Tolima Birding Routes: from the Andean Snows to the Magdalena Valley

Birdwatching in Tolima is recognized as a new sustainable opportunity to develop local economies, while important ecosystems and bird species of the region are conserved. Find here the Tolima Birding Routes created for your visit, and why you should go there.

Conservation Efforts

In February 2021 Tolima department recognized 10 emblematic bird species, which are expected to contribute to promote birding tourism industry and bird conservation. The official administration announced the Draft Ordinance No 004 of 2021 by which:

“the emblematic birds of Tolima are declared as a symbol of ecological and cultural heritage, and their protection and conservation is promoted”

This resolution is part of the efforts made to know and protect Tolima’s birds and ecosystems. This set of special birds will be an object of conservation in the region.

Thus, public institutions, professionals and the local community will work together to develop activities to promote the knowledge, protection and conservation of the birds of the department of Tolima.

Among the programs, environmental education, citizen science and nature tourism have an essential role. Moreover, programs related to community based and birdwatching tourism are sustainable opportunities wich will contribute to the socio-economic growth of the region.

Tolima Ecosystems

Nevado del Ruiz view from the Tolima’s side

Tolima stands out among the most biodiverse destinations in the country. Its wide range of natural environments ranges from the snow-capped mountains of Tolima, Santa Isabel, Ruiz and Huila, to the dry and humid forests of the upper and middle basin of the Magdalena River. This allows the presence of a richness of bird species close to 800 species.

In the territory of Tolima, 22 endemic and 49 near-endemic species have been recorded. It is the winter habitat of 67 species of migratory birds.

On the other hand, 28 species of birds are threatened with extinction, and there is an urgency to preserve them.

Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan – Andigena hypoglauca

Tolima Birding Routes

Tropical Dry Forest

It is distributed in the lower areas of the upper basin of the Magdalena Valley, and has a diversity of habitats for birds such as forest fragments, scrublands, grasslands and wetlands.

Destinations: Venadillo, Armero Guayabal, Coello, Ibagué, Prado, Lérida, Alvarado, San Luis, Piedras, Honda, Melgar, and Mariquita.

Tropical Rainforest

These forests go up to 1,000 m in elevation and have species representative of the Magdalena Valley.

Destinations: Honda, Falan, Mariquita, and Fresno.

Montane Forests

They are the best represented ecosystem in Tolima and occupy 20% of the department’s surface. They are located on the Andean slopes of the central and eastern mountain ranges, between 1000 and 2000 m above sea level. These forests are the habitat of most of Tolima’s emblematic endemic bird species.

Destinations: Juntas, Cajamarca, Chaparral, Planadas, Líbano, San Antonio, Villarrica, Cunday, Casablanca, and Ibagué.

High Andean forests and Páramo

These are strategic high mountain ecosystems, located between 2500 – 4000 meters above sea level, bordering the beginning of the glaciers of the department’s snow-capped volcanoes.

Destinations: Anzoátegui, Murillo, Cajamarca, Ibagué (Toche), and Roncesvalles.

Emblematic Birds of Tolima

Tolima Blossomcrown

Anthocephala berlepschi

Tolima Blossomcrown (Anthocephala berlepschi) visiting a Mermelada plant (Streptosolen jamesonii) at Ukuku Lodge, Tolima

Why it is important

This is an endemic hummingbird of Colombia. It distributes along the Colombia’s central Andes, and the eastern Andes, in the southern part of the country.

Where to find it

Ukuku Rural Lodge. Ukuku is a small rural ecolodge located in the beautiful Combeima River Canyon, in the municipality of Ibagué – Colombia.

Birds in colombia
Birds in colombia

It is a place surrounded by fauna and flora of the high Andean ecosystem. In fact, its name comes from a Quechua word meaning Spectacled Bear, a unique species of bear in the Andes.

This ecolodge reflects the life philosophy of its creators, a nice couple of biologists and mountaineers. They created a rural alternative for rest, adventure, relaxation and coexistence with nature.

The Tolima Blossomcrown visists their gardens every day in the mornig and in the afternoon. Their favorite plant is the Mermelada, Streptosolen jamesonii.

Yellow-headed Brushfinch

Atlapetes flaviceps 

Why it is important

This brushfinch is another endemic species of Colombia. It has a limited range of distrubution in the central and western Andes of Colombia.

Where to find it

In Tolima, you will find this bird when visiting the Combeima Canyon and the Ukuku Lodge, in the montane forests.

The Combeima Canyon is a buffer zone of Los Nevados National Park. It locates on the eastern side of the Central Andes between 1400 and 4200 meters above sea level.

The route to the Combeima Canyon is 18 km long from the Plaza de Bolivar, in the center of Ibagué, to the village of Juntas. The road runs along the banks of the Combeima River.

Rufous-fronted Parakeet

Bolborhynchus ferrugineifrons

Why it is important

This is a parakeet you will find only at very high elevations in Colombia’s central Andes. And, as if that were not enough, it is also a very scarce and difficult bird to watch.

Where to find it

In Tolima, the Rufous-fronted Parakeet can be observed in Los Nevados National Park, going up through the municipality of Murillo towards the Nevado del Ruiz snow-capped mountain.

Murillo is the highest municipality in the department of Tolima with 3,000 meters above sea level. Because of its proximity, it is very easy to appreciate the Nevado del Ruiz.

Velvet-fronted Euphonia

Euphonia concinna

Why it is important

This is a bird endemic to the Tropical Dry Forest in the Magdalena Valley in central Colombia. It is found from around 200 to 1,000 meters above sea level.

It is a difficult bird to observe, as it is uncommon within its range. In addition, it is commonly mistaken for Orange-bellied Euphonia.

Where to find it

It is possible to observe the Velvet-fronted Euphonia in the municipalities of Tolima placed around the Tropical Dry Forest of the Magdalena Valley such as Venadillo, Armero Guayabal, Coello, Ibagué, Prado, Lérida, Alvarado, San Luis, Piedras, Honda, Melgar, and Mariquita.

There are other interseting birds that can be observed in the tropical dry forests of Tolima, such as:

  • Apical Flycatcher (Myiarchus apicalis)
  • Colombian Chachalaca (Ortalis columbiana)
  • Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia tolimae)
  • Agami Heron (Agamia agami)
  • Whistling Heron (Syrigma sibilatrix)
  • Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)
  • Pheasant Cuckoo (Dromococcyx phasianellus)
  • Red-Billed Esmerald (Chlorostilbon gibsoni)
  • Shining-green Hummingbird (Lepidopyga goudoti)

Brown-banded Antpitta

Grallaria milleri 

Brown-banded Antpitta – Grallaria milleri

Why it is important

This is an antpitta restricted to cloud forest in Colombia’s central Andes. As many other antpittas, it spends most of the time on the forest floor, which makes it difficult to see.

If you like antpittas I recommend you to visit our entry 5 New Reasons to Come to Colombia to Watch Birds.

Where to find it

This bird is easy to see in the feeders of the Rio Blanco Ecological Reserve near Manizales. Yet, Tolima is working hard to become a destination to watch the Brown-banded Antpitta.

You can find it in the montane forests of Tolima, between 1000 to 2000 meters above sea level. Places with these kind of forests are: Cajamarca, Chaparral, Planadas, Líbano, San Antonio, Villarrica, Cunday, Casablanca, and Ibagué.

Other species you can find in the montane forests of Tolima are:

  • Tolima Dove (Leptotila conoveri)
  • Tolima Blossomcrown (Anthocephala berlepschi)
  • Indigo capped Hummingbird (Amazilia cyanifrons)
  • Moustached Antpitta (Grallaria alleni)
  • Crecent-faced Antpitta (Grallaricula lineifrons)
  • Yellow-headed Manakin (Choloropipo flavicapilla)
  • Yellow-headed BrushFinch (Atlapetes flaviceps)
  • Dusky-headed Brush Finch (Atlapetes fuscoolivaceus)
  • Masked Saltator (Saltator cinctus)
  • Red-bellied Grackle (Hypopyrrhus pyrohypogaster)
  • Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan (Andigena hypoglauca)
  • Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo (Vireolanius eximius)

Sooty Ant-Tanager

Habia gutturalis

Why it is important

This bird is also endemic to northwestern Colombia. Occurs in lowlands up to about 1,100 m. Typically seen in pairs or small groups in the forest understory, often near water.

Where to find it

It is found in the humid forests of Tolima. This life zone is represented in the municipalities of Mariquita, Honda, Fresno and Falan in the beginning of the middle Magdalena Valley. These forests protect a large percentage of the country’s biodiversity.

Other species you can find in the humid forests of Tolima are:

  • Parker’s ant bird (Cercomacra parkeri)
  • Beautiful woodpecker (Melanerpes pulcher)
  • Yelow-tufted Dacnis (Dacnis egregia)
  • Chestnut-backed Antbirds  (Myrmeciza exsul)
  • White-mantled Barbet (Capito hypoleucus)
  • Sooty-headed Wren (Pheugopedius spadix)
  • Barred Puffbird (Nystalus radiatus)
  • Golden-headed Manakin (Ceratropipa erytrocephala)
  • White-bibbed Manakin (Corapipo leucorrhoa)

Indigo-winged Parrot

Hapalopsittaca fuertesi

Indigo-winged Parrot – Hapalopsittaca fuertesi

Why it is important

This is a rare and endangered parrot restricted to high elevations in the central Andes of Colombia.

Where to find it

The Indigo-winged Parrot is difficult to watch, yet recently it has been observed in Santa Rosa de Cabal in Risaralda department. Find out more about Risarald in our entry Top 7 Unmissable Birding Spots in Risaralda in the Coffee Triangle.

In Tolima, this bird can be seen in the high andean forests, between 2500 to 4000 meters above sea level, in the areas of Los Nevados and Las Hermosas National Parks, and Nevado del Huila, in the municipalities of Anzoátegui, Murillo, Cajamarca, and Toche.

Yellow-eared Parrot

Ognorhynchus icterotis

Yellow-eared Parrot – Ognorhynchus icterotis

Why it is important

This bird has lost much of its habitat, becoming confined to the small remnants of wax palm forests in Colombia. If you want to know more about the wax palm forests of Colombia visit our entries The Unique Wax Palm Forests Landscape Destinations in Colombia and The Wax Palm and Why it is a Must to See When Visiting Colombia.

Where to find it

In Tolima, this bird can be seen in the high andean forests, between 2500 to 4000 meters above sea level, in the areas of Los Nevados and Las Hermosas National Parks, and Nevado del Huila, in the municipalities of Anzoátegui, Murillo, Cajamarca, and Toche.

Wax Palm at Toche, Tolima

Roncesvalles was also a good place to watch this bird, but saddly this year one of the rangers Colombian conservationist of the area was killed. So, tourism is closed since then in this area. Know more about this story in the Audubon’s post Remembering Gonzalo Cardona, Protector of the Yellow-eared Parrot.

Buffy Helmetcrest

Oxypogon stuebelii

Buffy Helmetcrest – Oxypogon stuebelii

Why it is important

This is an endemic bird of the paramos of the Central Andes of Colombia. It is one of the 17 species of hummingbirds unique to Colombia. Know them all in our entry 17 Unique Hummingbirds of Colombia and Where to Find Them.

Where to find it

In Tolima, this bird can be seen in the paramo Los Nevados.

Another species that can be seen in the paramos and high andean forests of Tolima are:

  • Golden-plumed Parakeet (Leptosittaca branickii)
  • Purple-backed Thornbill (Ramphomicron microrhynchum)
  • Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus)
  • Carunculated Caracara (Phalcoboenus carunculatus)
  • Black- Chested Buzzard – Eagle (Geranoaetus melanoleucus)
  • Black-and-chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori)
  • Andean Tit-Spinetail (Leptasthenura andicola)
  • Black-backed Bush Tanager (Urothraupis stolzmanni)

Tolima Dove

Leptotila conoveri

Tolima Dove – Leptotila conoveri

Why it is important

This is another unique species of the Andean cloud forest in the central Andes of Colombia. At the national and international level, it is listed as an Endangered species.

Where to find it

This bird is easy to see in the gardens of Ukuku Lodge, near to the Combeyma Canyon.

Now that you know about the wonderful birds of Tolima, you understand that this is an unmissable destination on your birding trip to Colombia, especially if you want to record some of the endemic species of our country.

Find more information about Tolima nature destinations in our entry Tolima, a Little Known Destination in Colombia with a Lot to Offer!

For more information about birding trips to Colombia and the birds of Colombia, visit our entry The Complete Colombia Birdwatching Guide: Tourism & Conservation.

If you want to know more about the most incredible natural destinations in Colombia, plan your trip with us!

References
  • Tolima Regional Autonomous Corporation – cortolima.gov.co
  • Anthocephala, Ornithology Association of Tolima.
About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.