhere, from the coastal dunes of Khor al-Beida to the desert of Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and the mountain wadis around Jebel Hafeet. Any fodder field in the desert is also worth a try.
A common summer breeding species to acacia dominated plains. Best locations are the coastal plains south and west of Khor Kalba, where it breeds in substantial numbers from April until August. Another good area is along the Huwaylat Road during summer, but be aware of the border police patrolling the road along the Oman border fence.
A scarce resident breeder in the Hajar Mountains. Best location is Wadi Bih, also recorded with some regularity at Sifini Dam and at the waterhole along Huwaylat Road (be aware of the border police patrolling the road along the Oman border fence where this waterhole is).
A common, but localized passage migrant in very small numbers and winter visitor to fodder fields. Best site is the Dubai Pivot Fields.
LONG BILLED PIPIT
An uncommon breeder in the Hajar Mountains. The easiest place to see them in this habitat is Masafi Wadi.
Also an uncommon winter visitor to fodder fields, and have been recorded regularly at Green Mubazzarah on dry rocky slopes in winter.
This well marked form is a scarce autumn, and very occasional spring, migrant to any wetland sites with large numbers of White Wagtails, from Sila'a in the far west to Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Dibba.
A common breeding species in the Hajar Mountains. Wadi Bih in the north and Green Mubazzarah/Wadi Tarabat in Al Ain are good locations. Another good area is along the Huwaylat Road, but be aware of the border police patrolling the road along the Oman border fence.
A very scarce, although annual, migrant in March and April. May turn up anywhere favoured by migrants, including Abu Dhabi Island, Dubai parks and Green Mubazzarah and Jebel Hafit on the lawn of the Mercure Hotel.