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Awaken your birding adventures in Peru

Peru
A Scarlet Macaw flies at the site of a clay lick in Peru. Photo by PromPeru

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Peru’s landscapes encompass the high grasslands of the Andean mountain range, the lush Amazon rainforest and the unique ecosystems of the coastal desert, so it’s no wonder that it is legendary for its birdwatching opportunities. The country has more than 1,800 species of birds to enjoy, including 110 endemics — enough to fill years of vacations with exciting additions to your bird list.

Whether you choose to combine locations and cover a variety of habitats in one trip or opt to spend all your time in one place to really immerse yourself in its avian splendors, this guide to where to go birding in Peru should come in handy.

A local wildlife guide can help you get the most out of your time in Peru. Blue Sky Wildlife features 50 different trips to this amazing country, all led by experts in their areas.

 

The area around Peru’s capital, Lima

Lima is the customary starting point for most birdwatching tours in Peru. If you intend spending some time seeing the city sights before you head off into the countryside, you might want to take in the local birdlife as well. Or maybe you’re going to be in town on business with a little time to spare. Whatever the case, there are some notable birding sites near to the city.

Pucusana fishing port is where you can see Humboldt Penguin, Peruvian Diving Petrel, Peruvian Booby, Guanay and Red-legged Cormorants, Blackish Oystercatcher, Grey Gull, Inca Tern, and Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes. All are possible on boat trips out to a South American sea lion colony and beyond.

Lomas de Lachay and the surrounding area is where Peruvian Thick-knee, Least Seedsnipe, Oasis Hummingbird, Peruvian Sheartail, Coastal, Greyish and Thick-billed Miners, Cactus Canastero, Collared Warbling Finch, and Raimondi’s Yellow Finch occur.

The nearby Laguna Paraiso on the Pacific coast is a good place for waders, gulls (including Belcher’s and Grey), and terns, including Peruvian.

In addition, no visit to Peru would be complete without a pelagic boat trip out of Callao, on which the possible seabird sightings include Waved Albatross, Hornby’s Storm-Petrel, and Swallow-tailed Gull.

Protected areas north of Lima:

Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park
Rainforest and cloud forest for numerous bird species plus jaguars, pumas and spectacled bears. This is the only known habitat of the bearded frog.

Tingo Maria National Park
Montane forest that contains the Cueva de las Lechuzas cave, where the unique Oilbirds nest. Also known for Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, South American coati, ocelot, and kinkajou.

Protected areas south of Lima:

Ballestas Islands
Accessible on boat trips from the town of Paracas for sea lions, cetaceans, and Humboldt Penguins.

Paracas National Reserve
Desert, marine, and coastal ecosystems and whales, dolphins, sea lions, Andean Condor, Chilean Flamingo, Humboldt Penguin, and many wading birds.

Pampas Galeras Barbara D’Achille National Reserve
A vicuña sanctuary high in the mountains where you can also see Andean Condors.

Other prominent birding areas around Lima:

Pucusana fishing port; Lomas de Lachay and the surrounding area; Laguna Paraiso on the Pacific coast; pelagic boat trip out of the port of Callao.

Long-whiskered Owlet. Photo by Wilson Diaz/Green Tours

Northern and Northeastern Peru

The North

Heading out of the capital to the very north of the country brings you into some awesome territories for birdwatching in Peru. There are the arid valleys of the Marañón and Utcubamba rivers, for instance, and the amazing cloud forests on the slopes of the east Andes.

A quarter of Peru’s endemic species are to be found exclusively in the North, along with more widespread endemics and many of the Tumbesian endemics that occur only in northwestern Peru and southwestern Ecuador. One of these, the Marvellous Spatuletail, is arguably the most astonishing hummingbird on earth.

Other stunning endemics and near-endemics found in this region include White-winged Guan, Yellow-faced Parrotlet, Long-whiskered Owlet, Royal Sunangel, Grey-bellied Comet, Tumbes Tyrant, Rufous Flycatcher, White-tailed Jay, Yellow-scarfed Tanager, and three species of Inca finch.

As well as these avian jewels, more widespread spectacular birds including Oilbird, Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Black-mandibled Toucan, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, many hummingbirds and probably more multicolored species of Tangara tanagers than anywhere else in the Andes.

The Northeast

Heading east from Northern Peru brings you into a landscape of superb floodplains, river islands, and sand forests in the Loreto region.

In this part of Peru, you can go birdwatching for over 600 bird species in quite a small area. These include some of South America’s and the world’s most wonderful birds such as Hoatzin, Sunbittern, Blue-and-yellow and Red-and-green Macaws, Pavonine Quetzal, motmots, jacamars, toucans, White-plumed Antbird, and colorful cotingas such as Black-necked Red, and Wire-tailed Manakin.

In addition, you could find river island endemics, sand forest specialists, and other localized bird species such as Nocturnal and Wattled Curassows, Collared and Rufous-necked Puffbirds, Black Bushbird, Black-headed, Allpahuayo and several other antbirds, and Orange-crested Manakin.

Other Amazon wildlife seen in this part of the country include mammals such as pygmy marmoset, tamarins, bald uakari, and Amazon river dolphins.

Amazon River trips are a popular option for travellers to the region interested in experiencing rainforest wildlife and interacting with local communities.

Luxury cruises set off from the city of Iquitos and travel as far as the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in Loreto.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. Photo by PromPeru and Blue Sky Wildlife

Protected areas:

Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve
Low hills and Amazon rainforest that floods seasonally, creating important wetlands. Bird species here include Harpy Eagle, Scarlet and Blue-and-yellow Macaws, and Swallow-tailed Hummingbird. Plus, there are South American tapirs, spider monkeys, Amazonian manatees, jaguars, pumas, and giant otters.

Cutervo National Park
This park was the first area to be protected in Peru, established in 1961. It contains montane forest and Paramo grasslands and is home to Golden-headed Quetzal and Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, as well as spectacled bears, mountain tapirs, and giant anteaters.

Amotape Hills National Park and Tumbes National Reserve
Dry forest and the Tumbes River valley where you can find Grey-backed Hawks, ocelots, jaguars, American crocodiles, mantled howlers, and neotropical otters.

Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Regional Conservation Area
A flooded forest run through by many rivers, this is a wildlife-rich area that features Amazon River dolphins as well as 240 species of fish, 77 amphibians, and 45 reptiles. Although it does not have quite as many bird species as other areas, it is a place to see Harpy Eagles and Hoatzins as well as sloths, jaguars, manatees, giant river otters, and giant armadillos.

Other prominent birding areas in the North and Northeast

North: the coast near Chiclayo; Chaparri Ecological Reserve; Casupe; Batan Grande (Bosque de Pomac); Quebrada Frejolillo; Abra de Porculla; Maranon drainage; Chinchipe drainage near Jaen; Leymebamba; Abra Barro Negro (Black Mud Pass) at 11,800ft; Maranon Canyon; the Paramos between Celendin and Cajamarca; Rio Chonta Valley/Banos del Inca; San Marcos; the Upper Utcubamba Canyon (Leymebamba-Pedro Ruiz); Centro de Interpretacion Colibri Maravillosa; the Rio Chido/San Lorenzo Trail; Abra Patricia; Waqanki Orchid Reserve; Quiscarrumi Bridge; and Tarapoto area.

Northeast: the Explornapo Lodge area (Rio Napo); the Amazon Conservatory for Tropical Studies (ACTS); the Explorama Lodge area; the Cumaceba Lodge area (Rio Amazon); Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve; the Muyuna (Curassow) Lodge area (on edge of Pacaya Samiria NR); and Tapiche Private Reserve (a day by river from Iquitos).

 

Central and Southern Peru

The Center

Many impressive bird species live in magnificent mountain scenery in the center of Peru, with a chance of 50 highland endemics and many other high-elevation specialities.

The western slopes of the Andes have an array of endemic birds, including Great Inca Finch and Rufous-breasted Warbling Finch. Four hours’ drive east of Lima is an area of high Puna grassland and bog, where high altitude birding is at its extreme: a giddy 14,500ft. Besides regular high Andean bird species such as seedsnipes, ground-tyrants, and sierra finches, the main attraction for birding here is twofold. First, to find the Diademed Sandpiper-plover – a rare, almost mythical wader of the mineral-rich marshes. And second, to spot the White-bellied Cinclodes – perhaps the prettiest and one of the rarest of the ovenbirds. With luck, both can be seen here. Other central Peru birdwatching highlights include the Puna Tinamou, the smart endemic Black-breasted Hillstar, and Dark-winged Miner.

The well-paved Carretera Central highway takes you to Lake Junín, where it is possible to go on a boat trip to see the flightless endemic Junín Grebe.

This lake is also an excellent place to see highland water birds and raptors, whilst the surrounding fields abound with ground-tyrants and sierra finches.

Some 110 miles further along the highway brings you to Huánuco and the base for exploring the Carpish Tunnel area, where Sickle-winged Guan, Powerful Woodpecker, and large mixed feeding flocks appear out of the mist in the epiphyte-laden cloud forest.

If you cross the Andes on a spectacular drive from east to west, you can finish at the Huascarán National Park situated in the central Andes. Along the way you can search the forests for endemics such as Neblina Tapaculo, Bay-vented Cotinga, Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager, and Pardusco. Frequent checking of the skyline should also be rewarded with sightings of Andean Condor. 

Andean Condor. Photo by Rob Williams. Provided by PromPeru and Blue Sky Wildlife

The South

Southern Peru contains some of the most pristine habitats left on earth for birdwatching. Thanks to the combination of temperate, subtropical, foothill, and especially lowland Amazon rainforest, about 1,000 bird species are found here – a tenth of the world’s total. The outstanding Manu National Park (or Manu Biosphere Reserve) alone has a thousand species within its 5,800 square miles. The birds here include many macaws and parrots, large flocks of which can be seen visiting the famous clay licks — an essential experience on any Amazon jungle tour.

South of Manu National Park is the fabulous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. The largest town in the area, Cuzco, is surrounded by good birding areas, which are possible to access on day trips. Even a half-day excursion from the town will give a satisfying morning or afternoon’s birdwatching. One of the world’s most sensational birds flies here, the Andean Condor. Also present are Pale-winged Trumpeter, a radiant array of hummingbirds such as Bearded Mountaineer, quetzals, jacamars, toucans, cotingas including Andean Cock-of-the-rock, manakins, and multicolored tanagers — swirling flocks of which light up the forested eastern slopes of the Andes.

In the far south of the country is the viewpoint known appropriately as Mirador Cruz del Condor, which overlooks a very deep canyon. This is possibly the best place in the world to see Andean Condor close up. So close in fact, that at times it is possible to hear the air rushing through the birds’ outstretched wing feathers as they rise from their overnight roosts on the cliffs lower down in the canyon.

At nearby Laguna de Salinas, it is also possible to see birds such as Chilean, Andean and James’s Flamingos (the latter occasionally), Andean Avocet, and the Puna Plover.

Protected areas:

Huascarán National Park
High mountains, glacial lakes and Puna grasslands where you can find 120 bird species, spectacled bears, pumas, and vicuñas.

Cordillera Azul National Park
Mountain valleys and highland swamps with Harpy Eagles, King Vultures, Tiger-Herons, Sunbitterns, South American tapirs, jaguars, common opossums, and bush dogs.

Rio Abiseo National Park
A river basin surrounded by montane forests, Puna grasslands, tropical alpine, and dry forests. A place of high humidity and the only known location of the yellow-tailed woolly monkey. Also found there are Andean guans, Yellow-browed Toucanets, jaguars, spectacled bears, and hairy long-nosed armadillos.

Manú National Park
A wide-ranging mix of Amazon rainforest, cloud forests, and Puno grasslands, famous for its clay licks. The park contains a huge range of animals including over 1,000 species of birds, around 160 mammals, 155 amphibians, and 132 reptiles. Star species, depending on which ecosystem you visit, include Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Andean Condor, and Giant Hummingbird, plus jaguars, giant otters, giant anteaters, and spectacled bears.

Tambopata National Reserve
A young rainforest reserve, only established in 2000, but nevertheless highly important for conservation as it provides an important wildlife corridor in the region and is packed full of interesting animals. Here you can catch a glimpse of Harpy Eagles and many different parrots and macaw species, jaguars, pumas, ocelots, giant otters, jaguarundis, and two types of sloth.

Bahuaja-Sonene National Park
This reserve shares a border with Tambopata and so provides the same habitats of lowland rainforest, river terraces, and low mountains with Harpy Eagles, South American tapirs, marsh deer, maned wolves, giant otters, and bush dogs.

Other prominent birding areas in the Center and South

Center: Lake Junin including taking a zodiac boat trip; Marcapomacocha Lagoon; Tingo María National Park (with the accessible Guácharos Caves); Santa Eulalia Valley; Ticlio Pass at 15,800ft; Bosque Unchog; Andamarca Valley via Santa Eulalia Valley; Carpish Tunnel and mountains; Huánuco and the Paty Trail.

South: Huacarpay Lake; Hotel Pakaritampu; the train journey between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes; Aguas Calientes-Mandor Valley-Machu Picchu; Abra Malaga (up to 14,000ft); the Cuzco to Manu Road; Wayqecha Biological Station/Upper Manu Road area (9,800ft); Wayqecha down to Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge; Villa Carmen; Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge/mid-elevation area (4,700ft), Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge down to Amazonia Lodge/Lower Manu Road; the Amazonia Lodge area (via a boat trip from Atalaya along the Rio Madre de Dios); the Pantiacolla Lodge area; Iberia and Tipishca around Puerto Maldonado; Saona Lodge near Puerto Maldonado along the Tambopata River; and the Los Amigos Biological Station.

Enjoy a slideshow of 10 hummingbird species found in Peru

Royal Sunangel (photo by Green Tours Peru)

Royal Sunangel (photo by Green Tours Peru)
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This very rare hummingbird was described for science as recently as 1979, having been observed by bird recorders in northern Peru. There are thought to be fewer than 10,000 of these birds in existence anywhere, so a sighting would be a huge tick on the bird list. The Abra Patricia Reserve in the cloud forests of the Northern Peru Birding Route was set up, in part, to conserve the habitat of this little deep-blue hummingbird. The males are a striking blue with a strongly forked tail, the females are dark green above with brown bellies spotted with green. Their tails are also forked, but not in such a pronounced way as the males’. Like many of the hummingbird species, these birds live around the forest edges on ridge tops or in ravines, particularly where the soil is sandy and impoverished and the vegetation stunted. They are seen at their best when there is strong sunlight to catch their shiny plumage.

Photo courtesy Green Tours


Getting the best out of your birding holiday to Peru

The key to seeing the greatest range of bird species wherever you choose to go in Peru is to hire a local guide.

Blue Sky Wildlife has put together one of the best collections of direct-booked birding tours available in Peru and offered by specialist guides based in the most important birdwatching areas. Sample prices per person include $195 for a day trip out of Lima or Cusco, $1,275 for five days in central Peru, and $4,250 for 15 days in Manu National Park. Many of the Blue Sky Wildlife tour operators will also tailor-make a trip. #AwakenToPeru

Sponsored by PromPeru, Peru Export and Tourism Board in association with Blue Sky Wildlife

Originally Published

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Sheena Harvey

Sheena Harvey is the retired editor of six UK magazine titles including Bird Watching, Wild Travel, and BBC Wildlife. She is currently the Editorial Consultant for Blue Sky Wildlife.

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