Birdwatching in the Tokyo Area

For visitors on business in Tokyo for a few days, or while stopping by in the capital during trips elsewhere, there are several places right in the heart of the city where you can do some birdwatching.

With Tokyo's super-efficient transport system, getting from your hotel to one of these places is straightforward. If you are hesitant, ask the concierge at your hotel to write down the route and the destination in Japanese.

An alternative – but more expensive – way is to jump into a taxi and have a chauffeur drive you to your desired destination.

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Central Tokyo: The Imperial Palace Moat 

Right in central Tokyo, within walking distance of the Imperial Hotel and others in the Marunouchi business district, the Imperial Palace moat is always worth a look, especially between November and March when millions of wild ducks are wintering in Japan.

There are always a few ducks and grebes there, as well as a few Grey Herons or Great White or Little egrets. During the winter if you look hard you can often spot a Common Kingfisher sat on a branch over the water.

Eastern Buzzards and Northern Goshawks are resident in the extensive grounds of the Imperial Palace – the residence of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko – so you may see one fly over the trees as you walk around the perimeter.

The best area for birding is probably around the southwest side of the palace, from around the Hibiya Park corner/Sakuradamon gate area, past the National Theatre/Supreme Court building, and as far as one of the palace entrances on the south side of the British Embassy.

This is where most of the ducks congregate during the winter months, but there are many different areas to check as the moats are divided into several sections by access bridges to the palace and the birds move around to where food is most easily accessible.

Just opposite the National Theatre it is often possible to look down onto the moat and see a mixed flock of Falcated Duck, Gadwall and Common Coot feeding on water plants below you.

Sometimes, the gorgeously plumed Falcated Duck can be seen close to the sidewalk near Sakuradamon – making it possible to obtain excellent views of this beautiful Asian speciality.




There are often other species around such as Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Mallard, Northern ShovelerEurasian Wigeon and Eurasian Teal, and diving ducks include Common Pochard, Tufted Duck and sometimes Common Goldeneye.

Small numbers of Mandarin Duck can be seen during the winter but they are more likely to be found on the north side – the Kudanshita/Budokan area – and often perch unobtrusively on branches over the water or hide in holes in the walls of the moat.

Little Grebe and Great Cormorant are both resident, and there are also a few not-so-wild Mute Swan swimming around the sections near to Marunouchi where the tourists go.

Gulls are often a feature of sections of water around the Marunouchi area – mostly Vega Gull and Black-headed Gull, but also a few Slaty-backed Gull and Black-tailed Gull. Once, an American Herring Gull was even photographed there.

Around the Imperial Palace is a 5-km jogging course, and at whatever time of the day (or night) you visit, there are always runners passing by – so please be considerate of them if you are carrying a tripod for your camera or telescope.

National Theatre moat: 35.681840, 139.745812

Central Tokyo: Yoyogi Park & Meiji Shrine

If you look at a map of Tokyo, here and there are small pockets of green – undeveloped, concrete-free land preserved as parks and gardens.

Among the better known ones, and often on the tourist itinerary, are Ueno Park, Shinjuku-gyoen, Yoyogi Park, Inokashira Park, the East Garden of the Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park, probably the oldest public park in the capital (it was created in 1903).

One of the biggest green areas, Yoyogi Park, is located just south of Shinjuku, the capital's main sub-centre and home to City Hall, a million shops and restaurants (and as many people at the weekend!) and many hotels. It is also where Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine erected almost a century ago for the souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, are enshrined.

From Shinjuku it is about a 15-minute walk to the north (Yoyogi) entrance, and at the south end, access is from JR Harajuku Station or from the adjoining Meijijingumae subway station. There is also a couple of entrances on the west side (the nearest station is Sangubashi on the Odakyu Line).

Admission to the park and shrine is free, but in one part of the shrine area there is an iris garden and a fee is charged to enter this area when they are in flower. The shrine area is closed at night.

Although Yoyogi Park is right in the “middle” of Tokyo – and consequently has no shortage of visitors wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of a hectic world beyond the tree trunks – it is possible, especially in the early morning, to spend some time quietly walking around the forested areas and not see too many other people.

During the winter hundreds of Large-billed Crow roost by the on the west side of the shrine, and at times they make so much noise it is hard to hear if anything else is calling!

During the spring and autumn migrant flycatchers and warblers occasionally drop in, but there are thousands of trees and bushes so finding them presents a challenge.

The best time for birding is during the colder winter months, when thrushes and buntings are around, and on the small pond near the Treasure Museum, a small flock of Mandarin Ducks is usually present, tucked up on branches or stones close to the small bridge.

On a calm and sunny winter's morning a walk through the forest often produces Black-faced Bunting and Grey Bunting, as well as Pale Thrush and Dusky Thrush. White's Thrush is a bonus bird, but in the half light under the tall trees, finding them is challenging to say the least!

There are usually one or two Red-flanked Bluetail or Daurian Redstart where there are bushes and open areas outside the wooded areas.

In the open areas of grass, Hawfinch and Oriental Greenfinch can be found feeding around the edges, and Bull-headed Shrike sometimes pop up. Oriental Turtle Dove, Brown-eared Bulbul, Japanese Pygmy WoodpeckerVaried Tit, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, White Wagtail and Japanese White-eye can be seen anywhere in the park at any time of the year.

Around the shrine or over the open grassy areas, look for Northern Goshawk flying overhead. If one is flying, there is usually a tell-tale mob of cawing crows around it announcing its presence.

Although it does not have a long list of rarities to its name, a Collared Scops Owl was present for some weeks a few winters ago.

A few lucky people have even seen Tanuki (Raccoon Dogsi) there, and bats catch insects over the ponds at nighttime.

Mandarin Duck pond: 35.679199, 139.699206

Yatsu-higata Mudflats

Yatsu-higata (Yatsu Tidal Wetland) is one of the best known sites for shorebird watching in the Tokyo area. Almost any species of wader on the Japanese list can, or has, appeared here, although regular visits throughout the migration seasons are required to see the full range of species that drop by.

To reach Yatsu-higata take the Keiyo Line train from Tokyo station and get off at Minami-funabashi Station (30 minutes on a local train), then it is a 15-minute walk. Check tide times before you go (monthly tide tables are at the link at the end of this article).

Time your arrival for about two hours before high tide; when the tide rises it pushes the waders closer to the pathway which encircles the area. The best areas to watch then are between the visitor centre and the bridge, and along the east side by the high school.

For spring migration April and May are best, while in autumn August and September offer a good range of species.

Frequently seen species include: Grey-tailed Tattler, Ruddy Turnstone, Eastern Black-tailed Godwit, Red-necked Stint and Great KnotSaunders's Gull is sometimes present during winter.

One quirk about Yatsu-higata tide times: for some reason they are about 1.5 hours later than in Tokyo Bay, so if the high tide is at, for example, 12:00 in Tokyo Bay, it is not until 13:30 at Yatsu-higata (not taking into account spring tides and other tidal oddities!).

For spring migration mid-April through late May are best, while in autumn August and September offer a good range of species.

Frequently seen species include: Northern Dunlin, Sanderling, Grey-tailed Tattler, Ruddy Turnstone, Mongolian Plover, Bar-tailed and Eastern Black-tailed godwit, Red-necked Stint and Great Knot.



There are usually Black-winged Stilts somewhere to be seen.

Rarities have included Ringed Plover, Temminck's Stint, Greater Sand Plover, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper and Grey Phalarope. Greenshank, Common Redshank, Far Eastern Curlew and Little Ringed Plovers are regular but only in small numbers.

In the trees or parks nearby Azure-winged Magpie is resident, Oriental Reed Warbler breeds in the small area of reeds by the visitor centre in the summer months, and occasionally migrants such as flycatchers and warblers turn up.

During the winter months, there are fewer shorebirds – mostly Grey Plovers and Northern Dunlin – but larger numbers of ducks, including Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Spot-billed Duck, Northern Shoveler and Greater Scaup.

With such an abundant food supply, a Peregrine Falcon often hunts in the area.

As the tide comes in, you can often see Red Stingrays gliding into Yatsu-higata, especially at the bridge near the visitor centre or in the channel on the east side, near Chibakenritsu-Tsudanumakotogakko high school.


Google Map: 35.676945, 140.007160

Yatsu-higata Visitor Centre: 35.675621, 140.005284

Yatsu-higata Visitor Centre Homepage

Tide table for Funabashi

Tel.: 0474-54-8416 (Japanese only)


To reach Sanbanze, take the Keiyo line train from Tokyo station and get off at Futamata-shinmachi  station (25 minutes by local train), then a 30-minute walk to Tokyo Bay. Taxis are available, and there is a bus service nearby.  This place is called Funabashi Kaihin Koen in Japanese.  Check tide times before you go -- try to arrive about 2 hours before high tide (monthly tide tables are on the Yatsu-higata  website).

Birds to look for include: waders/shorebirds (including flocks of the eastern race of Oystercatcher), ducks, grebes and sometimes Saunders's Gull in winter.

Sanbanze is one of the few places in the Tokyo area where Oystercatchers are regular during the winter months.



































Kasai Rinkai Koen

Kasai Rinkai Park, one of the many public parks of Tokyo, is located on the east side of the city, close to Tokyo Disneyland. It is easy to reach by the Keiyo Line train from Tokyo Station. The ride takes about 30 minutes on a local train, and Kasai Rinkai Koen Station is right next to the entrance of the park.

There is also an aquarium (Tokyo Sea Life Park) inside the park, a hotel, and toilet facilities in several places. At the station, a couple of restaurants and a convenience store sell food and drink if you have not brought your own.

Kasai is a good place in winter, as there are large numbers of grebes, ducks and gulls in Tokyo Bay, and the birdwatching area (ponds and bushes) at the east end attract good numbers of birds.

Rarities have included Asiatic Dowitcher, Baer's Pochard, Baillon's Crake and Little Curlew, among others, and Saunders's Gulls occasionally stop by during the winter months.

It is also a good site for Azure-winged Magpie, although they can be hard to track down among the trees and bushes if they are silent. They are often around the Ferris wheel area or car park on the west side, or at the birdwatching pond at the east end.

During winter several species of thrush – White's, Dusky, Pale and Brown-headed – can be seen, as well as Daurian Redstarts and two or three species of bunting. At this time of the year, there are usually a couple of Bull-headed Shrikes in residence, and Northern Goshawks and Eastern Buzzards can often be seen near the birdwatching centre.

During the autumn, on clear, calm mornings, there is sometimes visible diurnal migration taking place. Then, occasionals raptors, hirundines, bulbuls, larks or buntings can be seen flying overhead.

Within the park there are two main places to watch birds: On the islands in Tokyo Bay, reached by crossing Kasai-Nagisa Bridge (the gates open at 0900 but fishermen – and sometimes birders! – have been known to jump over before the “official” opening time), and at the birdwatching ponds towards the east.

The West Island is open and you can wander around (the grassy area is sometimes good for pipits and larks or buntings, as well as for roosting waders, but there is a lot of disturbance from visitors). During the early summer part of West Island is roped off and Little Tern decoys set out in a bid to attract them to breed, but there is probably too much disturbance for anything positive to happen.

East Island is off-limits and inaccessible. It is on the latter where many birds can be seen – shorebirds, herons, spoonbills and egrets and birds of prey – but, unfortunately, seeing them is often a challenge as the causeway where you can walk on West Island to overlook East Island is the same height as the stones on East Island, and it is hard to see many parts where the birds are feeding or resting. There are also signs large blocking parts of the view as well.

During the late autumn and early winter the wintering flock of Greater Scaup gradually builds up, and by mid-winter there are huge rafts of several thousand birds offshore. Among the flocks are likely to be several hundred Great Crested Grebe, and smaller numbers of Black-necked Grebe, too.

If the tide is out, large numbers of gulls sometimes congregate on the East Island mudflats, and the main species are Slaty-backed, Vega, Black-tailed and Black-headed. And a visit to Kasai is never complete without seeing hundreds of Great Cormorants fishing in Tokyo Bay or flying toward nearby Gyotoku, where there is a colony.

The “watching centre” is a two-storey grey-domed building situated next to the ponds on the east side of Kasai park. There are usually a couple of wardens around to help with identification or give you the latest news, but it will probably be in Japanese rather than in English.

On the ground floor toilet facilities are available, and from the second floor, it is possible to look out over the main pond to the west, and also the shallow pond on the east side. Most, if not all, the action, is on the main pond.

During the winter months several hundred ducks – mostly Common Pochard and Tufted Duck – roost. There are also a few dabbling ducks such as Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Eastern Spot-billed Duck and Eurasian Teal.

In the reed beds, Eastern Water Rail and Common Moorhen can be seen or heard, and just occasionally a rare crake – Ruddy-breasted Crake or Baillon's Crake – turns up.

Passerines include Common Reed Bunting, Black-faced Bunting, Japanese Bush Warbler and Daurian Redstart.


Birds to look for include: grebes, ducks, gulls, thrushes, and Azure-winged Magpie.

Takao-san (Mt Takao)

This “mountain” – at 599 metres high it's not really a mountain, more a high hill – lies just over 50 km to the west of Shinjuku, one of the main sub-centres of Tokyo.

Take a Keio Line train from Shinjuku Station to the end of the line at Takao-san-guchi (about 60 minutes by express). Follow people to the plaza where there you will find the cable car station entrance/gift shops. There is a detailed hiking map of Takao-san here from where you can choose your trail. Walk the many trails to the top -- but note that the main trails will be crowded (and hence mostly birdless) at weekends.

It takes about an hour to travel there by direct express train on the Keio Line from Shinjuku Station (the Keio Line is connected to/signposted at JR Shinjuku Station), and from Takaosanguchi Station (the final stop) it is about a 10-minute walk to the plaza at the base of the mountain.

There are several routes to the top, but as Takao-san is close to the capital and as there is a well-known temple --Yakuo-in – there, these can get very crowded, especially at the weekend, on national holidays and around New Year.

It is also a very popular hiking spot – the crowds assembled at the plaza during the peak hanami (cherry-blossom) or autumn colour-viewing seasons have to be seen to be believed – so there is never any shortage of people in the area. Fortunately, however, most of these day-trippers and hikers keep to the main trails and stay close to the temple and summit.

At Takaosanguchi Station pamphlets with maps are available in English, Korean, Chinese and of course, Japanese, and sign boards have been set up in different places with trail maps and other information (mostly in Japanese).

From the plaza at the base of Takao-san, there are a number of trails to choose from, as well as a cable car and a chair lift. Neither of the latter go to the summit, but for those who prefer to miss out some of the steeper parts, this is the way to go.

Another popular trail follows the service road up to the summit (no access to private vehicles).

One of the better trails to ascend is No. 6.

This begins near Takao Hospital, which is reached by walking up the road behind the cable car station for about 15 minutes. The trail entrance is on the left side of the road just below the hospital, and about 75 metres after the collection of red-hatted jizo statues at a small shrine.

No. 6 trail follows the stream valley and exits at a junction onto the Inariyama Trail. From that junction, it is about another 20 minutes or so up to the summit. It takes about 45 minutes to get from the entrance to the Inariyama junction.

In this cool and sheltered valley during the summer months three species of flycatcher (Blue&White, Narcissus and Black Paradise) can be seen, as well as Japanese Green Woodpecker and Japanese Grosbeak. White-bellied Green Pigeon can sometimes be heard. Eastern Crowned Warblers are usually present, as are Asian Stub-tails.

During the winter months around Takao-san, three species of woodpecker (Great Spotted, Japanese Green and Japanese Pygmy) can be usually be found, and White-backed is an occasional visitor. Other birds that may be seen include Daurian Redstart, Red-flanked Bluetail, Grey Bunting and occasionally Japanese Accentor are there. Alien species include Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Hwamei and Red-billed Leiothrix.

Surprisingly, in such a large forested area, raptors seem to be few and far between, but occasionally Eastern Buzzards, Eurasian Sparrowhawks or Northern Goshawks can be seen, and in the summer listen for the calls of Japanese Lesser Sparrowhawk. Grey-faced Buzzards have been seen on migration.

Beyond the summit of Takao-san, to the northwest, is Shiroyama, and there is a nice hiking trail connecting Takao with Shiroyama and Jinba-san.

The hike from Takao-sanguchi Station to Jinba-kogen-shita bus stop, about 20 km in total, takes five or six hours, and passes through mixed – but mostly Japanese cedar – forest. At both the summit of Takao-san and Jinba-san and also at Icchodaira, uninterrupted views across to Mount Fuji can be obtained, especially on clear and cold winter days.

Snow is always a possibility along this trail in late winter, so be prepared if it has snowed a day or two before your visit, or if snow is forecast.

From Jinba-san picnic area (look for Mountain Hawk Eagles soaring over the surrounding ridges) descend to Jinba-kogen-shita bus stop and from there take the bus back to JR Takao Station. Once back at the station you can take the Chuo line train directly back to Shinjuku or, from the adjoining Keio Takao station, the Keio line train offers a slightly cheaper alternative back to Keio Shinjuku Station.

On the west side of Takao-san is a place called Icchodaira, where there is a shelter and an observation platform from where you can look out towards the mountains of Tanzawa and also, on a clear day, see Mount Fuji rising majestically on the horizon far away to the west.

And on a clear winter's day you can just see the snow-capped southernmost ridge of the South Alps in the far distance in Yamanashi Prefecture.

The area around Icchodaira is one of the best places near to Takao-san where, during the spring and summer, it is often possible to hear – but hard to actually see – Copper Pheasant.

This species is very secretive but if you walk quietly along the trails towards Shiroyama or south towards Odarumi-toge, there is a chance that you will be able to hear a male drumming, especially if you are there soon after dawn on a calm day.

Seeing this shy bird is another matter altogether, but you might get lucky and find one as it crosses the hiking trail, or flush a couple of females as they feed beside the pathway.

Another attraction at Takao-san is mammal-watching at night, and it is possible to see half a dozen different species on a good night – or none on a bad night!

The main reason for a “night safari” is to see the Japanese Giant Flying Squirrels, and the best place to find them is in the huge sugi (Japanese cedar) trees around Yakuo-in temple. If you are lucky, you cab see them as they glide between the trees.

The best way to locate them is to listen to their calls – a quite loud, but short chattering, or another machinegun-like call which sounds like something straight out of a computer game!

Other species that can be seen include Tanuki (Raccoon Dog), Japanese Badger, Japanese Marten, Wild Boar and Striped Palm Civet. In late 2015 an Asiatic Black Bear was reported west of Icchodaira, but this species is not normally in the area. Just occasionally, Japanese Macaques could be in the areas further to the west of Takao-san.

For plant lovers, out of several hundred different types of trees, bushes and flowers, two species that are of interest at Takao-san are Sekkoku (Dendrobium moniliforme), a type of orchid which grows on certain sugi trees in the stream valley along Route #6, and Takao Violet (Takao-sumire/Viola yezoensis f. discolor).

At the summit of Takao-san, a visitor centre has some information about hiking trails or wildlife that can be seen, and next door there is also a small restaurant. There are also vending machines here, drinking water is available, and there are a number of benches and tables where you can rest or have a picnic.

Toilet facilities are available at Yakuo-in temple, at the cable car and chair lift stations, at the summit, and also near Icchodaira.

Another option is to do the hike in reverse: take a bus from JR Takao Station to Jinba-kogen-shita, hike to the top of Jinba-kogen, then follow the signposted trail back to Takao-san and down to Takaosanguchi Station.

An alternative is to take a bus from outside JR Takao Station as far as Hikage bus stop, follow the mountain road up to Shiroyama, then turn southeast and head to Icchodaira, on to the summit of Takao-san and finally back down to Takaosanguchi Station.

Birds to look for include: Japanese Green Woodpecker, Copper Pheasant, Japanese Grosbeak, White-bellied Green Pigeon, and buntings. In summer: Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Blue & White Flycatcher and Narcissus Flycatcher, Asian Stub-tail and Eastern Crowned Warbler.

Google map: Icchodaira: 35.626279, 139.227659

Tama River (Tama-gawa) at Seisekisakuragaoka

Take a Keio Line train from Shinjuku Station to Seisekisakuragaoka station (30 minutes by express train). It is about a 15 minute-walk to the Tama-gawa (the train crosses over the river just before arriving at the station).

Birds to look for include: various dabbling ducks, Long-billed Plover, Northern Goshawk, Japanese Wagtail, Buff-bellied Pipit, and buntings.


Not so far from Tokyo – half an hour on the Joban Line express train from Ueno Station to Tennodai Station (or Abiko Station), and then a 20-minute walk -- is Teganuma -- a large, shallow lake, which is a good site in winter for wildfowl and farmland birds.

The fields and horticultural areas on the northeast side of the lake attract a variety of bunting and pipits, and Japanese Green Pheasant is resident in the area, too.

During the late winter months, flocks of roving Eastern Rooks, sometimes containing small numbers of attractive Daurian Jackdaws, can be found feeding in the dried-out rice paddies on the east side of the eastern end of Teganuma.

Growing on the fringes of the lake are small areas of reeds and bullrushes. In summer these are home to Oriental Reed Warblers and Japanese Bush Warblers, and Little Grebes breed right at the water's edge.

These swampy areas offer perfect cover for America Bullfrog and also Red-eared Slider turtles – both alien species. The former can often be heard calling in the spring or summer months – a call not to be confused with the booming of a Eurasian Bittern -- and both the frog and the turtle haul themselves out and sun themselves on a warm day.

In the winter, this same habitat attracts Common Snipe, Eastern Water Rail (Brown-eared Rail), Common Reed, Rustic, Black-faced and Meadow buntings, and maybe a Ruddy-breasted Crake, Wryneck or a Long-tailed Rosefinch or two. Common Kingfishers an often be seen perched on boats or bamboo poles sticking out of the water.



During spring or autumn, and especially around the time of typhoons, this lake is worth checking for marsh terns: Whiskered Tern and White-winged Black Tern are possible, and Common Tern or Little Tern are also around.

The open habitat means there are often raptors around: Black-eared Kites are never far away, Ospreys can be seen fishing or perched on bamboo poles in the lake, and Northern Goshawk, Eastern Marsh Harrier and Eurasian Kestrel are frequently seen in the area during the winter months.

There is a feral population of Mute Swans at the lake,and in the colder months between December and March, Teganuma is the winter home for a variety of ducks.

Diving ducks include Smew, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck and Common Goldeneye, and dabbling ducks, other than the numerous and always-present Mallard and Spot-billed Ducks, include Eurasian Teal, Northern Pintail and Eurasian Wigeon. There is always a chance, if you carefully check the flocks of teal, of finding a Baikal Teal.

Unusual birds that have been seen at Teganuma include Lesser Frigatebird, Chinese Pond Heron, Ruddy-breasted Crake and Chinese Grosbeak.

From Abiko Station (Joban Line) walk about 30 minutes to Teganuma Park (手賀沼 公園)and then walk east along the north side of the lake to Tega-ohashi bridge (手賀大橋). From the bridge, continue walking along the cycle/jogging path to Katayama Shinden, at the east end of the lake, before returning. Another route is to walk about 20 minutes south from Tennodai Station to Hachiman Shrine/Konoyama Shinden, and then check the areas on both the west and east side of the small park on the water's edge. From this area, It is a pleasant walk (in nice weather!) right to the east end of the lake, where you can check the rice paddies.

Toilets and parking facilities available at: 35.861459, 140.043234

Kitamoto Nature Observation Park (Kitamoto Shizen Kansatsu Koen)

This is an urban ecology park northeast of Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture. It is about a 45-minute walk from Kitamoto Station on the Takasaki Line from Tokyo.

This forested park, with its pathways through the trees and bushes, makes it a nice place to spend a few hours in the winter looking for different species of buntings and thrushes.

Japanese Green Pheasants are resident, and also Japanese Green Woodpecker, both endemic species.

On the small ponds, a variety of waterbirds – herons, egrets and some of the commoner ducks – can be seen, and in the summer, warblers such as Oriental Reed, Japanese Bush and Eastern-crowned are present.

During the winter months bits and pieces turn up, such as Eastern Water Rail and Wryneck, and there is always the chance of waxwings passing through, especially later in the season.


Tel.: 048-593-2891


Free admission, but closed Monday (or Tuesday, if the Monday is a public holiday)

Toilet/parking facilities available

Google map: 36.012643, 139.510453

© 2016 Mark Brazil & Chris Cook

Last updated: 20160910