Doing bird photography in Colombia is a must. It is the ‘birdiest’ country in the world. Nowhere else on the planet you will find more bird species than in here. There are over 1,900 registered species — 80 endemic — and this number represents 20% of all the species of birds in the world.
Every region of Colombia boasts unique bird species for birders to enjoy. However, photographing birds is a whole another scenario and not all the birding spots throughout the country are apt to do bird photography tours.
Find out the best tips for bird photography in our entries Brief Overview about Bird Photography for Beginners and How to Prepare for a Birding Tour in the Neotropics?.
In this post, we will talk about the difference between bird photography and birdwatching tours, and the most recommended bird photography destinations in Colombia.
Bird Photography vs Birdwatching
In South America, both fields are commonly undistinguished. However, it is essential that a guide leading a bird photography tour has knowledge about birds in the region as well as photography, to help tourists improve their pictures.
About 4 or 5 years ago, Colombia did not have this kind of complete guides, but currently the landscape is changing.
Also, the destination for doing bird photography is totally different from a spot for birdwatching. Photography guides are used to visiting the destinations in advance to know if those are convenient for doing a photography tour or not.
Aspects to take into account for a bird photography destination, and which offer ease to the photographers, are:
- The bird perches.
- The background.
- The slope of the terrain where you are going to place your tripod or seat.
- The suitable infrastructure for photography such as hides, or observation towers.
- Access to electricity.
- Spacious rooms with extra desks and outlets.
We interviewed 2 South American photographers at the Colombia BirdFair 2020 on the subject, and here we will share their recommendations.
Steve thinks a birdwatching tour is very different from a photography tour or a bird photography tour.
Usually, what a birdwatcher wants is to observe as many bird species as possible during their trip. On the ther side, a nature photographer is not interested in having a lot of species photographed if those pictures are mediocre or do not turn out well. For a photographer, the priority is quality, not quantity.
Steve Sanchez recommends to lodge owners to listen to the professional photographers advice to make the lodge more apt for photography (that means changing the perches or moving the feeders to a better place and this does not negatively impact birds, as it is commonly believed).
Memo Gomez, a nature photographer from Colombia, and CEO of the El Cantil Ecolodge, says that photographers need to spend time with birds.
Memo explained to us that bird photographers need the right landscape, the right spot, the right button for every picture, while birders seek to spot a bird and cross their checklists, it is quite different. Photographers are more patient, because they need to wait for the perfect conditions to take a shot.
Some practical tips for bird photographers, explained by Memo Gomez, are:
- Exposure is key, if you learn how to control exposure well, you will get more and more pictures.
- Understand pretty well the focus system of your camera, for example when photographing birds in flight, cause it depends on the camera manufacturer.
- Have the right local guide. When going to the jungle or complex environments, finding a bird is tough if you do not bring a local guide that has a deep knowledge of the area.
The Coffee Triangle Bird Photography Tour
In the western and central ranges of the Andes lies the region where the best-quality coffee of the world is grown: the Colombian Coffee Region.
Quindío, Caldas and Risaralda are the mainly constituents of the region, with stunning landscapes and high biodiversity hosted in dry forests, tropical humid forests and páramos.
This area concentrates about 45% of all birds in the country, Quindío has around 690 bird species, Caldas has approximately 880 species with 22 endemic and Risaralda around 890 species with 25 endemic.
That being said, you may notice why the Coffee region is a special destination for bird photography. In Sula, we have a bird photography tour around the Eje Cafetero (or Coffee region)
It starts in Pereira and ends in the town of La Virginia, in Risaralda too. It is an unforgettable 14-day birding experience.
You will visit the next spots:
Tinamú Birding Nature Reserve
The Tinamú Birding Nature Reserve is a renowned birding place in Manizales where you can hear, observe and photograph from 70 to 110 bird species at 1,225 meters above sea level!
Find out more information about Tinamu in our entry The Nicest Bird-lodge of Colombia: Tinamu Birding Nature Reserve.
Among the species you can find are the Little Tinamou, Colombian Chachalaca, Gray-headed Dove, Dwarf Cuckoo, Common Potoo, Common Pauraque, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, Western emerald, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Grayish Piculet, Bar-crested Antshrike and Scrub Tanager.
The Reserve offers Facilities and Avitourism Services with a comprehensive and specialized service for photographers and birders, as follows:
- Tour of photography and bird watching
- Birding Library for consultation
- Space for workshops with audiovisual equipment
- Wide screen for review of photographic and video files
- Hummingbird garden with support feedlots
- Feedlots for birds with hide for photographers
- Fishing lake for birds only
- +3 Km. of private and safe paths
- Trails with recognized perches and crossing points for some birds
Río Blanco Reserve
The Rio Blanco Reserve is 3 km from Manizales and has the cloud forest ecosystem at over 2,159 MASL. It is key in the preservation of water and biodiversity. The place has been suitable with feeders and drinkers for hummingbirds and tanager, as well as with small observation benches to photograph the 4 different species of antpittas that have been bait in the reserve.
Here you can photograph species such as the Masked Saltator, Rusty Faced Parrot, Golden Plumed Parakeet, the endemic Brown-banded Antpitta and the near endemic Bicolored Antpitta. There are approximately 350 bird species here!
The Cameguadua Reservoir is an aquatic ecopark commonly visited by around 250 species of aquatic birds.
From the pier you can photograph Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Blackish Rail, Common Gallinule, Purple Gallinule, Wattled Jacana, Pectoral Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Neotropic Cormorant, Snowy Egret, among others. It has a dock that goes deep into the lake, from where it is possible to locate the camera to take photographs.
Romelia Colors of Life Farm
In the Romelia Colors of Life farm, you will have the possibility to spot over 200 bird species including the Golden-plumed Parakeet, Bar-crested Antshrike, Crimson-rumped Toucanet , Yellow-vented Woodpecker and Golden-olive Woodpecker, in a nice area with orchids, bonsai, citrus fruits and avocados crops.
There is also a striking collection of orchids and bonsais from around the world.
Termales del Ruiz Hotel
If you want to discover highland birds, Termales del Ruiz Hotel hosts approximately 190 species including Andean Siskin, Shining Sunbeam, Glowing Puffleg, Red-crested Cotinga, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Great Sapphirewing, Slaty Brushfinch, Masked Flowerpiercer and Black-backed Bush Tanager in a páramo ecosystem at 3,500 meters above sea level.
Also, you can enjoy several hot springs here. This place is known for its large number of drinking fountains and gardens with native plants that attract hummingbirds and other high mountain species. It has benches and terraces to facilitate photography. It is even possible to have the experience of feeding the birds in your own hand.
Tatamá Hill and Montezuma Ecolodge
One particularly recommended birding spot is the Finca Montezuma eco-lodge, located on the hillside that connects the Risaralda with Chocó, in the western range of the Andes.
It has a huge cloud forest that borders the Tatamá National Natural Park and boasts fauna and flora wealth. It is not so known among birders but is home to various endemic species, such as the iconic Black-and-gold and Gold-ringed Tanagers and the Chocó Tapaculo and Warbler.
Find out more information about Tatamá and Montezuma Lodge in our entry The Uniqueness of Tatamá Park and Montezuma Road Destination.
Other birding spots within the Coffee region are the towns of Santa Rosa de Cabal, Santa Cecilia, Apía, Mistrató and La Virginia. These boast ecosystems such as páramo, rainforest, wet premontane forest, cloud forest and tropical dry forest, so the variety of birds you can spot is unbelievable. However, there is still lack of good infrastructure to photograph them.
Chicoral, Dapa and Km 18, Cali
Find out more information about Km 18 and the San Antonio forest in Valle del Cauca in our e entry Know the Winged Jewels Held by San Antonio Cloud Forest – Km 18.
Finca Alejandría Farm
Finca Alejandría is 18 km down the road from Cali to Buenaventura, on the Pacific coast. This place covered in cloud forest has several feeders that attract hummingbirds and other regional bird species such as tanagers, toucanets and motmots.
The stars of the zone are the Multicolored Tanager, which is really difficult to see, Blue-headed Sapphire, Ornate Hawk-eagle, Crested Quetzal and Golden-headed Quetzal. Our Valle del Cauca birding route has a stop in this farm. Check the itinerary here.
Finca La Conchita Farm
In this zone known as the 18 Km, you can also visit Finca La Conchita to photograph hummingbirds, honey creepers, tropical mockingbirds and plenty more bird species. Experienced photographers such as Augusto Ilian have taken gorgeous shots at this birding spot.
La Minga Ecolodge
Another eco-lodge for bird photography is La Minga, which is located within the Rio Bitaco forest reserve. In the cloud forest, over 300 species and 4 endemic birds have been spotted.
You can easily photograph up to 17 species of hummingbirds, up to 30 species of tanagers, flower piercers and honeycreepers. Watch our birding experience in Km 18!
Find out more about this destination in our entry Best Set to Photography Tropical Rainforest Birds at Upper Anchicayá.
El Descanso km 55 – Doña Dora
It is also important to mention the immense effort local people is putting into develop adequate places for bird photography. It requires a lot of compromise, money and time.
Here is one of the most impressive places in Valle del Cauca, where bird watching and bird photography helped local people to transform and enhance their life conditions, El Descanso, Km 55 Old Way to Buenaventura with doña Dora.
As time goes by, the list of bird photography destinations in Colombia gets longer and you can be sure that you will find fantastic birds in any region of the country. Check all of our Birding Routes here!
About the authors
Ana María Parra
Modern Languages professional with emphasis on business translation. Interested in cultural adaptation of written and audiovisual content. Passionate about knowing new cultures and languages, tourism and sustainable living.
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.