Where are the Birds in Ecuador? Everywhere.
By Melanie Votaw
With more than 1,500 species, Ecuador is one of the bird capitals of the world. Only four countries can beat that number (Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and Indonesia), but Ecuador is unique. It has three distinct areas – the Amazon, the Andes Mountains, and the Galapagos Islands – that make for exceptional avian diversity. In short, it’s a bird watcher’s paradise, especially for hummingbird lovers.
Most travelers – even birders – are more likely to head to the Amazon or the Galapagos than the Andes, but the mountains are my favorite part of Ecuador for bird watching. The rainforests of the Amazon have nothing on the cloud forests of the Andes. The plants are other-worldly with leaves so large that you could easily believe you’re in King Kong’s jungle.
Less than two hours’ drive from Quito, you can sit in a thatch-roofed restaurant called Los Colibris in the town of Mindo and sip your tea while you watch hummingbirds at the sugar feeders. The differences in the many hummingbird species of this region are fascinating. Some of them are surprisingly large for hummingbirds with long, deeply colored iridescent tails. Others are so tiny that you could easily mistake them for large bees.
If you decide to be a bit more intrepid, drive up to the Yanacocha Reserve at about 11,000 feet where feeders have been placed to attract some of the world’s rarest hummers. These include the sword-billed hummingbird (pictured below) with a bill so long that it has to perch with its head up in order to avoid tipping over. The males of the majority of species are the most beautiful, but in this case, it’s the female that is prettiest with large sparkling emerald green speckles on her white breast.
There are a number of all-inclusive bird watching lodges in the Ecuadorian Andes. One such lodge is Tandayapa. To call the drive to the lodge bumpy is an understatement, and you have to walk up many stairs to get to the building. But it’s worth it because when you arrive at the top, you’ll see a verandah filled with more hummingbirds than you’ve probably ever seen in one place.
The booted racquet-tail (above) is one of the tiniest in stature but the biggest in personality. When protecting his territory, the male leans back and squeaks loudly, puffing out his fluffy white feather boots, acting for all the world like he’s a huge menacing presence. In reality, his body is no longer than your thumb. His long tail is actually two thin feathers with a round piece at the bottom of each. You can’t help but think that God hit the sauce a bit the day these creatures were made.
The birding guides at your lodge will take you to the different prime locations in the region and show you all kinds of birds. This is an especially rich area for tanagers, a bird family that numbers about 240 different species. Some of the brightly colored tanagers in the Andes are nothing short of spectacular. You’ll see equally stunning butterflies while you’re out with your binoculars trained toward the trees.
If you’d rather not venture into intrepid territory, you can see quite a few birds in Quito. Even in the backyards of the city’s suburbs, you will see hummingbirds flitting about, as well as other exotics. Take your binoculars into a local park, or hire a birding guide to make sure you don’t miss the best sightings.
I highly recommend that you make your way to higher elevations, though. It’s truly some of the most beautiful terrain on the planet, and many of the plants and birds you will see there can’t be spotted anywhere else on earth.
Photos: Top photo is a booted racquet-tailed hummingbird; second photo is a sword-billed hummingbird. Photos by Melanie Votaw.
About Melanie Votaw
Melanie Votaw is the author of 13 non-fiction books and has written for such publications as Woman’s Day, Executive Travel, and the South China Morning Post. She has visited 40+ countries on six continents and has more than 1,000 bird species on her life list. Some of her favorite experiences include flying in a microlight over Victoria Falls, bathing an elephant in the River Kwai, and hunting for a rare hummingbird at 12,000 feet in Ecuador. Melanie lives in the wilds of New York City.