Finding birds in Istanbul without looking for them

While my Istanbul trip was not aimed at finding wildlife, there were enough birds that were impossible to miss. The most obvious Istanbul birds are the seagulls. Hundreds if not thousands of them circle above the ancient monuments filling the air with their haunting cries. There are a few species in the mix, notably the Yellow-legged gulls, Black-headed gulls and what appeared to be Heuglin’s gulls.

Yellow-legged gull in Istanbul
Yellow-legged gull
Istanbul birds - Heuglin's gull
Heuglin’s gull
Istanbul seagulls - Black-headed gull
Black-headed gull
Istanbul birds - yellow-footed gull
Juvenile Yellow-footed gull

Being surrounded by water on three sides, Istanbul is home to quite a few water birds. Though since I was not looking for them, I didn’t see many apart from a few Great cormorants and Mallard ducks.

Birds in Istanbul - Great cormorant
Great cormorant
Mallard's duck in Istanbul
Mallard’s duck

Birdwatching on the Bosporus Cruise

I took a cruise along the Bosporus mainly to see the sights of Istanbul, but it turned out to be a good birdwatching opportunity as well. Flocks of Yelkovan shearwater swiftly flew past our ferry a few times, a few European shags and Common Coots bobbed on the water, a few Alpine Swifts and hundreds of Yellow-legged gulls flew overhead.

Birdwatching as a way to make friends

Istanbul birds - Ring-necked parakeet
Ring-necked parakeet

This beautiful Ring-necked parakeet landed on a tree outside of a little shop next to my hotel. I have passed this shop a dozen times a day and by now the owner became an old friend. We were having our routine little chat, but when the bird arrived I stopped mid-sentence and dashed to the tree to take some photos of it in the rapidly disappearing light.

The shop owner probably thought it was a bit weird at first, but soon he caught my excitement and within minutes half the neighbourhood gathered around to admire the colourful parakeet, and to suggest better viewpoints.

In the following days, I received detailed updates about the parakeets’ appearances on the street. It was very touching.

Blue Mosque Park and Gulhane Park

The small patch of trees near the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet park is a good place to see birds in Istanbul – it was always full of bird calls. Black-billed magpies had their young and we creating quite a racket. Lots of Willow warblers fluttered high up in the canopy, too far and too fast to identify with a naked eye. Eurasian collared doves and Laughing doves were much easier to spot.

The Gulhane Park, near the Topkapi Palace, turned up a Syrian Woodpecker, some Goldfinches, Great tits, Hooded crows and House sparrows.

Willow Warbler in Istanbul
Willow Warbler
Istanbul birds - black-billed magpie
Black-billed magpie
Birds in Istanbul - eurasian collared dove
Eurasian collared dove
Istanbul birds - Laughing dove
Laughing dove

Back at along the shore of Bosphorus, I spotted a White wagtail doing its little dance on the boulders.

Birds of Istanbul - white wagtail
White wagtail

Istanbul birds list (April 2016)

  • Yellow-legged gull
  • Black-headed gull
  • Heuglin’s gull
  • Great cormorant
  • Mallard duck
  • Yelkovan shearwater
  • European shag
  • Common coot
  • Alpine swift
  • Ring-necked parakeet
  • Black-billed magpie
  • Willow warbler
  • Eurasian collared dove
  • Laughing dove
  • Syrian woodpecker
  • Goldfinch
  • Great tit
  • Hooded crow
  • House sparrow
  • White wagtail

More on Istanbul

2 thoughts on “Finding birds in Istanbul without looking for them”

  1. How do these birds manage to survive with so many street cats in Istambul?
    Lovely pictures, thanks for the big list!

    • Thank you, Sebastian. These birds would’ve evolved with all kinds of predators. Most of these predators have been exterminated from human-dominated landscapes. So the cats probably filled their niche. To the birds, it probably makes little difference which predators prey on them.


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