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.

What Kind of Birder You Think You Are – Birding Colombia

Yes, we have been watching you. We want you to come and make a birding trip in Colombia, and that’s why we are interested in knowing what kind of bird watcher you are.

Since we can’t give you a direct diagnosis, here I will tell you what the most common types of birders are, according to recent studies. This will help you identify with one of them.

If you know what kind of bird watcher you are, it will be easier for you, and for us, to plan the birding trip of your dreams in Colombia. 

We will give you some of our suggestions on what you could do and where you could go if you come to Colombia to watch birds. To start, I recommend you visit our entry The Complete Colombia Birdwatching Guide: Tourism & Conservation.

Without further ado, here are the most common bird watchers’ types: Hard Core Birders, Enthusiastic Birders, and Casual Birders (Ecotourists). Each segment differs in objectives and means to achieve satisfaction.

Hard Birding

Hard birding corresponds to extremely specialized tours to find difficult bird species targets.

The Hard Core Birders 

You are the difficult to influence birdwatcher. If your interest is to identify the greatest number of birds from a given location, and increase your life list, you can consider yourself as a hardcore birder.

In general, hardcore birdwatching is associated with competitions among birders, whether it be on a lifetime/region basis, or during a specified period. Examples of this are the Global Big Day, the Big Year, or to get into the top ten world listers.

If you are a lister, Colombia is a must to visit since we have more than 70 endemic bird species in our country. There is no way to avoid your visit.

Comedy icons Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson star in THE BIG YEAR. ©HBO

What kind of birding trip you can do in Colombia?

For a hardcore like you, Colombia can be expensive because of transportation. Many of the endemic species are found in places far form big cities, where the road infrastructure, and even hotel infrastructure, is not very good. Additionally, add the costs of the flights you must take to arrive there.

Once in the place, you will need specialized transportation, as for example 4×4 trucks that can enter these sites, or horses. It is also necessary your willingness to endure long journeys to get to some places.

Examples of places where you need specialized transportation are Bahía Solano, in Chocó, Montezuma, in Risaralda, the Ukuku Lodge, in Tolima, or Mitú, in Vaupés.

Guianan Cock-of-the-rock – Rupicola rupicola, Mitú, Vaupés

Getting up very early in the morning is almost unavoidable. This is because some birds appear at specific times early in the morning, so if you arrive late, you will miss it.

Examples of such morning birds are the Fuertes’s Parrot in Risaralda, the Santa Marta Parakeet in the Sierra Nevada, or some antpittas in Caldas.

Finally, the guide will be expensive. Local birding guides in Colombia with a high level of expertise in birds, and who also speaks your language are few. 

There are some specialized birding companies who can offer you these services, many of them from outside Colombia. In Sula, we want local companies to grow, and that is why we support and promote local operators and guides.

Characteristics of a Hardcore Birder

  • Extremely dedicated birders
  • Impatient with less-skilled birders and crowds
  • Pursue to increase “life list”
  • Competitive
  • Bring their own equipment
  • Not interested in other activities
  • Satisfaction comes from nature observations
  • Predominantly men
  • Will travel long distances to see new or rare birds
  • You guys are the smaller segment, less than 20%

Soft Birding

If you like birds, but also socializing, living other experiences. Or if you are not interested in filling lists, or competing, or do not want to be “suffering” so much in your birding trip, this is your group of birders!

The Enthusiastic Birders

I consider myself into this kind of birder, I am a broad-based nature lover. Yes, I am under suspicion for being a biologist, but I know competing of life lists are not in my preferences.

However, I have the desire to watch a large and diverse number of birds. And this does not imply going through discomfort.

Enthusiastic birders still need specialized attention related to birds, with good and fast transport services, easy to walk trails, and satisfaction. Satisfaction comes from being able to watch, as much as possible, all the available birds.

Local Birders at Vado Real, Suaita, Santander, Colombia

What kind of birding trip you can do in Colombia?

Places that will make you happy are the civil society nature reserves. Among them, we recommend you Tinamu Birding Nature Reserve in Caldas, El Dorado Bird Reserve in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Mururito and Lagos de Menegua in Meta, El Encanto in Palestina – Huila, El Descanso in the Old Way to Buenaventura, and La Minga Ecolodge in Valle del Cauca.

If you want to know more about nature reserves in Colombia visit our entry Responsible Travelers and Nature Reserves in Colombia.

Tolima Blossomcrown – Anthocephala berlepschi at Ukuku Lodge, Tolima

The above-mentioned places still retain some of the privacy and direct contact with nature that we always try to find. There, everything is ready for you to watch the birds, and take with you the best experience.

Characteristics of an Enthusiastic Birder

  • Broad-based and knowledgeable nature lovers
  • Slower, more relaxed travelers
  • Tolerate birders of all skill levels
  • Satisfied as long as birds are seen
  • Confortable in larger groups
  • Interested in other nature and cultural activities
  • Satisfaction comes partly from socializing with others
  • Slightly more women than men
  • You represent about 50% of birding tourists.

The Casual Birders

The family guys! If you like to watch birds with less effort and more comfort, and/or travel with your spouse and kids, this is your group!

For these groups, birds are not the main goal of the trip. Birdwatching may be an add-on to other activities such as cultural experiences, safari, trekking, bicycling, glamping, etc.

@Colombiafrank at Mururito

What kind of birding trip you can do in Colombia?

There are plenty of option in Colombia for you to find. The coffee destinations and the coffee triangle are the most recommended for this kind of experiences. You can mix your love for coffee with your interest in nature and watch some birds, I recommend you read our entry Coffee and Birding Top 5 Destinations in Colombia

So, if you like birds, but also to do trekking or bicycling I recommend you visit Minca, in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Or if you prefer to experience the local culture and observe other animals, I recommend you El Encanto de Guanapalo, Hato La Aurora or Altagracia in Casanare for a safari and eastern plains cowboy activities.

For more information about safari in Colombia read our entry Booking a Safari in Colombia? Find here the Best Options!

But, what if you like is coffee and rum, and walk around, a swimming pool?, visit Hacienda Venecia in Caldas, or La Palma y El Tucán near to Bogotá.

Safari in Casanare

In general, these tours do not need an expert birding guide. You can venture out just to look for the birds, as there will always be easy routes designed for this within the places you lodge or in the surroundings.

You would be paying for the comfort, convenience, and variety of activities.

Characteristics of a Casual Birder

  • Non specialist birder
  • Combine birding with other nature-based activities
  • Interested in seeking something different from home
  • Prefer nature destinations accessible by road
  • Satisfaction comes from superficial interaction with nature
  • Your group represents about 30% of birding tourists

I hope you found your answer about what kind of bird watcher you are. Now you are ready to plan your trip!

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.


The Science behind Bird Names: Taxonomy & Nomenclature

If you as a birdwatcher flip through many of the excellent, indispensable- but older- field guides and compare bird species names with newer, Neotropical avifauna, inevitably you will stumble across several unfamiliar names! This is beacuse Taxonomy and Nomenclature. 

You must also consider that the sequence of orders and families – and within families, the genera – have changes, in some cases quite drastically. In comparing these references, you will see that many concepts have simply been given a new name.

To complicate matters, formerly single species are now believed to consist of two distinct species or vice versa (follow this link for an example).

Taxonomy, Nomenclature & the Species Concepts

Birdwatchers and species names: Confusion at all levels! However, this is not because there have been major problems since the first guides were printed, nor because the authors assigned bird names at random.

Authors from any time period face the same difficulties in choosing these names, but there is a science behind it. A Science that is in constant state of change known as Taxonomy & Nomenclature.

First of all, you need to know there is adifference between Taxonomy and Nomenclature. Taxonomy is an artificial agreement to classify biological diversity. On the othe hand, nomenclature is an artificial agreement to name biological diversity. 

The Swedish botanist Carl von Linné is considered the founder of the current system of classification of biological diversity (i.e. taxonomy), since he developed a classification system known as Linné’s taxonomy to categorize organisms, and the binomial nomenclature to name the organisms.

Carl von Linné

Systema Naturae by Carl von Linné

Let’s go back to mid-18th century when Swedish biologist Carl von Linné introduced the binary nomenclature system for taxa (life forms and organisms) to science.

His general belief was that all life forms on this planet were unchangeable and created by God. Linné was convinced that God’s presence materializes through natural diversity.

In order to prove God’s existence or at least get closer to him, Linné started to collect as many different life forms as he could gather and with these, he developed a classification system.

The Classification System

Linné standardized the description processes and categorized the life forms in hierarchical orders: family, genera, and species (taxonomy).

Additionally, he gave all species a Latin generic and species name and stored those specimens in large collections- which nowadays is undertaken by museums (nomenclature).

With this system, the basis for modern zoological and botanical taxonomy and nomenclature was created.

The nomenclatural system and process to describe new species remains very much the same as back in the days of early scientists!

Carl von Linné

The Origin of Species

In subsequent years, scientists & naturalist continued collecting, describing and discovering data that led them to begin doubting Linnés’ and others’ views regarding the origins of species.

This doubt peaked with Charles Darwin’s (and Alfred R. Wallace’s among others) discoveries and publication of the Evolutionary Theory in 1859.

The publication by Darwin bares the Victorian title: On the origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation, of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Many of the observations for these publications were made in the Neotropics!

Darwin’s work had tremendous impact on society far beyond natural history and science. Moreover, Darwin’s theory is still the backbone of modern evolutionary biology.

The Discovery of DNA

The discovery of DNA in mid-20th century  opened new possibilities to science, revealing some big surprises in taxonomy and systematics at all levels.

The fact that all modern genetic analyses and recent findings support Darwin’s theory is even more remarkable, as DNA and genetics were totally unknown to him!

DNA analyses are mostly used to define independent evolutionary lineages. 

For various reasons, birds remain the most studied animal organism, especially for evolutionary biology and taxonomy.

Bird Taxonomy

In bird taxonomy, there are two leading methodologies: the traditional Biological Species Concept (BSC) and the Phylogenetic Species Concept (PSC).

To make it easy to understand, I will give you a extremely simplified versions of the species concepts: biological and phylogenetic.

The Species Concept

Firstly, the Biological Species Concept considers groups of interbreeding populations that are reproductively isolated from other groups.

On the other hand, the Phylogenetic Species Concept considers species as diagnosable and divergent evolutionary lineages which share a parental pattern of ancestry and descent.

Scientists expect more changes in taxonomy and nomenclature because of the increasing knowledge given by different species concepts and DNA discoveries. 

Bird Nomenclature

At Sula we decided to follow nomenclature of the South American Classification Committee (SACC). This was a decision based on convenience! Most contemporary field guides about Neotropical avifauna are using this nomenclature.

The SACC is one of two Comities (the other is the North American Classification Committee, NACC) of the American Ornithologist Union (AOU), which deals with all taxonomic issues based on the Universal Clements Checklist of the Birds of the World.

This universal checklist follows regional authorities and is usually updated annually by the AOU in August, see here!

If you are starting or already keep a bird list, you might very well use other authorities than the above-mentioned, as for example:

  1. International Ornithological Committee (IOC) Bird checklist  or
  2. Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the birds of the World, 4th edition or
  3. HBW Alive/Birdlife International.

You can find a detailed comparison of all the major checklists on Avibase website.

Conclusion on Bird Names

  • With whatever book you consult or whatever list you follow, all species concepts and taxonomic traits are man-made constructs and decisions.
  • They differ in various degree in their primary goals, philosophy, and attempts to investigate complex and overlapping fields.
  • Scientists are constantly publishing new results in highly technical articles.
  • It is in the nature of the matter that there is going to be disagreement and inconsistency on this subject now and in the future.
  • Therefore, as this understandably causes some annoyance to the average birdwatchers and bird species names, it is at the same time nothing more than progress in Ornithology and Biology!
  • You just might be able to contribute to that by simply observing and enjoying birds.
  • Also by identifying them carefully & correctly, recording vocalizations, noting hybrids and variations in species/populations, mating pairs, and documenting extra limital records well! Is that not what birding is all about?

Aboout 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 in 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.

Note by the author: I would like to thank my friend, Dr. Manuel Schweizer, Curator of Ornithology at the Natural History Museum Bern in Switzerland for many long discussions about these topics, decades of birding (we’re getting old buddy…come visit), and giving some input for this  Blog-entry!

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.