Milky storks, known locally as bangau bluwoks, are common on Rambut Island in Jakarta's Thousand Islands district. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

Exploring the 'Kingdom of Birds' on Jakarta's Rambut Island


AUGUST 08, 2019

You do not have to stray far from Jakarta to visit what some call the Kingdom of Birds, an island surrounded by turquoise water, towering trees and hundreds of multicolored birds soaring above the canopy. 

Rambut Island in Thousand Islands district is only 30 minutes by speedboat from Ancol in North Jakarta.

Nature lovers will be impressed with the island's biodiversity. Besides thousands of birds, there are hundreds of plant species and numerous reptiles, including pythons and prehistoric-looking monitor lizards.

There are many pythons on the island and Coki, a guard, said there were as many as 20 eggs on the forest floor.

There are plenty of pythons on Rambut Island. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
There are plenty of pythons on Rambut Island. (JG Photo/Emily Gilbert)

He said there are also four pythons that frequently visit the guardhouse.

"They just decided to hang out inside. I think they come in handy in terms of rat extermination," Coki said with a laugh.

One may think humans living among pythons could present a few problems, but Coki said this was not the case.

"The pythons get out of the post at night while we are sleeping. So, it's fine." 

Of course, true to its moniker, the island is home to many varieties of birds, with an estimated 20,000 belonging to more than 50 different species visiting each year. 

The island is home to mostly aquatic birds, most dominant of which is the little black cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris). The all-black birds, which grow to about 60 centimeters in length, are quite sociable and typically found in V-shaped flocks near water.

"They never leave the island," said Budi Kusuma Wardana, a forest expert from the Jakarta Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA). 

The most noticeable birds on the island are the large, white milky storks (Mycteria cinerea) that stand out against the green treetops. Milky storks can grow up to 97 centimeters in length and are almost completely white, except for a few black feathers on their wings and tails. They occur throughout Southeast Asia and typically spend December and January on Rambut Island during the breeding season, according to Budi.

The island also has a limited number of sea eagles (Haliaeetus). There are multiple subspecies but all have strongly curved beaks and bare legs. The birds have called Rambut Island home for years, but the population remains low.

"There is only one nest. Because, once they lay eggs and the chicks grow older, they would fight their parents for territory," Budi said. 

Visitors can also see many frigate birds (Fregatidae), known for their split tails, curlews (Numenius) with their long, slender bills and long-legged Nankeen night herons (Nycticorax caledonicus), along with many more. 

The best viewing spot is from the top of a 30-meter-tall observation tower. After climbing the zig-zagging stairs of the old metal structure, visitors find panoramic views of the island and the Java Sea in the distance. The easiest birds to see are milky storks, because of their size and bright white plumage. They seem to fly alone or in pairs. 

The 90-hectare island has a long history of nature preservation and conservation, going back to before Indonesia was officially a country. It was designated a conservation area in 1937 by the then-governor general of the Dutch East Indies. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry changed its designation to a wildlife reserve in 1999. 

Planning a Visit

The best time to visit is between March and September, as most of the birds will have chicks with them. 

The government restricts visitor numbers to protect the island's flora and fauna, so you will need a permit. Tourists are also encouraged to find a guide to explore the island. Make sure to check the weather as the sea can be quite rough around the island. 

It is also a good place for snorkeling, but this activity requires a separate permit that allows visitors to explore the sea for up to an hour. 

Permits are available at the BKSDA office at Jalan Salemba Raya No. 9 in Central Jakarta.