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.


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.


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.


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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What are chiggers anyway?

You don’t see chiggers. They can be a serious nuisance, because the itch is diabolic. I have seen severe infections after scratching chigger bites. For some people the itch goes on for a week!
So what are they? Actually, they are more than one sort – and that is the reason why there are so many conceptions and misconceptions about chiggers. Chiggers are normally referring to the larval stage of microscopic Trombiculidae mites (thus a small arachnid) and they bite but do not dig under the skin. However, a similarly named evil – the Chigoe flea a.k.a. as jiggerTunga penetrans is common in South America causes similar symptoms – and in this case the little flea does bury underneath the skin to eventually produce eggs and detach. Since protection against both no-see-ums is similar….let us just concentrate on that.

How to protect yourself against chiggers

While some people would buy expensive protection with Permethrin soaked garments and others will get sulphur powder to dust their entire footwear, socks and pant-legs (it comes with a distinct rotten egg odor- and will not be popular among your fellow travellers using my technique!), here is the less high tech, less messy, cheap and fool proof way to protect you against chiggers

  1. Rubber boots – Wellies. There is no better protection against the crawlies on the ground than rubber boots. Not only does chiggers have a hard time climbing the rubber shafts, but that also goes for army ants. Imagine standing in an army ant swarm without having to hop up and down while you are surrounded by the ants. Standing still there is actually a chance you may see those illusive ant following antbirds such as the Hairy-crested, White-masked and White-plumed Antbirds. But the thought of having to walk around in uncomfortable high rubber boots in warm climate is the one thing that usually put people off from my first advice. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to increase comfort. The first trick is to get inexpensive very soft rubber boots. These sell cheaply in Peru (around 15 US$) up to size 10 or 10.5 (up to size 44 European) but larger sizes are impossible to get. They don’t weigh much either and are easy to pack as the fold up.
    The fit of these cheap boots are usually quite poor, but by inserting the insoles of your sneakers you get perfect fit. Use double thin socks to lead off moisture, pre-treat your feet with anti-transpiring and powder the inside of your boots with foot powder. Whenever you are in the car or in the canoe, change to sneakers or sandals, by having these handy.
  2. Tuck in pants. The rubber boots will not be of much use if your pantlegs hang outside of your boots.
  3. Spray DEET (OFF is commonly available in Peru) on socks and boot lining. If an occasional chigger would venture above your boot shaft, this should prevent it from climbing down your boots.
  4. Spray DEET around the waist on top of the clothing and also on the bare skin at the lining of the pants. If the chiggers don’t enter to your skin from your feet, you may still get them around the waist if you brush against any branches or enter the forest.
  5. Coming back to the lodge, take a shower straight away and scrub legs and any part where the clothing has been tight i.e. private parts. Have a set of clothing reserved for after showers which you wear for your lunch and dinner. This set of clothing shall not be taken into the forest at any time.
  6. If you been in high grass or entered the dense forest off the trail (birders do that you know), you need to change clothing the next day or spray the cloths with deet in the evening. If your clothes have been washed make sure they are hung on lines with cloth-hangers. Why? Pîcture this: When your clothes finally have dried, some strong wind blows them off the line into the grass lawn totally infested with chiggers.
  7. Change socks and underwear every day. (Get these garment infested with chiggers and you will know about it.)
  8. Don’t ever walk over the clearing in sneakers or sandals – especially not if you wear socks. Without socks, don’t forget to wash of the feet and the sandals afterwards. The clearing grass is the worst for chiggers. Even worse than the forest.
  9. Don’t sit down or lie down on the leaf litter in the forest. Some early neo-tropical birders claim that the best way to look at canopy birds in with lying down on the trail. That may be, but it does involve some serious consequence.
  10. The same goes for your back pack – don’t put the back pack on the leaf litter….Think for yourself cause and effect when you try scratching your itching back at night?

Finally, two more links for more information.

  • Wiki. About the harvest mites in general and chiggers in particular
  • From Nina Bicknese, Missouri department of conservation

As from this moment, Kolibri Expeditions will provide to our clients free OFF in spray cans and rubber boots to size 43 European. If you need larger size, please consider bringing a pair from home to donate to us for the benefit of future travellers. Say no to scratching now.

Foto by Scott Zona by Creative common License on Flickr.
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