Bird-watching Tourism Helps to Reduce Bird Extinction Risks in Colombia

Extinction is the disappearance of all members of a species. Extinction is considered from the instant in which the last individual of a species dies.

Colombia is a megadiverse country, with a natural wealth that for a long time was hidden by the shadow of war. Recent scientific expeditions, such as Colombia Bio, have shown how little we knew about our fauna and flora, so much so that with each of them new species have been discovered.

Colombia bio ©Colciencias

However, the expeditions also left the question of how much we may not have known. We are now in a race against indiscriminate and poorly controlled human intervention.

Deforestation, expansion of the agricultural frontier, mining, illicit crops are now present in these previously unexplored territories.

Tourism still needs to make its way into these regions as a competitive and profitable alternative. At the same time, as a good strategy for biodiversity conservation.

International Union for Conservation of Nature, UICN

The UICN is an organization whose mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.

IUCN has been active for more than 70 years, and today works in a combined effort to conserve nature and accelerate the transition to sustainable development.

IUCN has developed a comprehensive information system on the conservation status of animal, fungal and plant species worldwide: The IUCN Red List.

The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria

The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria is a system for classifying the risk of extinction of species worldwide. It divides species into nine categories:

  • Not Evaluated, NE.
  • Data Deficient, DD.
  • Least Concern, LC.
  • Near Threatened, NT.
  • Vulnerable, VU.
  • Endangered, EN.
  • Critically Endangered, CR.
  • Extinct in the Wild, EW.
  • Extinct, EX.

Species may move up or down the list as their populations increase or decline. Find more information at the UICN Red List website

Bird Extinction

Painting of a dodo head by Cornelis Saftleven from 1638, probably the latest original depiction of the species ©Cornelis Saftleven – History of the dodo.

According to Colombia Birdfair, 40% of the bird species that inhabit our planet are going through a population decline, and 1 in 8 species is threatened. In addition to this, 1.4% have become extinct.

Here you will find some data:

Human activities are the main factor related with bird extinction. Climate change, intensive agriculture, invasive species, illegal hunting and overfishing are behind this devastating statistic.

First Bird Extinct in Colombia

The only bird species known to be extinct in Colombia is the Colombian GrebePodiceps andinus, endemic to the wetlands in the Eastern Andes of Colombia.  It was last recorded in 1977 in Lake Tota. 

Podiceps andinus ©Paula Andrea Romero, Arte&Conservación – BirdsColombia

Its disappearance is associated with the combined result of wetland drainage, and the eutrophication and salinization that has destroyed the submerged Potamogeton vegetation, where this species fed on a great variety of arthropods. 

Additional extinction factors were the introduction of exotic fish, such as the rainbow trout Salmo gairdneri (Fjeldså 1993), hunting, pesticide pollutionremoval of reeds, and predation. 

Bogota Rail – Rallus semiplumbeus, EN. ©neilorlandodiazma CC BY-SA 2.0.

According to the Humedales de Bogotá Foundation, the extinction of the Colombian Grebe should be remembered, and should serve as a lesson. 

Currently, there are two species of birds endemic to the Bogotá Savanna in critical danger of extinction, the Bogota Rail (Rallus semiplumbeus) and the Apolinar’s Wren (Cistothorus apolinari). Sadly, very little is being done to reverse this situation. 

Know more about the wetlands of Bogotá in our entry Wetlands of Bogotá are the Best Spots for Birdwatching in the City. 

Tracking Extinction Risks

Rengifo et al. 2020, calculated the degree of extinction threat to the country’s birds from 2002 to 2016 in a recent study which is the first study of its kind.

The main conclusion of the study is that habitat loss is the main threat to the Colombian Birds. Moreover, the results of this study left two flavors, one sweet and one somewhat bitter: Colombia has the potential to become the Country of Birds, or the Country of Bird Extinction. 

Podiceps andinus, ICN, National University of Colombia, Bogotá.

On the positive side, birds have benefited from land abandonment and subsequent habitat recovery as people moved to cities, from the reduction in the rate of habitat loss as illegal coca cultivation shifted between regions, and from conservation actions. 

On the negative side, the most important causes of the deterioration in conservation status are habitat loss due to the expansion of illicit crops, the same sad story, and population declines due to hunting. Yes, hunting! 

Of the two, I will only dwell on hunting, because the story of illegal cultivation speaks for itself. The people who enter the territories to extract resources such as timber, or gold, generally illegally, need to eat. And to eat, they hunt birds. 

Additionally, other significant threats for birds such as the increased presence of invasive and domestic animals, such as trout, cats, rats, dogs, and the Shiny cowbird; as well as agriculture expansion, cattle ranching, timber extraction, illegal mining, oil production, water contamination and habitat loss due to city expansion. 

The Most Threatened Areas and Birds 

The most threatened birds are those living in mangroves and freshwater habitats in the Pacific region and the Pacific Ocean. Also, the species living in the High Andean forest and paramo. 

The Andes and the Pacific are two natural regions with many endemic and restricted-range species. 

The most affected areas are the southern Pacific and Andean regions on the border with Ecuador. 

The Andes region has experienced extensive agricultural activities and deforestation for centuries. It is also a region negatively affected by climate change. All of this has resulted in the loss of habitat for birds. 

Apolinar’s Wren – Cistothorus apolinari – Endemic, CR.

On the other hand, the Pacific region has been affected by illegal crops, illegal logging and illegal mining, which are the main threats to birds in this region. 

Illegal crops, illegal logging and illegal mining are also important causes of habitat loss in some other regions. Illegal logging occurs mainly in Darién (Pacific Region) and Amazon. Illegal mining occurs mainly in Chocó (Pacific region). And, illegal crops also occur in the Catatumbo, Norte de Santander, on the border with Venezuela. 

Here is the list of birds mentioned in the study with the most remarkable changes in category of threat in Colombia:

Genuine changes suffered by species during 2002–2016 period. Endemic species are marked with asterisk*.

Birdwatching Tourism as a Conservation Strategy

This study concluded that local economic development based on birdwatching tourism remains a good strategy for bird conservation, because despite clear threats, the overall risk of bird extinction in Colombia remains relatively low and stable.

However, this should not be a reason to postpone actions to conserve species and prevent extinctions.

Not everything is bad, in our entry Birdwatching Tourism in Colombia During the Post-conflict Scenarium I will tell you what has been done since the signing of the peace agreement, in favor of birding tourism as a strategy for bird conservation. 

Colombia Birdfair 2021: Preventing Extinction

In 2021, the most important bird fair in Colombia, the Colombia Birdfair, has extinction as its main topic.

This year Colombia Birdfair will have an extensive program of academic talks, courses and special activities for children and young people. From February 11 to 14 it will present the theme “Preventing Extinction” and will feature national and international experts on conservation and extinction issues.


This year the fair will be 100% virtual. According to Carlos Mario Wagner, director of the fair,

“virtuality is a great opportunity to connect with audiences and bird lovers from different countries, and thus promote bird conservation globally”.

The event expects to gather a large national and international audience around of the seventh version of the Colombia Birdfair. It looks for an exchange of ideas and proposals on conservation and birding tourism, with specialists from several continents.

The following are the main lecturers:

  • From India: Purnima Devi Barman Ph.D.
  • From Colombia: Natalia Ocampo Peñuela Ph.D., Carolina Murcia Ph.D., María Ángela Echeverry Galvis Ph.D., Ana María Morales Cañizares, Rubén Darío Palacio, Diego Calderón Franco, Jhon Fredy Casamachin Ui, Diego Ochoa and Ángela María Amaya Villarreal (co-author of the mentioned study in this post).
  • From The United Kingdom: Stuart Pimm Ph.D., David Lindo, Phil Gregory and Stuart Butchart Ph.D. (co-author of the mentioned study in this post).
  • From Kenia: Washington Wachira
  • From The United States: Jennifer Ackerman, Kenn Kaufman, LoraKim Joyner and Mollee Brown.
  • From Spain: Josep del Hoyo Calduch

Registrations are open on the website:

With the registration, you will have virtual access to the lectures and talks from February 11 to 14, 2021. Registrtion fee: 14USD.

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.

Best Ornithology Meetings and Bird Fairs you can Visit in Colombia

Bird fairs and avitourism meetings have helped the bird tourism industry, ornithologists and birding enthusiasts to keep their eyes on Colombia. 

We have said this a lot, but in case you didn’t know, Colombia is the country with the greatest diversity of birds on the planet! Over 1,900 bird species inhabit this wonderful country that also ranks first in orchids and second in plants, butterflies, amphibians and freshwater fish.

Out of the total number, 80 species of birds can only be seen in Colombia. So we are talking about an incredibly biodiverse country that is becoming an ecotourism destination little by little, with the help of the government, NGOs and local communities.

In Colombia, several bird fairs have been created to gather Colombians and foreigners around the bird-based tourism and conduct interesting activities for the promotion of products or initiatives and scientific divulgation. Here are the biggest ones in the country! 

Colombia Bird Fair

Colombia Bird Fair is the most well-known bird fair in the country. It is an international fair that is held in Cali every year during the second week of February. The first version was in 2014.

During the Colombia Bird Fair, all attendees will be able to enjoy free lectures, workshops, business meetings, stores and birding trips. The lectures are given by experts in different fields such as ornithology and tourism. 

Its goal is to promote the culture of the conservation of birds and their habitats in Colombia, as well as to make Cali a remarkable destination for bird watching. 

Why Valle del Cauca?

Cali is the capital of the Valle del Cauca department. This department boast a high number of bird species: over 1,000!

W Lyre-tailed Nightjar – Uropsalis lyra

Consider that Valle del Cauca has an area of 22,100 square kilometers, being 450 times smaller than the United States, which is around 9,800,000 square kilometers.  This comparison can give you an idea of the importance of this Colombian region for birdwatching tourism.

And, 50% of the birds of Valle del Cauca birds can be found in Cali, making it the city with most bird species in the world.  

Carlos Mario Wagner, Colombia Birdfair President

Approximately 22,000 people attended Colombia Birdfair in 2020, and some of its highlights were the 8 bird watching trips made around the city and the Colombia Birdfair Kids, section aimed at children and youngsters to motivate their love for conservation and birds.  

National Ornithology Meeting (ENO in Spanish)

ENO 2018, Mitú – Vaupés – Colombia

The Colombian National Birdwatchers Network –RNOA– has organized one of Colombia’s greatest ornithological events for over 30 years: Encuentro Nacional de Ornitología -ENO-.

This is a space hat gathers ornithologists, enthusiast or professional bird watchers and birders in general to share experiences, discover the national birdlife and, of course, go birding.

ENO is held in August and offers the attendees guided birdwatching trips, lectures by national and international speakers and cultural events. 

Learn more about RNOA here in our blog Birders’ Clubs and Ornithological Associations in Colombia.

Manizales Avitourism Congress

In 2009, the 1° International Meeting on Birdwatching Tourism was held in the city of Manizales, Caldas. Three years later, it became a yearly event held in November.

The Avitourism Congress is widely recognized by its history, organization, special guests, level of attendance and its birdwatching trips to different natural reserves and places in Caldas.

Tourism operators, ornithologists, biologists, tour guides, bird lovers and institutions gather around protecting bird habitats, and promoting the sustainable development of the tourism sector and the local communities.

Brown-banded Antpitta (Grallaria milleri) at Rio Blanco Reserve, Caldas, Colombia

The main activities are the academic agenda that includes lectures, workshops, educational symposiums, scientific posters, the art exhibitions, the business fair, and the birdwatching trips.

If you are interested in attending the Avitourism Congress 2020, you need to stay informed, since only 550 places will be available once the registrations are opened! 

Why Caldas?

According to the updated list of endemic and near endemic birds in Colombia published by  the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research InstituteCaldas is home to 802 species of birds, 22 endemic, 73 near endemic and 77 migratory species. 

This means that 42% of birds in Colombia are in a territory that occupies less than 1% of the country, which makes the department of Caldas very attractive for bird watching tourists.

Buffy Helmetcrest – Oxypogon stubelii

Also, it is a place with several ecosystems, such as dry forests, tropical rainforests and páramos, ranging from 170 to 5,400 meters above sea level, which have amazing landscapes and areas with great birdlife, along with specialized birdwatching facilities. 

First South American Bird Fair

In 2018, Colombia hosted the 8th South American Bird Fair during the Avitourism Congress, becoming a meeting place for birders and experts from all over the world. 

According to Horacio Matarasso (President of the International Committee of the South American Bird Fair) this fair aims to gather people around the conservation and birdwatching tourism in South America the ‘continent of birds’, with more than 3,500 bird species.

Risaralda Bird Festival

The Risaralda Bird Festival was created in 2017 with the aim of encouraging the development of a culture towards the knowledge and protection of birds. A major goal of Risaralda and the fair organizers is to be a world model in biodiversity conservation. 

In addition, like bird fairs in other cities, it seeks to promote its host city, Pereira, as a birding destination. During the fair attendees will enjoy lectures with national and international guests, and field trips to the birdwatching routes.

Olive-Finch – Arremon castaneiceps

Journalists, biologists, ecologists, ornithologists, artists, professors, tour guides, photographers, doctors and park rangers… All brought together by one passion: birds. 

This bird festival stands out for one reason. It seeks to provoke a greater sense of ownership by the local community, as well as governmental empowerment, with regard to bird conservation.

The fair undertakes initiatives such as the election of an emblematic bird in each municipality of the department, to be adopted as a flagship by the local councils.

Besides this, a birdwatching route is planned in each town, and it is named after the elected flagship bird. 

Why Risaralda?

Risaralda hosts over 850 bird species, 25 of which are endemic, and is improving its infrastructure for birdwatching tourism.

Gold-ringed Tanager – Bangsia aureocincta ENDEMIC

Medellín Bird Festival

The Medellin Bird Festival was created by the Antioquia Ornothological Society. This is a space where new scientific findings on birdlife are shared, the birdwatching tourism sector is explored and valuable community tourism initiatives based on sustainable development are promoted.  

The festival has been held for 6 editions in October in Medellín ‘the world bird capital’. Yes, there is a competition between Medellin and Cali over which city has the most number of birds.

The activities offered during the festival include lectures, panel discussions, open mics, workshops, birdwatching trips, bicycle trips, exhibitions, a bird photography contest, and a film festival.

The festival is supported by the Medellin Municipal Council and all the activities are aimed at citizens, since they can become the best bird conservation allies once they develop a sense of belonging towards birdlife and natural resources in their region. 

Why Antioquia?

This fair was created to honor the 900 bird species that live in the department of Antioquia. This department as a its privileged geographic location in the Western Andes, that allows biodiverse ecosystems to thrive.

Trogon personatus (Masked Trogon) at Parque Arví – Antioquia

Bird Fairs in Bogota 

The capital of Colombia is starting to get involved in the birding culture and some smaller bird fairs have been held in recent times.

For example, the Bogota Bird Fest held in May 2018, which sought to raise awareness about the importance of birds and included the celebration of Global Big Day, art exhibitions and shows, workshops and field trips.

Also, the town of Choachí in Cundinamarca hosted the first edition of the Cundinamarca Bird Festival, a sample of inter-municipal teamwork in order to showcase the regional biodiversity and strengthen the avitourism sector. 

To showcase the potential of Colombia as an avitourism destination, the Birdland Summit Colombia was launched in January 2020 by Sociedad Tequendama, together with Procolombia, Bogotá Ornithology Association, Audubon and Colombia Productiva, which aim to boost tourism in Colombia and highlight the bird diversity in the country. It will be held after Covid-19 crisis.

Apolinar’s Wren – Cistothorus apolinari – ENDEMIC

These were the main bird fairs in Colombia, and we hope in the future many more will be created in other cities to continue spreading the love for birds throughout the country.   

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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.

Updated by:

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.