11 must-see birds in Peru for everyone!

by Gunnar Engblom on April 11, 2009

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Why birds?

Birdwatching is a specialized hobby. The birdwatchers aim to see hundreds of birds during a holiday in Peru. However, there are certain birds that transcend to more normal tourists. Some birds that you don’t have to be a birdwatcher to appreciate. Those birds that will leave an impact on anyone who lays eyes on them. These kinds of birds become banner species and tourist attractions and could be decisive to turn a non-birder into a birder. They are also important for conserving habitat and supporting local small scale businesses which often give direct revenue to local communities. I hereby present the 11 most important birds in Peru as tourism attractions.

Condor

Andean Condor

Emblematic bird of the Andes. 100.000 people travel yearly to Colca Canyon near Arequipa to see the mighty Condor. Kolibri Expeditions have found a good viable population in Santa Eulalia canyon only 3 hours from Lima, which also is a good place to see this majestic bird. You’d be surprised to learn that most tourists that come to Peru, those that do not visit Colca or Santa Eulalia Canyon, will not see a condor in spite it being such a tremendously important symbol of Peru and the Andes. The closest they will get is hearing “Condor pasa” – the Peruvian song Simon and Garfunkel made world famous. At every little coffee shop to every fine restaurant in Cusco you will hear it played with panpipes and charrango. You cannot avoid it – not escape it!
Strangely enough Peru has yet to raise the awareness of the importance of the species for eco-tourism in other rural areas. As such it may become an important cash cow for communities. This would change the present situation in many places where the species is persecuted and seriously threatened.

Macaw-lick

Blue-and-Yellow Macaw & Scarlet Macaw. Photo: Tim RyanThere are two major macaw-licks in SE Peru where these giant parrots descend on sunny clay river cliffs to ingest the clay with thousands of other parrots. The best one that attracts 5 species of macaws is situated in the Tambopata area near Tambopata Research Center.  There is extremely important Macaw research going on here and you can help as a participant volunteer. See Tambopata Macaw Project. The other important one is downriver from Manu at Blanquillo near in vicinity of several lodges.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

Andean Cock-of-the-RockWow! Exclamation mark is necessary! This surreal member of the Cotinga family has a wide distribution from Venezuela to Bolivia. It is one of the most colorful birds of the Andes. The males gather in “lek” – displays – where the perform ritual dances and make noisy grunts and shrieks. In many places leks have become tourism attractions. The most famous is perhaps next to Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge, but there are several places in Central and Northern Peru where leks also can be seen. Locally, it has become good incentives to conserve forest. Since the cock-of-the-rock is also un-officially national bird of Peru kids all over the country learn to appreciate it. Only five years ago, when traveling in Central Peru inquiring where I could see it, I was directed to the zoo or a man that allegedly had stuffed ones for sale! Things have changed now.

Inca Tern

Inca Tern IncaternIts coral red bill and feet, and yellow and white waxy mustache on a slaty blackish body makes the Inca Tern the most beautiful Tern of the world.  This specialty of the Humboldt Current is not difficult to see in large numbers. In many places it can be approached for a photograph.  A spectacular event on the Lima pelagics is when the fish scrap leftover that is used to attract seabirds at the high sea is thrown out after the boat and up to a thousand Inca Terns come in to the stern.

Hummingbird feeders

Rufous-crested Coquette. Photo: Alex DuranWire-crested Thorntail

Peru has yet to develop more places with hummingbird feeders, but the ones available are truly spectacular. My favorites are the following.

Amazonia Lodge at the bottom of Manu road, with specialties such as the rare Rufous-crested Coquette, Koepcke’s Hermit and Gould’s Jewelfront and another dozen of more common hummers such as White-necked Jacobin, Blue Emerald, Gray-breasted Sabrewing and Black-eared Fairy come to the garden with feeders and blue vervain in front of the ample porch of the main building..

Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel the luxurious hotel with precious subtropical gardens decorated with orchids and bromeliads at the foot of Machu Picchu next to Aguas Calientes village. The hotel also have dozens of well maintained hummingbird feeders spread out in the compound open only to its guests. The specialties include Gould’s Inca, White-bellied Hummingbird, Long-tailed Sylph, Chestnut-breasted Coronet and Booted Racket-tail.

Cock-of the-Rock Lodge on the Manu road, has a open veranda dining room looking out to the garden where tanagers are fed and Blue Vervain and feeders attract the hummingbirds. The specialties include Violet-fronted Brilliant, Many-spotted Hummingbird, Wire-crested Thorn-tail, Booted Racket-tail and many more.

Marvelous Spatuletail


If I should choose just one hummingbird species in Peru this would be the one. It is the most spectacular Hummingbird in Peru. The male has long streamers ending in blue rackets. It may not yet be a large tourist attraction since it occurs only in Amazonas department and a bit off the beaten track for most general tourists coming to Peru, but it is certainly on the birdwatcher’s radar on the Northern Birding Circuit and the principle attraction. Kolibri Expeditions has initiated a project here together with local farmer Santos Montenegro obtaining funds through our clients allowing Santos to buy some land from his neighbors. The idea is to turn the small reserve to a Hummingbird information center.

Chilean Flamingo

Chilean Flamingo
Flamingos are big tourist attractions all over the world, and the Chilean Flamingo in Peru is not an exception, especially since legend has that the flamingos San Martin saw in Paracas before leading the liberation from Spain, inspired to the design of the Peruvian flag. There is not a person in Peru, that is not familiar with this story. Unfortunately, many flamingo colonies are well off the beaten track, except that of wintering flamingos still present at the Paracas bay. One may hope however those remote flamingo colonies could be integrated in sustainable tourism packages and this way supply income to local communities at the same time protecting the colonies. The practice common is the past to scare the colony to take flight for a photograph, is fortunately no longer carried out. It seems to me that Peruvian awareness for the well being of the natural attractions has increased in recent years.

Hoatzin.

HoatzinWithout being a particularly rare bird, the Hoatzin inhabits lake sides. It prehistoric looks, similar to the Archaeopteryx and the fact that the young have claws in the wings, make it a tantalizing. The hisses it makes add to its pre-historic image. It occurs in colonies and is mostly not hunted because its meat is smelly and not good. It has constantly bad breath as its digest is completely leaves which are fermented in the crop. Hoatzin can be seen in many places in the Amazon. Most photogenic perhaps at Amazonia Lodge.

Humboldt Penguin

Humboldt PenguinParacas has been the traditional place where many tourists come in contact with the species for the first time while visiting the sea-lion colonies at Ballestas Islands. In recent years however trips have been arranged to sea-lion colony at Islas Palomino from Callao, Lima, where also the Penguins occur and this is a time effective alternative to Paracas. Recent studies show that Humboldt Penguins are very sensitive to disturbance – much more so – than its close relative Magellanic Penguin that occurs in Patagonia and with colonies that attracts tens of thousands of visitors. Fortunately, there are no colonies in Peru that are accessible to tourists to walk around in. The large colony at Punta San Juan near Nazca is closed to the public.

Other places where one can see Humboldt Penguin include Pucusana and the new San Fernando reserve close to Nazca.

Torrent Duck

Torrent Duck. Photo: Alex DuranA highly dimorphic beautiful duck specialized living its life in streaming water and fascinating to watch. One of the best place to see them is at Aguas Calientes below Machu Picchu. In fact, they can often be seen looking out the window from the train to Machu Picchu.

Waved Albatross

Waved AlbatrossIn spite of being a bird breeding on the Galapagos, practically all individuals of the species will spend considerable time in Peruvian Waters in its lifetime when not breeding. The pelagic birdwatching and whale-watching trips from Lima has made it possible for larger numbers of people to see an albatross at relative ease. Waved Albatross is critically threatened due to high adult mortality in recent years. In spite of being one of the smaller albatrosses, with 2.30m wingspan it is still impressive and a highlight for anyone venturing to sea to see it.

This article was brought to you by Kolibri Expeditions.  Kolibri Expeditions runs tours everywhere in Peru and can take you to all these birds, providing a full-fledged birding holiday or a holiday to culture and nature on a more general level.

Photos by license of creative commons: Ogwen (Condor), Species snob (Chilean Flamingo), Olliethebastard (Hoatzin), and Inca Tern close up by Suneko
Special thanks to Tim Ryan of The faraway, nearby blog, for letting me use his Macaw pictures from Tambopata. All other pictures by Gunnar Engblom and Alex Duran (Rufous-crested Coquette and Torrent Duck). GE´s and AD´s pictures may be used under creative commons license. Link and acknowledge this page. Thanks.
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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

John April 11, 2009 at 11:26 am

If I were visiting Peru, Andean Condor would be at the top of my must-see list.

Nate April 11, 2009 at 12:41 pm

The Torrent Duck has been a bird I’ve badly wanted so see even since watching them in the David Attenborough Life of Birds series.

A really cool looking and acting duck.

Gunnar Engblom April 11, 2009 at 1:22 pm

John and Nate: Cool, I got two right then. Later I will do a blog post on the 10 most wanted bird, that include special endemic birds. Note that only one of the birds on my list is truly endemic. This blogpost is also a bit of an experiment, if it is possible for a birding blogger to reach beyond the birding circle.
Please consider helping by bookmarking on the social media links such as Digg, Stumble Upon and Delicious, as well as Retweeting if you are on Twitter.
FYI I am planning a blogroll post to demonstrate pingback and trackback – a follow up to my birdblogging article. Both your blogs will be commented, that was decided even before you commented here! I like your blogs.

Daniël Schepers April 11, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Those are definitely cool birds. I think Diademed Sandpiper-plover should be on the list though! The best looking bird in the world in my eyes! (But people call me obsessed with shorebirds so I guess that it’s personal ;) )

Matt! Brooks April 11, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Hey Gunnar—

Nice selection — I totally agree with all of them, though I personally think that Marvelous Spatuletail is the most spectacular hummer in the world, not just Peru. =) One of these days I’ll get Waved Albatross…..

-matt!

TR April 11, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Excellent post Gunnar and beautifully laid out. Thanks for the link back to the Tambopata Macaw project. That Inca Turn photo is FANTASTIC. The Hoatzin – how did I miss that on my trip!!!

Patrick April 11, 2009 at 10:28 pm

A terrific list! I’ll have to do one for New Jersey. Man, that Spatuletail video is insane.

Gunnar Engblom April 12, 2009 at 12:15 am

Daniël: If it was a birders top 10 I was after, yes DSP would be on it. It is funny how many times I have been asking my clients which was their best bird on the trip and how many mentions DSP among the top. You know, there is something special about a Shorebird that lives at 4700m.

However, qualifying as a tourism attraction among non-birders as well as birders…it does not quite make it.

Matt: I agree with you that it is on top there. But, there are others like those Jamaican streamertails – or whatever they are called and Crimson Topaz of course. But, yes…they don’t quite make it into the same league as MST.

Trevor Hampel April 12, 2009 at 3:34 am

Hold the phone – I’m on my way… er… well I wish I could jump on a plane tomorrow. What a fantastic list of species to see. Well done. Great photos too.

Gunnar Engblom April 16, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Hi Trevor

Did you see on Birding-Aus, that some Aussie birders are suggesting a similar list for birds in Australia?
Here are a few birds that came up. Obviously the list does not have to be 10 exactly. The important thing is to mention those species that have the potential to be real tourism attractions.

Little Penguin
Southern Cassowary
Brolga
Black Swan
Regent Bowerbird
Satin Bowerbird
Superb Lyrebird
Albert Lyrebird
Superb Fairy-Wren
King Parrot
Emu
Wedge-tailed Eagle
Gouldian Finch
Pink Robin
Crimson Rosella
Southern Emu-Wren
Azure Kingfisher
Kookaburra
Any blue wren

And a couple of more regional birds
Palm Cockatoo
Purple-crowned Fairywren
Black Grasswren
Lesser Noddy
Noisy Scrubbird
Gilbert’s Whistler
Eyrean Grasswren
Tasmanian Native-hen
Paradise Riflebird

Err, I think I am packing my bags. What a great set of birds. I think I could even get my wife interested! One of these days!

Christopher April 17, 2009 at 12:31 pm

I’ve always thought that the Cock-of-the-rock was a crazy looking bird – and now that I’ve started considering birding outside the US ABA area – this one has gone into my top 10 birds I want to see in the next few years. (That Inca tern is really sharp looking too!)

Gotta get to Peru – and I’ll be sure to let you know when I can make it happen!

Craig Nash April 17, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Just come across your blog from I and the Bird very interesting piece Hoatzin, the Albatross and the Hummingbird would be the three that I would like to see one day.

delson April 20, 2009 at 7:24 am

Marvelous, simply superb. I recently has an encounter with an Inca Tern and loved its mustache. I loved ur blog and simple concise way of writing.
You are book marked

Dawn Fine April 24, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Amazing birds Gunnar…someday…I will go and see them.
Great post and great info.

Gunnar Engblom April 25, 2009 at 9:48 am

Christopher: Cock of the Rock has done more for habitat conservation and awareness than any other bird in the subtropical Andes. You know where we are when you want to go.
Craig: That’d be three very different regions. The Albatross in on a pelagic tour, the Marvelous Spatuletail in the North and the Hoatzin in the Amazonian Rainforest.
Delson: Thanks. I am Swedish so I guess my vocabulary is a bit limited. Forces me to keep it simple without any difficult words.
Dawn: Would you bring your camper?

touring caravans April 27, 2009 at 5:03 am

Hi,

Nice pictures…..I love birds, seeing these pictures , I m thinking i want to visit these places….
touring caravans

Dale Forbes April 29, 2009 at 1:53 am

my old professor and mentor would call these the “ooooh-aaaaah” birds. He had a way with words.

Those Inca Terns really stand out to me. the charcoal plumage with the fine painted lines are stunning. I have never seen anything like it (although I suspect the Guillemots and such like might well compare).

I suppose one of the great things about following blogs from around the world is that one gets to virtually transport one’s mind to another “world” or bizarre beauty and striking contrasts. It also helps us appreciate what we have in our back yards

Happy birding
Dale
http://alpinebirds.blogspot.com

Dale May 7, 2009 at 4:16 am

Hi Gunnar,
As you know I really love digiscoping and I wanted to find a way to make it easier for me (and others) to link through to what other digiscopers are publishing on the web.

So I have started a weekly blogging carnival especially for digiscopers/videoscopers/digibinning called “Digiscoping Today”. If you have any digiscoping images you would like to link in, or if you know any digiscopers, it would be really cool if you were to spread the word.

Happy birding
Dale
http://alpinebirds.blogspot.com

p.s. feel free to email me privately

Azahari Reyes @ Jason May 11, 2009 at 2:33 am

Lovely pics of Peruvian birds hope one day I can come and see them :)

Brian Allen May 11, 2009 at 9:15 am

Gunnar:

Thanks to you and your guides I’ve seen 8 of 11! Got to get down there again someday and do another pelagic and Abra Patricia, Satipo, Bosque Unchog, Valley of the Marañón, sub-tropical Manu,
the southern Puna, so many places in Peru.

Jammes Parkman May 20, 2009 at 3:28 pm

I agree with John, the Andean Condor is the best, when I traveled to Arequipa I could appreciate the beauty of this bird that is impressive. The long journey to the Colca Canyon is rewarded when you see the condors flying over the valley. If you have the opportunity to travel to Peru you must visit Arequipa and see the condors, is an unforgettable experience. I know the best time of the year is between August and October, but if you want more information you can get them in a travel agency.

Marcell Claassen June 2, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Gunnar, South America has always been in my sights and you’ve over the last while managed to focus these sights on Peru – and now these spectacular birds. I’m a great fan of hummers (and here in Africa, sunbirds) but I love terns and the Inca Tern is indeed impressive.

Thanks again for a very informative post.

Carole June 25, 2009 at 12:35 pm

I have a nephew that is from Lima and now lives in the US but travels back to visit frequently. I am going to have to tag along and see some of these exquisite birds for myself. Beautiful! I am especially fond of the hummingbirds.

YC July 1, 2009 at 5:56 am

You have a fantastic blog here. Your species are exotic to us from the old tropics. We need to work out a relationship whereby you make occasional posts on the old tropics and we in Singapore make posts on the neo-tropics.

Gyorgy Szimuly (Szimi) July 29, 2009 at 3:30 am

Nice musts. I wanna see those not on my lists. A few of these like the Marvelous Spatuletail is a must for sure.

Szimi

R Sastri August 3, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Great pictures! we just came back from Peru and I thought Colca Canyon was incredible! I put itinerary and wrote about our trip at: http://www.aaatravelviews.com/post/2009/07/30/Peru-Travel-Takes-Your-Breath-Away.aspx

Ali Iyoob October 7, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Those are all awesome birds!

cindyzlogic October 12, 2009 at 12:56 am

Hey! First time I’ve visited your blog! This post was awesome. I loved the photos (especially the Hummingbirds and baby ducks). Thanks for sharing about birds in Peru :) )
.-= cindyzlogic´s last blog ..Red-tailed Hawk =-.

Bill Weldon October 19, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Hi Gunnar,

I enjoyed my day trips with you last January. Thanks.

A suggestion: Could the newsletters be sent out as attachments. I wanted to print off the recent one but couldn’t, — that is, only the part of the page showing on the screen would print. (Maybe there’s a way to do this and only my computer illiteracy is stopping me!)

eileen3600 February 7, 2010 at 7:59 am

Wow, these are cool birds to see in peru. Great photos

eileen3600 February 7, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Wow, these are cool birds to see in peru. Great photos

Anonymous May 4, 2010 at 7:51 pm

dear sir, This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are unanimous and
needs to be appreciated by everyone.
——–
Jon.
Best Travel

Gunnar Engblom May 26, 2010 at 3:18 am

Thanks so much for your kind words Jon.

Gunnar Engblom-Lima, Peru.
Gunnar’s Blog – updated frequently.
http://www.kolibriexpeditions.com/birdingperu/blog/
Follow me on http://www.twitter.com/kolibrix
http://www.facebook.com/Gunnar.Engblom/

adamgollam May 26, 2010 at 3:14 am

And think that what you have here in the photos are just a few out of hundreds:)) I visited Peru, but not for the birds although I have seen a few of those nice colored ones. Peru is also visited for its ancient reliques that can be seen. I suggest you try and visit that too. You will be able to see a marvelous scenery on your way to such ancient grounds.

Gunnar Engblom May 26, 2010 at 3:27 am

Adam and Eileen.
Thanks for your comments. Peru is a very diverse country with lots of things
to see. I highlighted the birds here, because that is we do in my company -
we take birdwatchers around in Peru (and elsewhere in South Amerika for that
matter). But I wanted to write a post about birds that really should be
included also in itineraries that are not directed specifically towards
birders. And this is what I came up with.
Apart from the birds, people should visit Peru for it culture and history
where the Inca is only the tip of the iceberg, the food, the Andes, the
mountain-climbing, the rainforest, the cloudforest, the coast, the beaches,
the surfing and the people.
The places: Cusco, Machu Picchu, Titicaca, Amazon, Nazca, Paracas ….the
list goes on.

Gunnar Engblom-Lima, Peru.
Gunnar's Blog – updated frequently.
http://www.kolibriexpeditions.com/birdingperu/b
Follow me on http://www.twitter.com/kolibrix
http://www.facebook.com/Gunnar.Engblom/

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