Birding in Taiwan







 About Taiwan

Photo Credit: Government Information Office, Taiwan.



            The island of Taiwan was shaped by the collisions of the Eurasian continental plate and the Pacific Ocean plate several million years ago.  Powerful forces have created magnificent natural scenery:  Alishan (Data Mountain; main peak), 2663 m (8,740 feet); Anmashan (Saddle Mountain Range), 2666 m (8,752 feet); Hehuanshan (Harmonious Happiness Mountain), 3416 m (11,215 feet); Yushan (Jade Mountain), at 3952 m (12,974 feet), the highest peak in East Asia; the precipitous cliffs of Taroko National Park, the coral cliffs of Kenting National Park in the south; and the hot springs and fumaroles of Yangmingshan National Park in the north.  Taiwan's marine ecology, with coral reefs and a variety of marine life, enriches the natural beauty of the island.

            Located in Hualien County on Taiwan’s east coast, Taroko Gorge is known for its sheer marble cliffs, deep gorges, winding tunnels and the Liwu River, which flows through the landscape.  This craggy land originated over 230 million years ago, when coral reefs formed in the tropical shallows where Taiwan is now situated.  The passage of time changed the coral into limestone, which the intense heat of geotectonic movements turned into marble.  The collision of continental plates millions of years ago forced the rocks upward, creating Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range.  Wind stripped away the topsoil, exposing the rock to erosion.  The flow of the Liwu River brought about winding gorges, rapids, waterfalls, and hollows in rock, which still bear the markings of the massive tectonic movements that formed Taiwan.

            Human habitation in Taiwan dates back 12,000 to 15,000 years, and evidence suggests that the ancestors of today’s indigenous peoples came from southern China and Austronesia.  Han Chinese began settling in the Pescadores (Penghu Islands) in the 1200s, but Taiwan's hostile tribes and its lack of the trade resources valued in that era rendered it unattractive to all but "occasional adventurers or fishermen engaging in barter" until the sixteenth century.  Other early immigrants included the Hakka, a subgroup of the Han.

            Taiwan's modern history goes back about 400 years, when, according to one story (of several), Jan Huygen van Linschoten, a Dutch navigator on a Portugese ship, exclaimed "Ilha Formosa!" (“Beautiful Island!”) on seeing Taiwan’s lush and dramatic east coast. The island became known as Formosa; the name survived over 400 years and is still preferred by many.

            In 1624, the Dutch East Indies Company, headquartered in Batavia (now Jakarta), Java, Indonesia, established the first European-style government on the soil of Taiwan, and inaugurated the modern political history of Taiwan in the area of present-day Tainan city on the island’s southwest coast. Today, the visible legacy of the Dutch is limited to Anping Castle (formerly Fort Zeelandia) in Anping, now Tainan’s suburb and port city.  “Taoyuan” (today’s Anping city) was the name the Dutch used for their settlement.  The origin of that name, with various spellings (Taoyuan, Taian, Taiyan), is disputed.  Some say that it was an aboriginal name meaning “foreigners” or “aliens,” referring to the Chinese, Japanese and Dutch who had arrived.  Chinese adopted it as the name for the whole island in the late 1600s.  The standard name “Taiwan” came into general use by westerners in the 1960s. 

            Taiwan is currently home and heir to the political system of the Republic of China (ROC), which was created in mainland China by Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925) in 1912 as the first constitutional republic in Asia.  The ROC Constitution specifically guarantees the freedoms of speech, residence, travel, assembly, confidential communication, religion and association.  Other rights and freedoms, even if not specified in the Constitution, are still protected, so long as they do not violate social order or public interest.  


            In 1949, the Communist Party of China defeated the ROC government in a civil war and founded the People’s Republic of China on the mainland.  The ROC government, led by Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) and the Kuomintang (or Nationalist Party), was forced to retreat to Taiwan, and its jurisdiction became limited to Taiwan, Penghu (Pescadores), Kinmen (Quemoy), Matsu (Matzu, Mazu), and the Pratas (Dongsha) Islands.


            In 1987, the ROC lifted martial law and began a series of democratizing reforms, winning widespread attention and praise from the international community; these culminated in 1996 with the first ever direct election for president.  In the 2000 presidential election, the Democratic Progressive Party emerged victorious and took over power from the Kuomintang, which had ruled Taiwan for more than 50 years; Taiwan thereby reached the milestone of a peaceful and democratic transfer of power between political parties.  In 2004 President Chen Shui-bian was re-elected for a second term of office, further consolidating Taiwan’s democratic transformation.


            Moreover, even before democratization, the people and government of Taiwan had created an “economic miracle,” which reached fruition in the 1980s.  In 2002, Taiwan joined the World Trade Organization, formally taking its place in the global economic and trade system.  The current administration in Taiwan is now moving to implement the “Challenge 2008” national development plan and the “Ten New Major Infrastructure Projects.”  The most important aspects of these plans include aggressive promotion of the knowledge-based economy, transformation and upgrading of traditional industries, creation of new and better job opportunities, expansion of social welfare, and vigorous support for culture.


            With its democratic political system, free market economy, social pluralization, high levels of education, and ever-more advanced technology, Taiwan can now rightfully be considered as one of the world’s developed nations.  By ensuring that development was balanced in the “golden triangle” of economic development, social equality, and environmental sustainability, the government has created a happy and healthy nation.



Facts and Figures


Taiwan island:    Length:  394 km (244 miles)     Width at widest point:  144 km (89 mi.)     Total area: about 36,179 sq. km (about 14,000 sq. mi.)     Distance from Chinese mainland at closest point:  130 km (80 mi.)   Average distance from Chinese mainland:  175 km (110 mi.)


“High mountains” over 1,000 meters (3,283 ft.) constitute about 31% of the land area; hills and terraces between 100 m (328 ft.) and 1,000 m above sea level make up 38%; and alluvial plains below 100 m, where most communities, farming activities and industries are concentrated, account for the remaining 31%.


Taiwan’s most prominent geographic feature is its 330 kilometer (205 mi.) Central Mountain Range, which has more than 200 peaks over 3,000 m (9,850 ft.) high. 


Crossed by the Tropic of Cancer, Taiwan has a subtropical climate, except for the extreme southern tip, which is tropical.  Summers are long and humid; winters are short and usually mild.


Taiwan has high levels of endemism in both plants and animals. About 26% of vascular plants, 25% of mammals, 10% of resident birds, 25% of non-marine reptiles, and 33% of amphibians are endemic. In addition, a number of Taiwan's plants, amphibians, and freshwater fishes are relict species, meaning that Taiwan has served as a refugium for ancestors of these species during glacial periods. Upon the retreat of the ice sheets, the distribution of their relatives shifted north or up into the Himalayan Mountains, leaving them isolated on Taiwan. These populations survived in the mountains of Taiwan, and eventually diverged from their ancestors, becoming unique endemic species.


Taiwan has 15 generally accepted endemic bird species (some authorities say 17 to 19, or more) and more than 60 endemic subspecies.  There are at least 384 species of butterflies, of which about 12.5% are endemic.  Plant life is abundant and diverse, including low elevation flora closely related to that found in southern China, mountain flora similar to that of western China, and high alpine flora resembling that of the Himalayan region.  Native plant species account for about 40% of Taiwan’s total vegetation.


Mandarin is the official language, but Taiwanese is widely spoken. Taiwanese is a dialect of Minnan or Southern Min, the language spoken in the south of Fujian Province in China from which most Taiwanese trace their ancestry.  Also, Hakka is widely spoken in Hsinchu and Miaoli Counties.  


There are currently 13 major indigenous groups, comprising less than 2% of Taiwan’s total population of about 22 million.  The population of the Taipei-Keelung Greater Metropolitan Area is about 6.6 million.  The second most populous place is Kaohsiung city; Taichung city is third.




Government Information Office, Taipei and Vancouver

Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Jonathan Manthorpe, Forbidden Nation, Palgrave MacMillan, 2005

Hotspots Revisited,

Photo Credit: Government Information Office, Taiwan.

Anmashan Forest Reserve at dusk, 2300 m (7500 feet).

“Jade Mountain”, Yushan main peak, in distance.


View from Hsiaoxaishan, 2600 m (8500 feet).

Fumarole, Yangminshan National Park.

Pillow Mountain, Yunlin County

Pillow Mountain, Yunlin County




Coral cliff, Kenting National Park



Hehuanshan summit Photos

Bird photos by Dr. Wang Yu-Kung

Alpine Accentor

Collared Bush-Robin



Gray-headed Bullfinch

Gray-headed Bullfinch

Taiwan Bush Warbler

Taiwan Bush Warbler

Vinaceous Rosefinch

Vinaceous Rosefinch

Winter Wren

Yellow-bellied Bush-Warbler