Finding Birds in Istanbul without Looking for Them

Wondering where to find birds in Istanbul without diverting from your cultural explorations too much? Here are the species I spotted in a couple of days in the city.

My Istanbul trip was not aimed at finding wildlife. I was in town to explore the monuments of the Roman and Byzantine empires, see the Whirling Dervishes, enjoy some traditional Turkish food and the centuries-old cafe culture, and find some hidden gems.

But birding creeps up on you, and before you know it you are searching for new species anywhere you go. So while I wasn’t intentionally looking for birds in Istanbul, I did slow down as I walked through the city’s green spaces and took note of all the different species I spotted.

Birds in Istanbul - Yellow-legged gull
Yellow-legged gull

But there were enough birds around the city that were impossible to miss. The most obvious birds in Istanbul 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 gullsBlack-headed gulls and what appeared to be Heuglin’s gulls.

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. Waterside neighbourhoods of Istanbul, like Sultanahmet and Beyoglu, are good for looking for water birds.

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 some of Istanbul’s attractions, but it turned out to be a good birdwatching opportunity as well.

The cruise surprised me with how peaceful and interesting it was, I’d recommend it as a must-do in Istanbul. And in terms of birds, 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 a little shop next to my hotel. I have passed this shop a dozen times a day, and by now, the owner has become an ‘old’ friend. We were having our routine little chat, and 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 created quite a racket. Lots of Willow warblers fluttered high up in the canopy, too far and too fast to identify with the 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 GoldfinchesGreat titsHooded 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

I spent quite a bit of time walking along the shore of the Bosphorus, following the line of Theodosian Land Walls, and strolling through ancient city gates.

The shore is a good place to see several species of seagulls, Great cormorants and ducks, as well as White wagtails skipping along the coastal rocks.

Birds of Istanbul - white wagtail
White wagtail

If you get weary from all the walking around, there is an interesting little cafe that serves traditional Turkish food – Yunus Emre Teras Cafe. They specialize in a regional breakfast from very far away called Van kahvaltı, which is a city in southeastern Anatolia, not far from the Iranian and Iraqi borders

More on Exploring 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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