Set about 3km outside of the Kota Kinabalu city center, the Kota Kinabalu bird sanctuary (also known as the Kota Kinabaluu wetland center) is a naturally occurring mangrove forest that provides some of the best bird watching possibilities near the city.
The 24 hectare wetland is one of the last remaining vestiges of the mangrove forests which once covered the outskirts of modern day Kota Kinabalu, and the area is now home to over 80 species of resident and migratory birds. The wetland is fed by both salt as well as fresh waters, a feature which allows a wide variety of species to coexist within its diverse boundaries. Often seen within the park are large egrets, kingfishers, and exotic purple herons, and during periods of low tide visitors can also frequently make out mud crabs and lobsters navigating their way amongst the twisted roots of the mangroves.
A popular day trip for children and local students, the wetland features a 1.8km boardwalk and viewing platforms which allow ease of access into the teeming canopy. Since much of the park is undeveloped, it’s highly recommended to pack in any snacks or drinking water needed for the journey as the wetlands aren’t immune to the relentless tropical heat.
Though easy to breeze through quickly and be gone, visitors who take their time and allow longer than the suggested 45-minute walking itinerary have a much higher likelihood of spotting some exotic species. Also, although the sun can feel nice in the dense mangrove forest, those who choose to visit at dawn and dusk have a better chance of catching that unique encounter with a bird coming to feed in the cooler morning or evening air.