|Travel Ecuador : Birds :|
Bird watching in Ecuador offers some of the most exciting and incredible bird watching anywhere in the world. In a country the size of the state of Colorado, over 1600 bird species have been identified; twice the number of bird species that have been recorded in the United States and Canada combined. The numbers and types of birds are the stuff of bird watching dreams; literally dozens of species of glittering, fantastic hummingbirds, an incredible array of colorful tanagers, the immense Harpy Eagle, and hundreds of other species of birds. Such a large variety of bird species in such a small area combined with a network of birding reserves has made Ecuador one of the top destinations for bird watching anywhere in the world.
Whether visiting the majestic Andes, the hot Pacific Coast, or the incredible rainforests of the Amazon and Choco regions, there are many special and spectacular birds that can be seen. Although many birds can be seen on your own, hiring a guide is recommended for serious birders who hope to connect with and identify the bewildering array of antbirds, flycatchers, woodcreepers, hummingbirds, and many other bird species that are possible.
The varied habitats of Ecuador make this country one of the globe’s top biodiversity hotspots. They range from the steaming jungles of the lowlands to lush, dense cloud forests, the cold, wind-swept paramo of the high mountains, and the dry forests of the west. Of course there are also the famous Galapagos Islands with their own set of special birds in addition to the amazing scuba diving the islands offer. Each habitat has its own set of bird species, climate, and requires different styles of birding. Better birding is possible in all habitats by keeping a few simple guidelines in mind; be quiet and patient while birding, birds are most active in the early morning, late afternoon, and on overcast days, and keep an eye out for situations that attract and concentrate birds such as fruiting trees, flowers, and water.
Below is a summary of the different birding regions in Ecuador. There are too many bird species in Ecuador to not go bird watching so bring your binoculars and enjoy the avian marvels of this amazing country!
The Amazon Rainforest
Eastern Ecuador is situated in the Amazon basin, the most biodiverse area for birds (and most other terrestrial life forms) in the world. In Ecuador, there are over 500 species of birds that occur in the lowland rainforests, rivers, and oxbow lakes, many of these occurring in the vicinity of jungle lodges. Many monkeys can also be seen in addition to the myriads of Amazonian bird species that range from dull-colored antbirds and woodcreepers to the spectacular Scarlet Macaw and the strange Hoatzin. Despite so many species being possible, most are shy forest birds that are experts at remaining hidden and therefore difficult to see. For this reason, the Amazon is the region where hiring a guide is an option that should be seriously considered. Fortunately, some of the best guides are found at jungle lodges; places where much of the best forests in the Ecuadorian Amazon are located. Although these are generally found in remote areas that are only accessible by boat, a good number of species including toucans, manakins, parrots, a variety of antbirds, and others can be also be seen in the easily accessed Jatun Sacha Reserve near Tena.
Andean Cloud Forests
As one ascends in elevation from the steamy rain forests of the lowlands, the climate becomes a bit cooler and receives much of its precipitation directly from the clouds. The beautiful, incredibly lush vegetation in such areas is known as cloud forest and has some of the most amazing bird watching in Ecuador. The majority of hummingbird species live in these wet forests, many of which can be studied at close range as they visit feeders at jungle lodges such as Cabañas San Isidro, the Tandayapa Bird Lodge, and the Septimo Paraiso. The cloud forests of Ecuador are also famous for their massive tanager flocks, the members of which include brilliantly plumaged birds such as the Emerald, Flame-faced, Beryl-spangled, Grass-green and Golden Tanagers. Sharing the cloud forests with these accurately named birds are spectacular species such as the Andean Cock of the Rock, Green and Black Fruiteater, various antpittas, and the Golden-winged Manakin. Excellent cloud forest bird watching is found around Mindo, Baeza, and near Baños.
High Mountain Forests and Paramo
At higher elevations, cloud forest gets replaced by temperate rain forest and the paramo. The temperate zone rain forests harbor bird families similar to those of cloud forests but with a different suite of species. These mossy, high elevation forests with bamboo understories are breathtaking and resemble scenes straight out of Middle-Earth. The magical creatures of these forests though, are the secretive antpittas (short-tailed, terrestrial birds that resemble a feathered American football), the rare Spectacled Bear, and exquisite hummingbirds. Good, temperate zone rain forests are found near Vilcabamba at the Jocotoco Reserve (named after a species of antpitta only discovered in 1997), in Podocarpus Park, and near Quito such as on the slopes of the Pichincha Volcano and near Papallacta.
Also near Quito is the other type of high elevation habitat; the paramo. Situated above 3,200 meters, the only plants that can grow in this harsh climate that resembles a permanent northern October, are patches of short, gnarled trees, and grassy, shrubby, golden-colored vegetation. Some of the few bird species that only occur above the treeline in this special habitat are the Carunculated Caracara, Ecuadorian Hillstar, and the Tawny Antpitta. Good paramo habitat is also found in the Antisana Reserve, and in Cajas National Park near Cuenca; two sites that protect the avian king of the high Andes, the Andean Condor.
The Wet Choco Rainforests of the Northwest
In northwestern Ecuador, near such towns as Muisne and Sames, there is another type of rainforest that is distinctly different from the rainforests of the Amazon. These forests have different types of birds, plants, frogs, and insects but most of all are wetter than the forests of the Amazon Basin. Known as Choco rainforests, many areas of this incredible habitat typically receive more than six meters of rain per year! The high amount of rainfall and humidity gives these forests a mossy appearance and also makes the bird watching very difficult. Unfortunately, these beautiful forests are threatened in Ecuador with pristine Choco habitat mostly occurring in remote areas such as the Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve. Nevertheless, there are several small reserves near Mindo where a good variety of Choco species can be seen as well as the fantastic jungle lodge of Canande. Some of the impressive bird species that occur in this bioregion are the Long-wattled Umbrellabird, the Scarlet and white Tanager, and the Choco Trogon.
The Dry Tumbesian Forests of the West
In contrast to the extremely wet forests of the Choco are the dry Tumbesian forests that occur in western Ecuador. This small bioregion is shared with Peru and harbors a large number of plants, insects, and birds found nowhere else. This fact always makes bird watching in the reserves of this region an exciting endeavor. Some of the frequently seen species are the rare Gray-backed Hawk, Great Green Macaw, Collared Antshrike, and Baird’s Flycatcher. Some of the best reserves such as Cerro Blanco and the Machalilla National Park are located near Guayaquil and Puerto Lopez.
The Galapagos Islands
This most famous group of volcanic islands harbors several endemic bird species including several species of Darwin’s Finch, one species of which appears to be headed down the road to vampirism as it has become adapted to feeding on blood! There are also many seabirds that breed on the Galapagos, a species of mockingbird for each island, and the beautiful, blue-eyed Galapagos Dove. The birding here is very easy as all the birds are tame and visitors are required to arrive with a naturalist guide.