North American and European birders often visit South America. Where? Panama or Ecuador? Here’s a list of the top-13 beautiful birds of biodiverse Peru.
By Rex Graham
We have listed birding tours to Peru in the next few months and next year, all of which have discounts available.
Peru has Machu Picchu, big parrots, showy hummingbirds, Andean Condors and the aptly named Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. A study found that the potential for more bird-based tourism could be a potent, practical incentive to protect Peru’s beautiful birds, many of which are as endangered and threatened as the habitats they require.
“We see the strength of bird-based tourism as providing an extra argument for conservation,” wrote University of Turku biologist Liisa Puhakka and two of his Finnish colleagues in PLoS ONE. Their study described bird-based tourism as a sustainable conservation opportunity and economic boost to local Peruvian citizens. The study in the online science journal has been viewed more than 5,170 times since its publication on November 2011.
Beautiful Birds Ecotours boom
Birding tour companies are intrigued because the study revealed an unseen opportunity: a geographic gap between tour itineraries and bird-rich hotspots off the beaten path.
The Finnish biologists arrived at their conclusions in a first-of-its-kind spatial analysis of bird species’ distributions, maps of Peru’s network of conservation areas and the country’s Important Bird Area (IBA) network, a survey of bird watchers’ wish list of birds, and current itineraries of Peruvian tour companies specializing in bird watching.
Potential birding tours
What emerged, as if by magic, were red-zones of high ecotourism potential: places in Peru where bird watchers would most want to go if tours were available — in species-rich areas in need of conservation and protection.
Peru’s Top-13 ‘Hope-to-see’ beautiful birds
As part of the survey, the Finnish researchers asked birders to name Peruvian bird species they most wanted to see. An online survey was emailed in 2009 to three email lists: Birdingperu, Incaspiza and Neobird. Of the 47 survey respondents, several said large parrots or hummingbirds were prized. These were the top “Hope-to-see” species of Peruvian birds specifically named:
Marvelous Spatuletail. This endangered white, green, bronze beautiful hummingbird with a stunning turquoise gorget lives only in the Rio Utcubamga region of Peru.
Long-whiskered Owlet. This is one of the rarest owls in the world due to deforestation. There are no more than 1,500 individuals left.
Scarlet-banded Barbet. This species was discovered in 1996. It is endemic in Cordillera Azul National Park in Loreto, Peru.
Harpy Eagle. Hunting and habitat loss are blamed for this majestic eagle’s rapid decline. It prefers uninterrupted lowland tropical forest.
Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. The national bird of Peru, males have a large, disc-like crest of scarlet or orange feathers. Males congregate and display in a competition to attract females.
Golden-backed Mountain-tanager. This inhabitant of elfin forests is endangered. Grazing and fires inhibit regeneration of the trees. It is declining in Abiseo National Park.
Junín Grebe. This bird is a great swimmer and diver, but flightless, and it lives in only one lake in the Andes. The grebe’s population is declining.
Andean Condor. This is one of the world’s largest flying machines. a beautiful bird with shiny black feathers and a white neck ruff.
White-winged Guan. This species is listed as critically endangered by BirdLife International due to its small population and fragmented distribution.
Humbolt Penguin.This penguin is threatened by over-fishing and climate change. It breeds along the coast of Peru and Chile, swimming in the cold Humbolt current.
Pale-billed Antpitta. It prefers dense bamboo and has been hurt by deforestation and timber extraction in the north-central Andes of Peru.
Peruvian Recurvebill. The species is scarce with small fragmented populations. It is found in Manu National Park and Biosphere Reserve and the Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone.
Titicaca Grebe. The main population of this flightless grebe is Lake Titicaca and a few other connecting lakes in Peru and Boliva.
Peru’s ecotourism strengths
Peru’s ecotourism strengths were: the rich nature, total number of bird species, many endemic species, habitat diversity, good tourism infrastructure and services, ease of access to birding sites (in certain areas), and combining bird watching with visits to cultural and archaeological attractions.
Peru’s tourism weaknesses listed by the survey respondents were: tourism infrastructure and services, poor roads or transportation, lack of accommodation, crime and corruption and health concerns, such as food poisoning and tropical diseases. Some also mentioned habitat loss and poverty of the growing Peruvian population, which made way for agriculture and mining.
Birders also wanted more local bird guides to be involved in their birding tours.
Tour company itineraries
Currently, the rainforest near Cusco and Madre de Dios are the prime destinations of birding tour companies, but the regions of highest potential are in less established areas.
The study concluded that the greatest potential for bird-based tourism is in Peru’s central and northern Andes. “In this area there are several wholly or partially unprotected IBAs where bird species such as Marvellous Spatuletail, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, White-winged Guan and Andean Condor are an important attraction for bird-based tourism.”
The study authors said those areas “are located in relatively well accessible regions, with five or less hours of travel time to major cities.”
Machu Picchu is Peru’s most important tourism area, yet a nearby IBA with Peru’s highest concentration of endemic birds and birds of conservation concern is mostly unprotected, according to the PLoS study.