a web page by Don Roberson
Species [range]
Photo/art [see credits];
all photos taken in the wild
Summary of reasons for this choice
DR seen?
Philippine Eagle
Pithecophaga jefferyi
The largest and most spectacular raptor in the world is also among the rarest — it is threatened with extinction as Philippine forests are destroyed. Perhaps less than 200 adults remain in isolated and difficult to reach forest remnants. "Seeing the Philippine Eagle" page has some personal experiences. I chose this as my #1 most wanted bird back in 1974, and it remains the best bird in the world.

Cicinnurus respublica
[Batanta & Waigeo Is.; off w. New Guinea]
Of all the incredible birds of paradise, none is more remote and spectacular than this species whose latin name commemorates the French revolution. Its bare crown glows neon-blue as the male performs on his carefully tended forest floor display site. An almost unbelievably wonderful bird to watch (which is not at all easy to do); see my "Birds of Paradise" page for a bit more.
Gray-necked Rockfowl
Picathartes oreas
[w. central Africa]
Huge predators and gaudy passerines are wonderful, but few birds capture my imagination as the elusive ground-dwelling enigmas of tropical forests. None are more unique, impressive, and rare than the two rockfowl of Africa. The adventure to reach a cave in which they build mud nests is a peak experience of any life; see my "Rockfowl" page for much more about this fabulous central African bird, best searched for in Cameroon or Gabon.
White-necked Rockfowl
Picathartes gymnocephalus
[west Africa]
Along with the Congo Peafowl (#10 below), African field ornithologists have long considered the two rockfowl to be the best birds of Africa. This west African representative is now very rare in the fragments of forest still extant; see my "Rockfowl" page for details on the many unique attributes of these picathartes.
Rhynochetos jubatus
[New Caledonia]
Once considered virtually impossible to see, this exceptional bird of very uncertain affinities is making a good recovery in the forest remnants due to predator removal and captive breeding. Still a shadowy ghost on the forest floor; see my "Kagu" page for more. Only a few hundred in the wild, it rates very high on uniqueness.
Horned Guan
Oreophasis derbianus
[sw Mexico & n Guatemala]
This huge near-mythical guan lives only in remote cloud forests atop extinct volcanoes; the bare vivid red horn is completely unique. Even a 40+ mile trek to its habitat does not guarantee finding any; it took me two trips 16 yrs apart. Much more on my "Quest for the Horned Guan" page.
Harpy Eagle
Harpia harpyja
[s. Mexico to Brazil]
The second largest eagle in the world and the king of the Neotropics, this is the ultimate prize on any New World lowland forest visit. Its range is widespread but it requires huge swathes of jungle full of monkeys to survive. It is everywhere thinly spread and thus missed often even in prime habitat; see my "Seeing the Harpy Eagle" page for more.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Eurynorhynchus pygmeus
[east Asia]
Everyone's favorite small shorebird, the stint with the totally unique bill continues to be difficult to pin down. The world population is very small. It nests in remote Siberia, is scarce on passage on the Chinese coast, and winter in places like Vietnam or Bangladesh which have been difficult to visit, but a handful visit Thailand. For those who love wader migration, this has a world-class starring role.
Strigops habroptilus
[New Zealand]
It is very difficult to see the world's only flightless parrot. All remaining individuals were captured from 1980–1992 from two isolated & declining populations and taken to four well-guarded offshore islets in hopes that semi-natural breeding would save the species from extinction. The plan is working but only researchers, and volunteers who get on a list that will require them to work during a 2–week stay at some random future time, actually see this huge booming parrot.
Marvelous Spatuletail
Loddigesia mirabilis
[n. Peru]

The hummingbirds include many spectacular gems. I pick the male Spatuletail for its spectacular tail, plus it is scarce and local, confined to the upper Rio Marañón Valley, n. Peru. There is now a lodge where it is predictably seen. One negative in picking a sexually dimorphic species is that the thrill of seeing a female or immature is just not the same thing as the male.... See a separate page on this incredible species.



All the artworks are copyrighted by the artist (as detailed below) and are either used with permission or are posted here in reliance on the non-commercial "fair use" doctrine; all rights are reserved by the artist.

  • Derek Onley painted the Kakapo; from Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand (1996) by Heather & Robertson (Viking)

All the photographs are copyrighted by the photographer (as detailed below) and are used with permission; all rights are reserved to the photographer

  • Ian Merrill photographed the Philippine Eagle (Mindanao, Philippines)
  • Rob Hutchinson photographed the Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise (Batanta, Papua, Indonesia)
  • Markus Lilje photographed the Gray-necked Rockfowl (Cameroon)
  • Ed Greaves photographed the Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Attu I., Alaska, U.S.A.)
  • Don Roberson photographed the White-necked Rockfowl (Ghana), Kagu (New Caledonia), Horned Guan (Chiapas, Mexico), Harpy Eagle (Brazil), and Marvelous Spatuletail (Peru)

or the picks via links at right:



  page initially created 7-10 May 2002, revised 7 June 2002, 5 Nov 2003 & 28 Nov 2005, 21 Feb 2010, 6 Dec 2014, and 23 Feb 2021  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved