10 Species to Look Out for as Colombia Opens for Birdwatching


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Who would have thought it? Colombia is on the road to becoming the hottest destination for birders and birdwatchers wanting to visit South Latin America. Possessing the most extensive bird list of any country on earth, Colombia is a birder’s  dream – whether you’re a casual (yet passionate) “birdwatcher,” or a more devoted “birder” intent on adding more species to your sightings list.

Though only about ninth the size of the United States, this Caribbean/South American nation is home to more than twice as many bird species as its northern counterpart. And of its enormous list of 1,890 bird species, about 74 are endemics found nowhere else on the planet.

All of this is now opening up to birding enthusiasts. Colombia is rapidly overcoming its poor image from years past. The old drug cartels of the 80’s are now largely dismantled, and political stability has been re-established in the nation – which means that the previous risks to traveling here are no longer such obstacles. Indeed, most areas are now just as safe as other birding destinations in Central or South America.    (Photo: Benjamin Skolnik)

10 of the Most Spectacular Birds in Colombia

As Colombia leads the world in avian biodiversity — boasting 20% of all bird species on Earth — this gives birders the chance of spotting more species in a week than they could in months in most places.

More than 20 species of parrots, macaws, and parakeets live in Colombia, along with dozens of stunning hummingbirds, a myriad of antbirds, flocks of colorful tanagers, and many more. To give potential travelers just a small taste of what could be in store for them, the following is a short-list of just a few of the hundreds of spectacular species found in Colombia:  

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Colombian Chachalaca

Seasoned “birders,” in particular, will appreciate adding the Colombian chachalaca to their sightings list, as it is one of the 74 endemic species to that country.  But don’t wait too long to get a pick at this one, currently the population of this species is almost certainly declining, as they survive only in pockets in the central Cauca and Magdalena valleys of Colombia. ( Photo:  Mateo Gable)




With talons the size of Grizzly bear claws, the Harpy Eagle is a modern-day winged monster. Far from being a scavenger, this massive raptor is a hunter of monkeys, sloths and even Brocket deer in the dense jungles of eastern Colombia. ( Photo: mliu92)


4 Albatros     credit Surtrek

             Waved Albatross

With a huge wingspan of up to 7.4 feet (2.25 meters), the imposing Waved Albatross is a sight that won’t be soon forgotten. Though this bird breeds primarily in the Galapagos Islands, they fly to the east and the southeast during the non-breeding season, appearing on the coasts of Peru, Ecuador and sometimes Colombia. (    Photo: Surtrek Tour Operator)



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Green-winged Macaw

Casual birders will surely appreciate any of the seven macaw species that occur in Colombia, but the Green-winged is nothing short of stunning. Their brilliant colors are even more breathtaking as these large parrots fly over the rainforest canopy in loud, screeching flocks (Photo: Surtrek Tour Operator)



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Sword-billed Hummingbird

Looking more like “a beak with feathers” than a bird, the Sword-billed Hummingbird appears simply surreal. Though this strange species weighs only 0.4 ounces, or 12 grams, it is one of the largest species of hummingbirds. Moreover, it is one of the 27 species (out of the 365 in the world) recorded in Colombia. (Photo: Ben Tavener)



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Andean Cock of the Rock

If one had to choose a bird to best represent the exotic beauty and biodiversity of Andean forests, this bird would likely be it. The loud, raucous calls of the Andean Cock of the Rock, combined with their spectacular courtship displays, make this feathered friend a priority sighting when visiting the Colombian Caribbean. (Photo: Surtrek Tour Operator)



8 Barn Owl      Flickr credit Richard Fisher

Barn Owl

Though found around the world, the sighting of a “common” barn owl is always an uncommon experience. Also known as the “Ghost Owl,” this species is generally nocturnal, though it is not uncommon to see them emerge at dusk or still be active at dawn. Its call is a drawn-out rasping screech, though its flight is normally noiseless, with its wing beats interrupted by gliding. ( Photo: Richard Fisher)



 9 Hoatzin    Flickr credit Carine06


Hoatzins are believed to be prehistoric by some people due to the claws that the young birds of this species sport on their wings. Definitely one of the oddest bird in the Colombian Amazon, this fowl is often referred to as the “Stinkbird” due to its …less that pleasant odor. Nearly as large as a turkey, the Hoatzin spends most of its time feeding around the edges of oxbow lakes in the Amazon rainforest; here, they eat leaves from the surrounding vegetation, as it is one of the few primarily  herbivorous birds on the earth. (Photo: Vince Smith)



Violet-tailed Sylph

Violet-tailed Sylph

By visiting Colombia, you will have the chance to see several species of gorgeous, glittering hummingbirds. One of the most spectacular is the Violet-tailed Sylph, a colorful hummingbird that makes up for its short bill with a long, training, vivid violet tail. Fortunately, this beautiful bird is one of the more common hummingbird species in Colombia. (Photo: Vince Smith)


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How to see these 10 birds …and more

For birding enthusiasts interested in seeing any of these 10 bird species — or any of the hundreds more that inhabit Colombia — the decision must be made as to whether they will attempt this on their own or go with a qualified and experienced birding-tour operator.

While trying to travel on your own might feel quite “liberating,” and though you might even save a few bucks, you’re likely to have a more valuable experience as well as get more bang for your buck by going with capable professionals who actually know the lay of the land – which is still important in Colombia.

Keep in mind, the huge diversity of bird species in Colombia results from the equally diverse range of habitats: three Andean Cordilleras and two inter-Andean valleys (the Andean region), the Amazon region, Los Llanos (or the Orinoco region), the Santa Marta Mountains and the La Guajira Peninsula (the Caribbean region), and the rich Pacific coast (the Chocó region). Adding to this complexity, each of these regions boasts its own mix of avian populations.  The Pacific or Chocó region, for example, is inhabited by around 650 bird species (endemics like the Baudó Oropendola, Baudó Guan, and the Sooty-capped Puffbird; rarities like the near endemic Colombian Crake, and regional specialties like the Great Curassow, Dusky Pigeon, Blue Cotinga; then too, other specialties found on the western flank of the western Andes include the Orange-breasted Fruiteater, the endemics Munchique Wood-wren and Alto-pisones Tapaculo, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Lita Woodpecker and the near endemic Scarlet-and-white Tanager).

Therefore, to deal with these and other intricacies (such as organize lodging, food, transportation and finding a competent English-speaking guide with expert knowledge of the best birding sites), a tour with a professional birding guide is highly recommended.

Several tour operators (such as Surtrek) have decades of experience in travel throughout Colombia and the rest of Latin America. These professionals can also customize your tour’s level of adventure, from jam-packed intensive birding itineraries to more relaxed paced ones with alternative city excursions and free time.

When you travel with a tour operator, you have the comfort of knowing that all of these “little” details are planned out for you. And since most of your excursions and activities are planned in advance, there’s no decision-making or stressing out about how to make the most of your time. In this sense, you can just sit back and enjoy your experience.

In short, consider a once in a lifetime birding adventure in Colombia – one led by the capable birding guide. (Photo: Surtrek Tour Operator)

“Colombia: The only risk will be your wanting to stay”

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