Bird Watching in the Amazon: Everything You Need To Know
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Whether you’re an experienced birder or just getting your feet wet with birding, chances are the immense Amazon basin is already on your bucket list.
Most bird enthusiasts need no convincing as to why they should travel to the South American jungle as this region is known for a plethora of exotic and endemic birds.
There are more than 1,500 bird species to be found in these tropical lands and these are just the ones that are listed. The new species are found each year, yet many still await discovery!
Curious to get a sneak peek of the adventures to be found in the wild Amazon forest? While no voyage to this enormous jungle is the same as the other, in this article we’re sharing an overview of what you can expect on your birding tour along with important information about the top destinations in this region.
What to Expect & General Overview
What are the most interesting birds in the Amazon?
As you have probably gathered by now, the diversity of birds in the Amazon basin is simply bewildering.
The list of most common bird types in the region includes toucans, macaws, parrots, hummingbirds, and oropendolas. Representatives of these types are considered relatively easy to spot, even for amateurs, in almost any corner of the Amazon jungle.
Some of the most iconic bird species in the region include:
- Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), the largest flying parrot in the world.
- The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin), a unique in its family, prehistoric-looking bird with the long, floppy feathers on the crest and blue facial skin.
- Piurí (Wattled curassow), a critically endangered bird that is endemic to western Amazonia and can only be seen in Peru.
- Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao), a large macaw species well-known for their bright plumage.
- Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola rupicola), an iconic bird easily identified by the fan-shaped crest and bright orange plumage.
- Plum-throated Cotinga (Cotinga maynana), could be distinguished by the bright blue plumage that contrasts with the cock-of-the-rock’s fiery colors.
- Crimson Topaz (Topaza pella), a purple-gold bird with a long back, crossing tail feathers.
- Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona), a large dark-green bird with a ragged crest, a white throat and collar, and a white belly.
- Yellow-headed Caracara (Milvago chimachima), a buffy yellow creature, with a narrow dark eye line, dark-brown upperparts and banding on the tail.
- King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa), a spectacular jungle scavenger that is light in color, unlike other birds of its kind.
The birding scene in the Amazon transforms after dusk as the variety of nocturnal species start revealing themselves after being inactive during the day. Many tour organizers offer night excursions, so you can discover this mysterious, ‘concealed-during-the-day’ side of the jungle.
Birding at night is a unique experience recommended for all bird lovers. On such excursion, you’ll observe the birds roosting on the riverside and will be able to learn about their habits at a much slower pace than during the day.
In the dark, you might not be able to rely solely on your eyes when searching for birds. Instead, you’ll be able to master a valuable skill for each pro birder: identifying birds by their distinctive calls. You can also try picking the birds out by their eye-shine reflected in the light of your flashlight.
Some of the iconic nocturnal species include:
- Owls (Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata), True Owl (Strigidae), Tropical Screech Owl (Megascops Choliba))
- The Potoo (Nyctibius)
- Nightjar (Caprimulgidae)
- Pauraque (Nyctidromus Albicollis)
- Sand-colored Nighthawk (Chordeiles Rupestris)
You’ll also be able to see some of the most emblematic wildlife species that are active by night in the Amazon including capybaras and caimans.
How does a typical birding itinerary look like?
Expect your birding trip to the Amazon to be an active adventure! You’ll most likely do some long-distance hiking, boat rides and canoe trips in order to reach more obscure corners of this immense jungle. Some itineraries also include camping in the forest which is a great chance to fully immerse into the untamed jungle world.
That said, while these activities might sound physically challenging, most itineraries (unless mentioned otherwise) are designed to be accessible to everyone regardless of the physical shape or offer varying levels of difficulty.
As you roam through the vast jungle, you’ll be able to learn more about the forest and the full range of its inhabitants including wildlife and insects. You might spot some of the regional wildlife species including river dolphins, various primates, jaguar, caiman, and crocodiles. In Ecuador, chances are that turtle watching is also included as a part of your itinerary.
Some birding tours offer visits to local families (Indians or Caboclos) in order for you to immerse in the local culture. The natives have lots of knowledge about the jungle and its inhabitants, so be sure to ask them questions about the birds in the region (with the help of your guide or a translator).
Image credit: Tambopata Giant Otter Expeditions
Duration: As the Amazon region is rich with a plethora of habitats and iconic birding spots, most itineraries last from three to seven days. You’ll typically visit at least two-three different birding locations (lodges or nature reserves) in order to get familiar with the biodiversity in the region.
It’s possible to get a sneak peek of the Amazon avifauna in a couple of days, but both beginners and experts will benefit from a longer, more immersive itinerary.
One important thing to know is that every day in the jungle will never be exactly the same. Depending on the weather conditions and animal activity patterns, your itinerary might be changed slightly. Your guide would typically coordinate all changes with you and your group. This is a great chance to let them know of your individual preferences as well.
Is birding in the Amazon more suitable for beginner or advanced birders?
The Amazon is a paradise both for experienced birders and those who are just starting to discover their passion.
For the beginners, an expert guide will teach you basic bird watching techniques, including how to properly use binoculars and telescopes. You’ll also learn how to identify major families of birds, recognize sounds, and different habitats.
For advanced birders, there is a variety of more advanced birding routes that will allow you to spot some of the most ‘hard-to-come-by’ species and grow your list immensely.
If you’re wondering whether your family members (especially the little ones) could tag along, you’ll be pleased to know that there are many family-friendly birding tours in the region.
Which country is best for bird watching in the Amazon?
The Amazon basin comprises eight countries: Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela.
While each of them can boast interesting avifauna, the first three offer the biggest choice of bird tours and safaris. These countries have no rivals in terms of biodiversity and offer convenient infrastructure. You’ll find more detailed information about birding in each country below.
If you’re set on getting as many lifers (birds that you’ve spotted and identified as a birder for the first time) as possible, you have to cover each major river drainage in the region since all of them have their own lists of local species (Amazon, Negro, Madeira, Tapajos, Xingu, and Purus).
If you’re planning your first bird watching trip to the Amazon, Peru comes highly recommended. The vast lands of the ex-Inca Empire offer a great bird diversity and lots of experienced, well-established bird watching tour organizers.
Here are some facts that explain why Peru is a great choice for your bird watching trip:
- Peru has more than 2,000 species of birds (!). This is almost a quarter of the world’s total and more than North America and Europe have put together.
- The country records more than 120 endemic bird species, which is the largest number in the world.
- In recent years, the highest number of new birds in the world has been discovered in Peru.
There are three distinctive bird observation routes in Peru: Northern, Central, and Sothern Route. As North and South regions are more biodiverse, you’ll find the most attractive bird watching tours there.
The Southern birding circuit is most-sought-after and is often called “Megadiversity Route” due to a plethora of birds to be found here. This region offers a great infrastructure with lots of lodging options, paved roads, and good public transportation.
The most iconic birds to see here are the Inca Wren (Pheugopedius eisenmanni) and the Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruvianus).
Other birding highlights include:
- Species that live in the Polylepis or queñual forests, the birds that visit the clay licks (known as "Collpas")
- Bamboo Specialists and Anteating birds
- Other specialist categories
If you embark on a Southern Peru journey, the two locations not to miss are Manu National Park, one of the biggest forest areas untouched by civilization with more than 1000 birds, and Tambopata National Reserve, home to 592 bird species and one of the most known clay licks.
The Northern Peru Birding Route stretches from the dry forests of the Pacific coast to the Andes and the tropical lowlands of the Amazon. The region boasts more than 1,200 listed bird species. From coastal deserts to tropical forests, to the mega-diverse regions, this area covers a variety of habitats with a staggering diversity of birds (including many endemic species).
Should you plan on embarking on the Northern Peru journey, you’ll be able to spot Peru’s most iconic birds: Marvelous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) and the White-winged Guan (Penelope albipennis).
Some other popular birds you can see include:
- Lechucita Bigotona (Xenoglaux loweryi)
- White-masked Antbird (Pithys castaneus)
- Orange-throated Tanager (Wetmorethraupis sterrhopteron)
If you visit this region, the remote city of Iquitos should definitely be on your list. With over 600 species of birds in the surroundings of Iquitos, there are many birding highlights to be found including the legendary Nocturnal and Wattled Curassows and a variety of antbirds.
Other typical species found here include screamers, guans, toucans, trogons, barbets, hummingbirds, woodcreepers, foliage-gleaners, manakins, and seedeaters.
With more than 1600 species of birds, Ecuador is another country that is a birdwatcher’s paradise. The Amazon region of Ecuador is rich with cloud forests and sub-tropical jungles where you’ll be able to spot many endemic and hard-to-find species. What’s more, this country is great for bird watching all year round. You’ll be able to schedule your trip any time of the year!
The two birding spots not to miss in the Ecuadorian Amazon are the Yasuni National Park and Tena area.
Yasuni Park lies at the crossroads of the Andes, Amazon, and the equator allowing the great number of diverse bird species to thrive in the area.
This unique land did not freeze over during the last ice age. As a result, many birds that didn’t survive through that period in other regions can be only found in the Yasuni. While the surrounding areas have been hit hard by deforestation and natural disasters, Yasuni Park flourished as a refuge for the wildlife from the damaged areas. More than 650 bird species including many endemics await you here!
While there are many attractive birding routes for beginners, in some corners of the park, birds are wary of approaching humans and are difficult to spot. Seasoned birders will definitely appreciate the challenge!
Some of the birds to spot here include:
- Salvin’s Curassow (Mitu salvini)
- Grey-winged Trumpeter (Psophia crepitans)
- Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis)
- Hoatzin (Ophisthocomus hoazin)
- Crested Owl (Lophostrix cristata)
- White-throated Toucan (Ramphastos tucanus)
- Spangled Cotinga (Cotinga cayana)
- Blue-Backed Manakin (Chiroxiphia pareola)
- Paradise Tanager (Tangara chilensis)
Tena region is a great choice for your first birding trip or if you’re traveling on a budget. You can see a great variety of bird species with day trips out on the river or walking in local secondary forests in a shorter period of time, without spending money on a longer stay. Amazon’s iconic bird, the Hoatzin can be found here in the Laguna Paikawe.
Another bird diversity champion, Brazil makes up more than 60% of the Amazon forest. This fact alone earns it a place on your bucket list. In the land of coffee and carnivals, you’ll find:
- 1871 bird species or 18% of the world’s avifauna
- 264 endemic birds, the highest number of endemics in the Neotropics
- 172 globally threatened bird species
Brazilian Amazon includes the states of Amazonas, Para, Roraima, Amapa, Acre, Rondonia, and Mato Grosso. There are attractive birding routes in each state, but the heart of Amazonia, Manaus Region is typically one of the most popular starting points of bird watching tours and safaris.
This area is a gateway to the three bird endemism hotspots - the Guianan Shield, the Imerí center, and the Inambari center. Due to this favorable location, you’ll be able to see a high percentage of each region's endemics.
Manaus, a chaotic jungle metropolis (with more than 2.5 million inhabitants (!)) is the capital of Amazonas where the Negro and Solimoes meet to create the Amazon River. The bustling city is surrounded by the jungle. Yet it’s easy to travel around and many birding locations are accessible within driving distance. This will allow you save time on commuting and focus on what you came for - the birds!
The trailing routes around Manaus are also very convenient; you’ll walk on flat-ground trails or forested roads.
In this area, you’re likely to find more than 500 species of birds, which includes some of the most sought-after birds of South America. Expect to spot many cotingas, manakins, parrots, puffbirds, potoos, and antbirds.
The extended list of the iconic birds, you’ll be able to spot in Brazil includes:
- Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola rupicola)
- Black Manakin (Xenopipo atronitens)
- Northern Slaty-Antshrike (Thamnophilus punctatus)
- Musician Wren (Cyphorhinus arada)
- Pale-bellied Mourner (Rhytipterna immunda)
- Guianan Toucanet (Selenidera piperivora)
- Black-throated Antshrike (Frederickena viridis)
- Black-throated Antbird (Myrmeciza atrothorax)
- Common Scale-backed Antbird (Willisornis poecilinotus)
- Blue-crowned Manakin (Lepidothrix coronata)
- Wire-tailed Manakin (Pipra filicauda)
- White-cheeked Antbird (Gymnopithys leucaspis)
- White-plumed Antbird (Pithys albifrons)
- Guianan Puffbird (Notharchus macrorhynchos)
- Pompadour Cotinga (Xipholena punicea)
- Spangled Cotinga (Cotinga cayana)
- Green Aracari (Pteroglossus viridis)
Juma Sustainable Development Reserve which is located about 120 km south to Manaus is one of the most known bird-watching spots in the area. This tranquil and remote reserve can be accessed by boat only.
Birding in the wild Amazon is undoubtedly a life-changing experience for every bird watcher! Ready to ‘meet’ these tropical Amazonian species? Check out our selection of budget bird-watching safaris!