Abstract Background A variety of human diseases transmitted by arthropod vectors, including ticks, are emerging around the globe. Birds are known to be hosts of ticks and can disperse exotic ticks and tick-borne pathogens. In Taiwan, previous studies have focused predominantly on mammals, leaving the role of birds in the maintenance of ticks and dissemination of tick-borne pathogens undetermined. Methods Ticks were collected opportunistically when birds were studied from 1995 to 2013. Furthermore, to improve knowledge on the prevalence and mean load of tick infestation on birds in Taiwan, ticks were thoroughly searched for when birds were mist-netted at seven sites between September 2014 and April 2016 in eastern Taiwan. Ticks were identified based on both morphological and molecular information and were screened for potential tick-borne pathogens, including the genera Anaplasma, Babesia, Borrelia, Ehrlichia and Rickettsia. Finally, a list of hard tick species collected from birds in Taiwan was compiled based on past work and the current study. Results Nineteen ticks (all larvae) were recovered from four of the 3096 unique mist-netted bird individuals, yielding a mean load of 0.006 ticks/individual and an overall prevalence of 0.13%. A total of 139 ticks from birds, comprising 48 larvae, 35 nymphs, 55 adults and one individual of unknown life stage, were collected from 1995 to 2016, and 11 species of four genera were identified, including three newly recorded species (Haemaphysalis wellingtoni, Ixodes columnae and Ixodes turdus). A total of eight tick-borne pathogens were detected, with five species (Borrelia turdi, Anaplasma sp. clone BJ01, Ehrlichia sp. BL157-9, Rickettsia helvetica and Rickettsia monacensis) not previously isolated in Taiwan. Overall, 16 tick species of five genera have been recorded feeding on birds, including nine species first discovered in this study. Conclusion Our study demonstrates the paucity of information on ticks of birds and emphasizes the need for more research on ticks of birds in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Moreover, some newly recorded ticks and tick-borne pathogens were found only on migratory birds, demonstrating the necessity of further surveillance on these highly mobile species.