Beginners Route Top 9 Birds of Colombia: From the Caribbean to the Andes

While in the world there are more or less 10,000 species of birds, Colombia has around 2000! I know, it is a huge number. But don’t worry, here I will tell you which birds to start with if you are coming for the first time to Colombia to watch birds.

Also, this guide may help you if you don’t have much experience with birding, or if you don’t feel like traveling to difficult or remote destinations. Moreover, if you are not sure about your birding style, visit our entry What Kind of Birder You Think You Are – Birding Colombia, and find out the best birding trip options for you.

The Beginners Route to the Top 9 Birds of Colombia

You will see these spectacular birds in places that are equally interesting, varied and fun. Besides, with the excuse of knowing these birds, you will be visiting half of the country, from the Caribbean to the Andes.

First Stop: The Caribbean

Start your trip visiting La Guajira and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Find out more information about birding in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in our entry Colombia’s Prime Birding Destination: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Regarding La Guajira and the Caribbean Dry Forest birding destinations, please visit our entry Discover the Caribbean Dry Forest Birding Trail of Colombia.

1. Vermilion Cardinal

Vermilion Cardinal – Cardinalis phoeniceus

This is a bird endemic to the Colombian Caribbean and Venezuela. In Colombia, it is found only in the dry forests of La Guajira.

It is a very easy bird to observe. You will spend a fantastic day in the company of a local indigenous guide from the Wayuu community. Plus: Lunch at the beach!

If you have enough time, you can visit the Los Flamencos Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, another beautiful attraction of the region.

Where to Stay: Hotel Taroa

2. Santa Marta Brush-finch

Santa Marta Brushfinch – Atlapetes melanocephalus

This is an endemic bird of Colombia that lives in the shrubby edges of the rainforest and secondary forests, between 1,500 and 3,200 m  (4921 – 10498 ft) of altitude, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Knowing this bird may be one of the best excuses to visit the Sierra Nevada. Besides, it is a bird that has become very comfortable with the presence of tourists.

Although it is not recommended, if you throw it pieces of bread or fruit, it will approach without a doubt. It may even land on your hands just to eat!

Where to Stay: El Dorado Bird Lodge

Second Stop: Santander

Santander is an adventure destination by tradition. There you can find the Chicamocha Canyon, one of the largest in South America. There is also the town of San Gil, the cradle of extreme adventure tourism in Colombia.

3. White-mantled Barbet

White-mantled Barbet – Capito hypoleucus ©CC 2.0 Ron Knight

This is another endemic bird of Colombia, and its distribution is associated with the Magdalena Valley. It can be seen in many places of Antioquia, Caldas, Boyacá, and Santander.

Two of the best places to observe and photograph the Withe-mantled Barbet are the Rio Claro Reserve, 3 hours from Medellin, in the department of Antioquia. Find more information about Rio Claro in our entry #1 Colombia Mid-Magdalena Valley Birding Hotspot: Rio Claro Reserve.

On the other hand, there is the Cerulean Warbler Bird Reserve of Proaves, which is located in the municipality of San Vicente de Chucurí, department of Santander, 87 kilometers from Bucaramanga. From Bucaramanga, you will have an approximate travel time of 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Where to Stay: Cerulean Warbler Bird Reserve of Proaves

Third Stop: Antioquia

Does Guatapé sound familiar? Antioquia is a department with an immense wealth of nature destinations that have been little explored.

It is also home to several towns in the network of Colombia’s Heritage Villages, such as Jardín, Santa Fé de Antioquia, and Jericó.

4. Andean Cook-of-the-Rock

Andean cock-of-the-rock – Rupicola peruvianus

This is an emblematic bird of the Andean forests. It is very striking for its color and size, and especially when found in groups of males, called leks.

It lives near rivers and rocky areas. Many people travel to distant places to see them under bridges, or, from a considerable distance, on a tree branch.

However, there is a place in Antioquia where you can go to see them easily and up close. It is the private reserve Jardín de Rocas in the municipality of Jardín.

It is worth mentioning that Jardín is one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia and is part of the country’s Network of Heritage Towns. So, it is well worth the visit.

5. Yellow-eared Parrot

Yellow-eared Parrot – Ognorhynchus icterotis

This parrot nests and lives among wax palms in some areas of the Western and Central Cordillera of Colombia. It is also endemic to Colombia. If you are curious about wax palm, then visit our entry The Wax Palm and Why it is a Must to See When Visiting Colombia.

For a long time, this parrot was endangered, and thanks to the efforts of many people and NGO’s this bird is nowadays in a lower category of threat.

The ideal, and safest, place to see it is the Jardín-Riosucio road, between the departments of Antioquia and Caldas. There are some remnants of wax palm forest that have been used for nesting programs for these birds.

Of course, you will have to get there very early!

Where to Stay: Cassa Passiflora Hotel Boutique

Fourth Stop: The Coffee Triangle!

Colombia’s must-see destination par excellence, the coffee region has a lot to offer. It comprises the departments of Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío, in addition to northwestern Tolima, and some parts of Antioquia and Valle del Cauca.

In 2011 UNESCO declared this area a World Heritage Site for its cultural importance and its coffee landscape. Since then, it has been known as the Coffee Cultural Landscape (#PCC).

6. Andean Condor

Andean Condor – Vultur gryphus

It is no longer necessary to go to remote places to see the Andean Condor in Colombia. In Manizales, just 40 min by flight from Bogotá, there is a place called Nido del Cóndor (Condor’s Nest).

This is a hotel placed over a strategic place for the sighting of the Andean Condor. You will have the privilege of observing a pair of condors nesting on the rocky outcrop under the tents of the lodge.

Moreover, you will see them flying over the balcony of your room, entering and leaving their nest. The plateau where these birds nest is one of the three areas known in Colombia where the Andean Condor is found.

Nido del Cóndor is located in the municipality of Villamaría, Caldas, Colombia.

Where to Stay: Nido del Cóndor

7. Tolima Blossomcrown

Tolima Blossomcrown – Anthocephala berlepschi at Ukuku Lodge, Tolima

Among these top 9 birds of Colombia, I included just one hummingbird. However, Colombia is a great destination for hummingbird watching. Find out why in our entry 17 Unique Hummingbirds of Colombia and Where to Find Them.

The Tolima Blossomcrown is a species of hummingbird endemic to Colombia. It is threatened by the loss of its habitat. It is found in tropical montane forests between 1200 and 2300 m  (4921 – 10498 ft) on the eastern slopes of the central cordillera of the Andes.

This bird is very easy to see in the Combeima Canyon, in Tolima. Especially in the Ukuku Lodge, a place that has specialized in attracting birds and hummingbirds.

It loves to visit the gardens of nectar plants grown around the Ukuku’s house.

Where to Stay: Ukuku Lodge.

Fifth Stop: Cali!

Cali is a city with a wide cultural offer, as well as a wide range of natural destinations. If you want to know more about the cultural offer of Cali, visit the Dancing Salsa in Cali Colombia blog on the Pelecanus website.

8. Multicolored Tanager

Multicoloured tanager – Chlorochrysa nitidissima, Valle del Cauca

The Multicolored Tanager is a bird endemic to the western Andes of Colombia. It is considered a winged jewel among the birds of Colombia and is one of the most wanted birds by birdwatchers.

Although it is a common bird moving around the treetops, it is very difficult to see. It always flies on the tallest trees, and it is a very small bird… and it is green! and restless!…

For this reason, some places have concentrated on attracting this bird to feeders in open gardens, to watch them up close.

This is the case of the Minga Ecolodge, a birdlodge near Cali. Every day between 6:00 and 8:00 am you will have the opportunity to see and photograph this beautiful bird.

If you like tanagers a lot, you’ll love our entry Top 7 Most Colorful Tanagers of Colombia and Where to Find Them.

Where to stay: Minga Ecolodge.

Final Stop: Bogotá!

Bogotá is the capital of Colombia. It has many activities to offer in and around the city. There are plenty of birding activities you can do in Bogotá, I wrote about them in our entry Where to go for Birdwatching in Bogotá? Complete Bogotá Bird Guide.

9. Apolinar’s Wren

Apolinar’s Wren – Cistothorus apolinari – ENDEMIC

This is a bird endemic to the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes of Colombia. It was very easy to find in the wetlands of the urban area of Bogotá. However, intense urbanization and pollution have limited its distribution to the páramo areas.

You can drive to the Sumapaz Park and from the road you will have the opportunity to hear it several times and even see it. When we went there, we were lucky, just watch the picture we got!

Find out more details about the Páramo of Sumapaz in our entry The Biggest Páramo in the World is in Colombia: Know the Sumapaz Park.

Where to stay: Muisca Hotel.

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!

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.

The Specific Glossary for Birders: The Birding Lingo

Birders and ornithologists have an interest in describing things as accurately as possible. Whether it be giving directions to find a bird, or describe it, in order to get somebody’s help identifying it. A specific birding lingo or Birding Glossary exists for all that.  

But our passion, our hobby, has seen us battle through most eccentric situations. Over time a pertinent, widely used birding jargon has been established and applied in the heat of the battles. 

Those who mingled in birding circles for a while have stumbled over most of these expressions. Tough still, you might find some new ones here… 

Folks new to birding or not so familiar with the English language might raise an eyebrow about many of these sometimes “encrypted” expressions.

The Birders Jargon 

Some of the birder’s lingo is understood in all English spoken countries, others are strictly American or British. 

  •  Burndown 

An organized search by a group of birders in order to seek skulking (see skulker) species. Often results in the bird being flushed or pushed out of its hideout. 

  • Banger

To get very high-quality photos of a bird. Also crush, hammer.

  • Big Day

A birdwatching event in which birders try to see as many species of birds as possible within 24h. Colombia has been participating in recent Global Big Days, occupying the number one position in lists and birds in the world.

  • Big Year

In a big year, a birder tries to see as many species of birds as possible within a defined area in 365 days. The movie  The Big Year was inspired by this.

  • Chooks

In Australia, it refers to already seen or common birds.

  • Cosmic mind f*****/ or blower, if you prefer 

See Megafor explanations 

  • Crippler 

A rare or beautiful species whose appearance leaves you crippled. Similar league to the one above, but not quite. 

  • Dude 

The guy from “The Big Lebowski” is famous. But such a birder is a guy who has just about no clue what he’s doing (identifying, photographing, etc.), though he might be geared up and act like a pro… 

  • Dipping 

The worst part about twitching (and birding in general)see below. Missing the bird, you specifically went looking for. There are some people born under a bad sign and constantly miss their targets. These are called Dipperslike the birds. Well, it’s all part of the game. 

  • Duff gen 

Getting first-hand (often secret, suppressed) information about the whereabouts of a rare bird, and information about the access to remote, restricted areas where birds occur. A term used in hard-core British birding circles 

  • First

The first record of a species in a place.

  • Glimps 

Get only a very brief, often unsatisfying view of a bird 

  • Gripping off 

Making birders jealous with stories of good birds you’ve to see and that you know, they haven’t but they would love to see! Understand? There are some (funny, incredible) stories of people who went on a Twitch (see later) together, and one person has seen the bird and the other one dipped! (remember?). Now, the one person who’s seen it describes other people who good the observation was, in the presence of the other one who hasn’t seen it… 

  • Jizz 

The general appearance of a species, genus, family taking into consideration its size, shape, and behavior. Subjective, of course, but very useful and real for bird ID. Species are identified by their Jizz alone. Think of Flamingo  

  • LBJs/LGB (little brown jobs, little green birds) 

No community or sandwich, but notoriously difficult to identify groups of birds of the corresponding colors (i.e. Sparrows, Tyrant-Flycatchers). By the way, contrary to public opinion that all Neotropical birds are colorful, the great majority of avian diversity here constitutes of LBJs & LGBs. Better learn them! 

  • Lifer 

The first-time observation of a bird species  

  • List

A list of all species seen by a particular observer

  • Lister

A birdwatcher who competes to amass longer lists than their rivals. This birder is intensely focused on keeping and growing lists.

  • Mega 

A very rare bird in any area. A bird you’ve always been dreaming to see. So badly. There’s only one better thing than that. The one that really blows your mind. And that’s the first one on this list, remember? 

And yes, there’s been some tragedies too, in order to get such one… 

  • Nemesis bird 

A bird that always eluded you seeing it. No matter how many times you’ve been looking for. Rare or common. 

  • Patagonia Picnic Table Effect 

A phenomenon that occurs when one rare bird draws a bevy of birders to an area, resulting in more interesting species being discovered in the same locale.  

  • Patch

A birding location or set of birding locations that a birder visits frequently.

  • Peeps 

No show but small, difficult to identify waders of the Calidris-genus are collectively referred to, as peeps 

  • Pishing 

Hissing sounds made by birders with their tongue, lips, other parts of the body(!), and other aids, in order to coax a “skulker”, see next, out into view. It works! Sometimes…. 

  • Slash

A cryptic species pair on a day list.

  • Skulker 

A cryptic, notoriously difficult bird to see. Often hiding in the thickest vegetation. Resistant to Pishing  

  • Spark bird 

A species that trigger a lifelong passion for birding. 

  • Spuh

Birds that are only identifiable to genus level on a day list.

  • Stringer 

A birder who purposely invents sightings of mostly rare birds (or incredibly big numbers), in order to draw attention in the birding scene. But hey, be very careful with your reputation. Mark Obmascik in the famous birding essay “The big year” wrote: Losing credibility is like losing virginity. You lose it only once. 

  • Tick 

A new bird added to whatever list 

  • Trash Bird 

Of course, there’s no such thing. Referred here, to some extremely common and widespread birds in any given area. 

  • Twitcher 

Birders who travel instantly to see a specific bird to add to lists (local, country, world). For many it has become an obsession. Much competition, grief, stringing going on… You hope to grip people off, never dip!! Often more about collecting than watching. 

  • Warbler Neck 

A painful spasm in the neck from looking at birds, like warblers, which are often found in the tops of trees.

Last but not least: 

  • SOB (spouse of a birder) 

A person who has had the misfortune of putting up with all that 


Some species have nicknames. Twitchers (and birders in general) will also use a mixture of scientific and slang terms for feather tracts and so on.

About the authors

Jérôme Fischer

Professional bird guide, swiss native, with more than 32 years of experience guiding hardcore birders and birdwatching tours. Jérôme has been focused on bird identification. He also travelled many countries,  starting in Switzerland. Then he traveled exploring South America, the most biodiverse continent in the world, becoming specialized in Neotropical birds.

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.