The Southwestern Andes Birding Trail of Colombia

The Southwestern Andes Birding Trail of Colombia is probably the most diverse with nearly 1,400 bird species between the departments of Valle del Cauca, Cauca and Nariño.

In this region, you have contact with the Western Andes mountain range, the Choco Region, and the Pacific ocean.

The most relevant birding hotspots of this route are the Choco Forest and the Andean Cloud forests of the western cordillera.

The diversity of this route is explained because it covers many different habitats such as paramos, wetlands, Andean cloud forests, tropical rainforest, coastal areas, dry forest and very nice bird-lodges and farms dedicated to bird photography.

The Southwestern Andes Birding Trail

The National Audubon Society of the United States was involved in the design of this route along with the government of Colombia and Calidris NGO to help the country reach its goal of becoming the world’s top birding destination.

The training of stakeholders linked to the birding offer in the region was the main activity, including local guides, owners of lodges, farms and nature reserves, and community-based tourism associations.

Among the places to be visited are included national parks, civil society nature reserves, and private reserves.

Birding Spots of The Southwestern Andes Birding Trail

You should know that in the past, this region was not a safe place. Nowadays, birding tourism and related stakeholders are becoming:

active drivers in conservation, economic development, and peace-building”

For that reason, there are still some destinations with difficult access, and poor hotel infrastructure, especially towards the Pacific region in Valle del Cauca and Nariño.

Itinerary

The following itinerary is just an example of the route you can take. However, if you want to see more options, visit the itinerary designed by us.

Remember that you can customize your trip with us. Don’t miss the opportunity to add other activities such as whale watching; a city tour in Cali, the city of salsa music; an urban birding day also in Cali; a stop in the beautiful city of Popayan in the department of Cauca; or visit the paramos and volcanic lakes of Nariño, among many other activities, either alone or with your family.

Given the wide offer of destinations on this route, here are the main stops in each department. If you want to know more about each destination, I recommend you to visit the entries we prepared for you about them.

You can also visit our Youtube channel ColombiaFrank, where you will find first hand information about many of these destinations.

Valle del Cauca

Western Andes Cloud Forests

Wetlands – Sonso Lagoon

  • Laguna Sonso
  • Gota de Leche

Choco region – Anchicaya

  • El Descanso km 55
  • Upper Anchicaya
  • Aguasclaras
  • Lower Anchicaya
  • Buenaventura*

Following the path of the Anchicaya River as it descends through the western Andes to meet the Pacific Ocean, the old road from Buenaventura, mostly abandoned, offers incredible birding.

One of the most famous places in this point is the restaurant El descanso km 55, read our entry about this place Best Set to Photography Tropical Rainforest Birds at Upper Anchicayá.

Among the more than 500 species that have been recorded along the road are about 50 species endemic to the region.

The Pacific lowlands of the San Cipriano Reserve

  • San Cipriano Reserve
  • La Delfina
  • Buenaventura*

The Pacific rainforest of San Cipriano is incredibly humid, very lush and home to Chocó endemics, including the Five-colored Barbet, Chocó Toucan, Chocó Woodpecker, Rose-faced Parrot, Stub-tailed Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, and Black-tipped Cotinga.

*From here you can continue to Buenaventura for seabird watching on the Pacific coast. This point was not included in the official route, but if you have time, you can visit it in a day trip.

Cauca

Paramos in Puracé National Park and the Central Andes

From Valle, the route goes into the south of the department of Cauca to observe the Central Andes and the páramo where you can see the Andean condor.

At the end of the day you can enjoy a bath in the volcanic springs of Coconuco, where the thermal waters have been diverted to a series of pools, each at a different temperature.

Dry Forest in the Patía Valley

Descending from the páramo, the itinerary concludes in the dry forest of the Patía Valley, located only 600 meters above sea level. The dry forest is a very different habitat where you can find Blue Ground-Dove, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Apical Flycatcher (endemic), and the Scarlet-backed Woodpecker.

Nariño Extension (Optional)

Birders with extra time and a thirst for adventure should continue south to the department of Nariño, a former conflict zone that is newly accessible to visitors.

Nariño is rather more rustic than Valle or Cauca, but features fantastic birding, especially in the rainforests of the Pacific slope.

Among the highlights is La Planada Reserve, which offers some of the best birding in Colombia. You can also continue on to the Rio ñambi Reserve and the Bangsias Reserve.

Another place that has emerged as an interesting birding destination in Nariño is Tumaco. However, the law and order situation still keeps it on the back foot for tourism development. We do not recommend traveling to this place alone.

As time goes by, the list of Colombian birding trails has grown and you can be sure that you will find fantastic birds in any region of the country.

Recommendations

  • Take waterproof clothing, waterproof boots, and waterproof backpacks to protect your equipment in case of rain.
  • Remember that this whole region has a high relative humidity, so be prepared to keep your equipment safe from excess humidity. In our entry How to Prepare for a Birding Tour in the Neotropics? you will find useful information on this subject.
  • Be always accompanied by a local guide.

If you want to know more about Colombian nature tours contact us and plan your trip with us.

References
  • Birdwatching in Colombia – Procolombia
  • Audubon Society Website
  • The Southwestern Andes Birding Trail
About the author

Sara Colmenares

The 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 Central Andes Birding Trail of Colombia: Coffee and Birds!


The Central Andes Birding Trail of Colombia is probably one of the most wonderful and complete birdwatching tourism routes in Colombia since it gathers a great diversity of environments and all the richness of the Colombian coffee cultural landscape, the heritage of Colombia, and humanity.

The Central Andes are basically composed of the proximity between the 3 mountain ranges of Colombia, which occurs precisely in the departments of Caldas, Quindio, and Risaralda. Watch our video below and know more about these beautiful departments of Colombia.

In this region, you have contact with the inter-Andean valleys of the Magdalena and Cauca rivers, and you can go from zero to 5000 meters above sea level. These characteristics make this region concentrate a high variety of ecosystems and unique environments ranging from the transition dry forests of the inter-Andean valleys through the Andean cloud forests, to the paramos and the perpetual snows.

The most relevant birding hotspots of this route are the Magdalena Valley Endemic Bird Area, the Choco Forest, and the paramos. In particular, in the western Andes, the Chocó ecoregion has a unique avifauna. Also, the páramo, an ecosystem above 3000 m, is full of range-restricted endemics and area specialists.

Paraphrasing Audubon, this is a land of endemic hummingbirds, colorful tanagers, singing antpittas and gorgeous parrots!

The Central Andes Birding Trail

Once again, the National Audubon Society of the United States was involved in the design of this route along with Colombian institutions and Government, training about 60 service providers linked to the birding offer in the region, including guides, lodging and nature reserve owners, local travel agencies and community-based tourism associations:

“The Central Andes Birding Trail was developed in partnership with Audubon’s Birdlife International partner Asociación Calidris, with support from the Ministry of Commerce and Tourism and FONTUR, Colombia’s Tourism Fund. The trail is network of Audubon-trained professional birding guides and operators, sites such as national parks and private reserves, and small businesses and support services. Bird-focused tourism benefits local communities and organizations such as the Yarumo Blanco Community Association, which works directly on local conservation issues and community development in and around the Otún Quimbaya Sanctuary.”

Audubon.org

Among the places to be visited are included national parks, civil society nature reserves, private reserves, farms, and sanctuaries. And why not? you can also include some coffee farms that, although not officially part of the itinerary of the Central Andes Birding Trail, we highly recommend you to visit.

Small Area – Huge Diversity

This is a region of approximately 13880 square kilometers, an area similar to the area of Puerto Rico or the state of Connecticut, or even the Death Valley National Park in California and Nevada in the United States. And it is surprising that in this relatively small area there is so much diversity.

For this reason, on this trip you will be able to combine a great variety of destinations where each place has its own specialties; do not think that because it is such a small area you will not find a great diversity. You are in Colombia!

It is precisely this richness of landscape and birdlife, together with the cultural richness and the hospitality of the people of the Colombian coffee region, which gives this birding route in Colombia a very special character.

Birding Spots of The Central Andes Birding Trail

You should know that in this region there is a wide range of destinations for bird watching tourism, however not all of them are included in the itinerary designed for this trail.

The reason for this is most likely due to the difficulty of access or lack of hotel infrastructure or roads that prevent these places have minimum standards for high standard tourism, or the basics for the birdwatchers.

This does not mean that these places cannot be visited, but you will have to be prepared for difficult terrain or to have to travel long distances the same day or stay in rural houses or farms of medium to low infrastructure.

In our blogs about each department, you can find the complete offer of birding destinations in each of them. I recommend you to visit our entries 9.5% of the Birds of the World: Main Spots for Birdwatching in Caldas and Top 7 Unmissable Birding Spots in Risaralda in the Coffee Triangle.

Highlight Species of The Central Andes Birding Trail

Among the almost a thousand birds you can find in this route, the most highlighted are Northern Screamer, Cauca Guan, Colombian Chachalaca, Chestnut Wood-Quail, Buffy Helmetcrest, Dusky Starfrontlet, Spot-crowned Barbet, White-mantled Barbet, Toucan Barbet, Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Grayish Piculet, Beautiful Woodpecker, Rufous-fronted Parakeet, Rusty-faced Parrot, Indigo-winged (Fuerte’s) Parrot, Yellow-eared Parrot, Parker’s Antbird, Moustached Antpitta, Bicolored Antpitta, Brown-banded Antpitta, Hooded Antpitta, Crescent-faced Antpitta, Tatama Tapaculo, Stiles’s Tapaculo, Paramillo Tapaculo, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant, Apical Flycatcher, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Yellow-headed Manakin, Club-winged Manakin, Munchique Wood-Wren, Black-and-gold Tanager, Gold-ringed Tanager, Multicolored Tanager, Turquoise Dacnis, Scarlet-and-white Tanager, Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, Black-backed Bush Tanager, Tanager Finch, Yellow-headed Brushfinch, Sooty Ant-Tanager, Crested Ant-Tanager, Baudo Oropendola, Red-bellied Grackle, Velvet-fronted Euphonia.

Brown-banded Antpitta (Grallaria milleri) at Rio Blanco Reserve, Caldas, Colombia
Buffy Helmetcrest – Oxypogon stuebelii
Indigo-winged Parrot – Hapalopsittaca fuertesi
Black-and-gold-Tanager – Bangsia melanochlamys

Itinerary

Caldas

  • La Romelia, a.k.a. Finca Romelia Colors of Life.
  • Tinamú, a.k.a. Tinamu Birding & Nature Reserve.
  • Cameguadua, this is a reservoir.
  • Los Alcázares, is an ecopark in the heart of the city of Manizales.
  • Rio Blanco, a private Nature Reserve.
  • Rio Claro, a Private Nature Reserve in the coffee-growing area of Villamaría.
  • Recinto del Pensamiento, a very nice hotel on the outskirts of Manizales. The annual Avitourism Congress is held there.
  • Los Nevados National Park.
  • Bellavista Reserve, a transition area of tropical dry forest near the town of Victoria.
  • Guarinocito, oxbow lake also near to the town of Victoria and La Dorada.

Risaralda

  • Mistrato, a little town in Risaralda.
  • Santa Cecilia, found in the Choco region.
  • Montezuma Road and Tatama National Park.
  • Apia
  • Botanical Garden of the Technologic University of Pereira
  • Cortaderal
  • Otun Quimbaya

Quindio

  • Salento-Area
  • Quindio Botanical Garden
  • Rancho California
  • Pijao

Itinerary Example

The following itinerary is just an example of the route you can take. However, if you want to see more options, visit the itinerary designed by us.

Remember that you can customize your trip with us. Don’t miss the opportunity to live cultural experiences such as coffee tasting, rum tasting, chocolate production, visit the wax palm forests, among many other activities, either alone or with your family.

The following example trip proposed by Audubon lasts 17 days. It starts in Honda and ends in the Nevados National Park, and includes experienced tour leaders and trained local guides in every location.

Day 1 – Arrival in Bogotá. Overnight near the airport.
Day 2 – Birding travel to Honda. Begin your day birding the marshes near the airport in Bogotá, hoping for the endemic Bogotá rail. The afternoon will be spent traveling to Honda or the Victoria area. Overnight in Honda (or Victoria).
Day 3 – Birding Victoria. The morning will be devoted to visiting the Bellavista reserve. Overnight in Honda (or Victoria).
Day 4 – Laguna Guarinocito and travel to Manizales. Overnight in Manizales.
Day 5 – Río Blanco. Birding in the morning at Río Blanco. Overnight in Tinamú lodge.
Day 6 – Tinamú reserve, travel to Salento. Birding at the Tinamú reserve and then travel to Salento, stopping at the Cameguadua reservoir. Option 2 for this day starts early in Tinamú to drive to la Soledad, Río claro to bird with the community and travel to Salento.
Day 7 – Birding Salento and Camino nacional. Option 2 for this day includes a visit to Pijao.
Day 8 – Morning birding and drive to Otún Quimbaya after lunch, overnight there.
Day 9 – All day Otún Quimbaya. All-day in the Otún Quimbaya area, with a post-lunch break. Overnight in Otún Quimbaya.
Day 10 – Morning in Otún Quimbaya, drive to the western Andes. Last morning in the Otún Quimbaya. Afternoon driving to the town of Mistrató. Overnight in Mistrató. Option 2 for this day starts birding in Otún Quimbaya and then driving to Apía.
Day 11 – Visit the wonderful Chocó forests of Mistrató or Apía, returning for lunch in town. Then travel to Pueblo Rico, and onward to the Montezuma ecolodge. Overnight in Montezuma.
Day 12 – Montezuma all day. All-day in Montezuma starting at the high elevation site and birding our way down. Overnight in Montezuma.
Day 13 – Montezuma all day. Morning visit to Santa Cecilia, afternoon and overnight in Montezuma.
Day 14 – Montezuma in the morning, drive to Santa Rosa de Cabal.
Day 15 – Start early to look for the Indigo-winged (Fuertes’s) parrot in Cortaderal. In the afternoon, transfer to Manizales and Los Nevados national park. Overnight in hotel Term ales del Ruiz.
Day 16 – Los Nevados National Park. Overnight in Hotel Termales del Ruiz.
Day 17 – Transfer to airport in Pereira. Flights back to Bogotá and home.

As time goes by, the list of Colombian birding trails has grown and you can be sure that you will find fantastic birds in any region of the country.

Check all of our Birding Routes here!

Recommendations

Take waterproof clothing, waterproof boots, and waterproof backpacks to protect your equipment in case of rain.

If you want to know more about Colombian nature tours contact us and plan your trip with us.

References
  • Birdwatching in Colombia – Procolombia
  • Audubon Society Website
  • The Central Andes Birding Trail
About the author

Sara Colmenares

The 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.

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.

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.

How to Prepare for a Birding Tour in the Neotropics?

We assume that you are here to know about birding in the Neotropicsthe richest area in terms of species diversity in the World!

What is the Neotropical Region?

The Neotropical Region is one of the 8 ecozones that exist in the Planet. It extends from Mexico to the southernmost tip of South America (map below). It is the ecozone with the highest area covered by tropical rainforests, including the Pacific Chocó Forest, the vast Amazon rainforest, and the endangered Atlantic Forest. These rainforests are the most important reserves of biodiversity on Earth.

Biomes of the Neotropics (according to the World Wide Fund for Nature)

Birding in the Neotropics

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

“The Neotropical region has more species of birds than any other region on Earth,” said Brian Smith in his paper about how did this extraordinary bird diversity originate.

Yes, the numbers are staggering, overwhelming, and quite unbelievable, but flipping through the literature can be quite confusing.

Birding in the neotropics makes you find species so incredibly colorful, rare, and even mythical, you wouldn’t dare to dream of spotting them. Others so confusingly similar to each other that you might think distinguishing them to be impossible.

All of this only to remember that you still have to consider the genus and family levels as well!

Of course there are a lot of different strategies to achieve such tasks and just about as many different ways to practice your birding in the neotropics.

If you are looking for a place to begin, we are keen to share some of our personal experiences with you so that you can better orient yourself in this complex but rich world of Avifaunas.

How do I Prepare for Birdwatching in the Neotropics?

Birdwatching at the Amazon Forest, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Planning and Preparation

Any successful trip starts with thorough planning and preparation. Unless you are short on time, a well-seasoned Neotropic birder, a pure lister, or someone who is searching for missing target-species, there is absolutely no need for hurry!

Planning tightly scheduled trips through many different biomes and regions will likely leave you with missed species and unsatisfactory views of the species you do catch.  When birding in the neotropics all-day bird scouting through the largest of mixed flocks is the exception, not the rule! This is luck and dependent on the season.

More realistically, you’ll spend a considerable amount of time walking through some of the most biodiverse habitats only to see or hear a few species. This is especially true for forest birding and less so for open or aquatic habitats. Moreover, you’re likely to lose time travelling large distances between sites on bad or blocked (or both!) roads.

Schedule and choose a trip that is well balanced and with low stress. You will certainly see and enjoy more than if you were to rush from one site to another.

Consider the Season!

Green-and-black Fruiteater – Pipreola riefferii at Montezuma Hill. Risaralda, Colombia

As mentioned above, when birding in the neotropics, consider the season. The two seasons in the Neotropics are defined by rainfall patterns –a Rainy season and a Dry season. Both seasons have their pros and cons that impact local bird communities.

You might not want to visit the wettest parts of the amazon in the peak rainy season while you may want to schedule your trip to the Pantanal during dry season. In addition, there are different migration patterns to consider. Between August-April, you will find boreal birds while you will find austral migrants between May-August.

On the topic of weather and climate, birders must be aware of issues surrounding climate change and conservation that are occurring on a global scale. Unfortunately, these changes are disturbing and changing many of the normal patterns amongst species.

Learn about the Region you will visit

Drone photo Anchicayá, Valle del Cauca

Finally, before traveling you should always be informed on the current political situation in respective countries/regions and consult the tropical healthcare institute a couple of months ahead of your trip! Spanish for most parts, aside from Portuguese in Brazil and various indigenous languages, is the official language used. Having basic knowledge of these languages and other considerations will improve your trip to Latin America.

How to Identify Birds in the Neotropics?

Chamí Antpitta Grallaria alvarezi – Novataxa 2020 – Cuervo et al. Pictured from @amcuervo

Learning to identify birds in the neotropics requires careful and concentrated observations and examinations in the field, but in order to do these thing successfully, you must understand distribution patterns, ecology and behavior, be aware of the various songs and calls, and have experience studying guides and other literature (we’ll fill you in on a separate blog).

Study the Bird Families Before Arriving

Try to get a grip on the many new families and genus before moving on to the species-level, especially when dealing with large and confusing families (i.e. Tyrannidae).

Correctly identifying the species within certain families requires knowledge beyond what an average field guide provides and thus can be acquired through experience gained in the field.

Excellent resources – other than books – i.e. on the internet are www.hbw.com (payable), www.hbw.com/ibc, www.ebird.org/home, www.neotropicalbirdclub.org, www.wikiaves.com.br, www.orniverse.com, www.fatbirder.com to name a few.

Train your Hearing

Try to train your hearing as much as possible, as many birds are detected and identified by their voice. In general, birds are more often heard than seen, especially in forest habitats! Excellent resources for bird vocalization are www.xeno-canto.org and www.birds.cornell.edu.

Study Birds Behaviour and Ecology

As mentioned above, for birding in the Neotropics you will not only need knowledge of field marks, but behavior and ecology. Many of the new species and families you’re likely to encounter not only look different but behave differently than what you’re used to observing at home.

Many species in the neotropics are sedentary, not migratory. They defend and occupy territory year-round and are often found exploiting certain niches. Hence, they are extremely well adapted to their natural environments. This leads to interspecies behavior differences.

Many birds travel in flocks to gather food (insectivorous & and frugivorous, alike), as they are chasing fast and in frantic movements through the strata of the forest and other biomes! Others form army, ant-like swarms (some are totally dependent on them) while others fly solo and thus are rarely spotted unless you know exactly how and where to look/listen for them!

Recommended literature

We do warmly recommend that you read Steve Hilty’s Birds of Tropical America: A Watcher’s Introduction to Behavior, Breeding and DiversityAlthough published some time ago, this book is still very relevant by getting at the heart of what you need to do. In addition, it is written in a very passionate and enjoyable manner and remains as the most acknowledged authority on the subject!

This book also points out the extremely complex (especially in the Neotropics) interaction between birds (and that goes for all other organisms) and their natural surroundings. Having an idea about these interactions will help you improve and understand the pivotal points about birding in the Neotropics.

For this purpose, we highly recommend you read The New Neotropical Companion by John KricherThis new edition about tropical ecology is enhanced by its abundant and superb photographs. Many chapters (i.e. evolutionary processes) are explained with examples of birds! So, as a birder, reading this book (or parts of it) makes a lot of sense. Additionally, there’s a chapter on the potential dangers of birding in tropical areas.

How to behave in the field?

Once in the field, you’ll find out quickly that early starts are mandatory, as there is a lot more activity in the morning. If you can be patient and quiet, which means birding alone or with a small group, you will improve your chances of observing birds and other wildlife considerably.

In walking through hot, muddy, and steamy rainforest or trekking through cold, windswept paramos, you will realize that many of the birds illustrated in the field guilds look completely different! This might be due to unideal observation conditions (bad light, distance), or it could be that the illustration you are using is incorrect.

Take pictures and videos along with sound recordings of the birds so that you can go back and compare and discuss with like-minded birders on the above-mentioned platforms/databases. No, you don’t need professional equipment. There are many good and handy (and cheaper) options out there nowadays. More blogs about this and other topics are in currently in production, so stay tuned…

Trying do unriddle and solve those mysteries, however, is one biggest and arguably most enjoyable parts about birding in the Neotropics. It’s when all your preparation starts to pay off.

Knowledge about birds in the Neotropics is still very much incomplete and thus each birder is able to contribute to unraveling this mystery by simple observation.

Birding with Sula

If your time is limited or you simply don’t want to put the effort in for your pre-trip preparation, a good option for you might be a tour led by professional guides who can explain the wildlife to you.

There are many excellent companies, like Sula, and on these types of tours, you don’t have to worry about being left on your own nor not knowing a foreign language. Everything will be taken care of for you: when to have your meals, how long you’ll be on an excursion, what to bring, and above all, what to expect.

At the end of your exciting day, you’ll summarize your observations in a bird log and be briefed about the next day’s activities. This is a great way to learn a lot of information in a short amount of time!

We hope these tips gave you some insight on how to prepare for your Neotropical birding quest and that you’ll enjoy birdwatching in this region as much as we do! See you soon.


About the authors

Jérôme Fischer

Professional bird guide, swiss native, with more than 32 years of experience guiding hardcore birders and birdwatching tours. He has been focused in bird identification. He also travelled many countries, starting in Switzerland and then 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.