The Guardian/ BirdLife 2021 Bird of the Year poll is back! So Australians can once again show their love for some of our best-loved (or under-appreciated) native birdlife by casting their vote. We’re very lucky here in Australia to have such incredible diversity of species. In fact, we have around 850 species across the mainland and islands. And what’s more, 45% of these are found nowhere else! Even in our largest urban centres, you can still see an impressive array of birds including cockatoos, kookaburras, lorikeets, cormorants, and owls.
But serious twitchers can’t go past South America as the #1 birding destination in the world.
Why is South America #1 for birding?
Well, out of the Top 10 countries with the greatest number of bird species, 6 are located in South America! These are the countries that offer Best Birding Destinations in South America. Colombia ranks number one in the world and Peru is right on her heels in second place – both with just under 1,900 species. Brazil takes out the bronze with some 1,800 species found within its expansive territory. Ecuador (approx. 1600), Bolivia (approx. 1450) and Venezuela (approx. 1400) help pad out the top ten – not bad for countries with just a fraction of Australia’s land mass!!
So, what makes these South American nations such rich grounds for birdlife? Much of it comes down to that unique geographic feature that defines the continent – the Andes Mountains. The Andes create a geographic diversity which has led in turn to an astonishing diversity of flora and fauna. Consider Ecuador – not much bigger than the state of Victoria it contains staggeringly high peaks (the highest, Chimborazo, is 6,263 m), the Amazon basin, a verdant cloud forest region, the Pacific coast, and of course, the Galapagos Islands. And in each of these habitats, a variety of unique bird species can be found.
Of course, not everyone has discovered their inner twitcher yet…but the great news is that many of South America’s most iconic birdwatching destinations also contain incredible wildlife, awe-inspiring history, and unique cultural experiences. Let us share the Best Birding Destinations in South America with you….
1. Northern Peru
The incredibly diverse region of Northern Peru is home to an astonishing 1600 bird species, making it a veritable paradise for birdwatchers. The famous Northern Peru Birding Route stretches from the Pacific Coast to the Amazon Basin and traverses a multitude of stunning landscapes including deserts, mountains, and forests. Avid and amateur birdwatchers alike will be astonished by the diversity of fauna and flora, with many endemic species found in the region.
Peru’s national bird, the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, has a fantastically eye-catching mating ritual. Witnessing one of these displays is an incredible experience as the males bow, jump and flap their wings at one another whilst emitting squawks and grunts.
Forget Machu Picchu and the Inca! Northern Peru contains some of the country’s most fascinating ruins – ancient cities constructed by the Moche, Chimu, and Chachapoya civilisations that will take your breath away. And then there are the natural attractions, including the magnificent Gocta Falls. Even the most ardent twitchers will find time to put down the binoculars for these incredible attractions!!
2. Valdes Peninsula
Argentina might not crack the Top Ten in terms of number of bird species, but it has been blessed with one of the most magical birding destinations in all of South America – the Valdes Peninsula. Similar to Argentina’s answer to the Galapagos Islands, this tiny peninsula juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and is home to over 180 bird species. It remains one of the best-kept secrets as one of the Best Birding Destinations in South America.
Stand Out Species
Marine birds rule the roost in this part of the world with twitchers hoping to catch a glimpse of the Southern Giant Petrel, Magellanic Penguin, endemic White-headed Steamer-duck, and endangered Yellow Cardinal.
What about whale watching? Witnessing orcas launching themselves onto the beach for a feast of seals or sea lions is an unforgettable wildlife experience. Consider a trip on a yellow submarine (no, really!) to see the giants of the deep at eye level.
3. Colombia’s Coffee Triangle
The Coffee Triangle is a region of picturesque towns nestled among verdant green hills and acres of coffee. And what’s more, the three departments that make up the region – Risaralda, Quindio, and Caldas – are home to more species of birds than almost any other part of the country.
Stand Out Species
Hardcore birders may scoff at the Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary, but photographers will delight at the ease with which you can capture an amazing array of hummingbird species at this hummingbird feeder station in the Cocora Valley (provided you have a very fast shutter speed, of course). On any given day you will likely see Black Inca, Buff-tailed Coronet, and White-bellied Woodstar hummingbirds.
Cocora National Park is one of the country’s most appealing, with its towering wax palms and close proximity to the gorgeous town of Salento. Needless to say, the coffee in the area is sublime but there is also a dazzling array of fruit to be found in this fertile region.
4. The Pantanal, Brazil
It seems the Pantanal pops up on almost every “Best of” list you could care to compile about fauna in South America. And for good reason! This truly is one of the best wildlife-viewing places in the world. Both for the diversity of species and also the relative ease at which you can see the region’s many magnificent creatures.
Stand Out Species
Avid birders have their bucket list of species, while amateurs will delight in two of the continent’s most lovable birds: the Toco Toucan and Hyacinth Macaw.
Always a crowd favourite, the Toco Toucan is known as the common toucan and is found right across South America. But you are almost guaranteed to see one if you visit the Pantanal.
The Blue Hyacinth, the largest parrot species, measures a whopping one meter from head to tail. Despite being classified as vulnerable due to illegal wildlife trade, several conservation initiatives make it highly likely for you to spot one during your stay.
The Pantanal holds the world’s highest density of jaguar populations. The Onçafari Project excels in habituating jaguars and other animals to human presence. In 2019, they achieved a remarkable 98% success rate in guests viewing these beautiful creatures.
5. Costa Rica
Despite the fact that Costa Rica is smaller than Tasmania, it contains a whopping 920 odd species of birds! With excellent tourist infrastructure in Central America, touring the country’s National Parks becomes a breeze. Moreover, travellers can select from a fantastic array of boutique ecolodges for a delightful stay.
Stand Out Species
The Resplendent Quetzal is a stunning bird found in Costa Rica’s mountainous rainforests. It is one of the world’s most beautiful species. These birds feed on a diet of fruit, insects, and small lizards. For those passionate about Quetzals, the ideal time to visit is April, the mating season.
There’s no shortage of activities to keep you busy in Costa Rica. From zip-lining to white-water rafting, hiking, coffee tours, wellness therapies, and thermal hot springs. You’ll find plenty to keep you entertained while your travel buddy goes in search of the elusive Quetzal.
So whether you’re an avid or amateur birdwatcher – or merely the long-suffering travel company of an obsessed birder, these are just some of the best birding destinations in South and Central America. Ask one of our expert consultants about specialist birding tours! Or simply include any of these fantastic destinations in your next trip to Latin America and keep your eyes peeled!