Latin America’s top-flight birds
The task of selecting the top five birds in Latin America for this blog has had me stumped for quite a while. The conversation has taken over the office and caused quite a stir amongst my colleagues. Which birds should you choose: The most interesting? The most provocative? The largest? Maybe the easiest to spot or the funniest looking? It’s easy to get lost among Latin America’s abundance of bird species - making it not so easy to decide which of these are the very best in Latin America.
Without a doubt the number one spot has to belong to the largest flying bird in the world: the might Andean condor. With a wingspan of almost 3.5 metres (about the same length of the old Mini Cooper), the condor tends to nest around high, mountainous terrain to allow it to glide through the air looking for carrion to scavenge. Two of the best places to see this are in Peru: the Colca Canyon near Arequipa and the Sondondo Valley near Ayacucho.
Coming in at number two is, of course, the emperor penguin. Found only in Antarctica and the only animal to breed on the continent during the winter, the elegant emperor is found waddling around the ice shelf and a few other islands near the peninsula all year round. The best place to see them is in South Georgia where a large colony is present to greet you in their best dinner jackets.
Any list involving South American birds has to mention the beautiful Scarlet macaw. The bright red, yellow, green and blue feathers are almost a universal symbol of Latin America and the Amazon rainforest. The largest in the parrot family, the birds mate for life and can live for up to 50 years in the wild. They can be seen in the rainforest of Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador to name a few and the fluttering blur of wild macaws all squawking on a clay lick in Tambopata National Reserve in Peru is a sight not to be missed.
A prehistoric turkey-looking bird found in the Amazon and the Orinoco Delta, the hoatzin is notable as the only surviving species of a bird line that can be dated back to the extinction event of the dinosaurs. It is also one of the only herbivorous birds, meaning it has a very unusual digestive system and quite an unpleasant smell, giving rise to its nickname, ‘Stinkbird’.
A stunning orange bird, best seen in Guyana, but also found in Andean cloud forest regions. Their leks are extremely impressive: with a military-esque parade the cock-of-the-rock clears an area and scatters seeds, twigs and other plant life with the aim of attracting a mate. This behaviour helps to influence the regeneration of its forest habitat.
Some that didn’t quite make the top 5:
Great and Magnificent frigate birds
These two types of frigate bird are both found primarily in the Galápagos Islands and feature a large, inflatable red throat sack.
Found in the Pantanal in Brazil and the Bolivian Amazon, these unusual-looking birds are the tallest in Latin America at over 1.5 metres in height.
A small, pretty bird found from Mexico to western Panama with very distinctive tail feathers. The Guatemalan currency takes its name from this bird.
An impressively large bird of prey and the primary predator to the sloth family.
And if you wanted to experience a little bit of the Amazon right here in the UK, a small feral population of Orange-winged Amazon parrots are known to be present in Richmond Park in Surrey.
Browse the Bird Watching section of our website and take a look at our Peru birdlife: Machu Picchu to pristine Amazon holiday.
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