Why choose Peru for your next birding trip? Well, of all the countries in the world, Peru can offer not only a huge diversity of birds, but also breathtaking landscapes and a wide variety of habitats, as well as remarkable historical sites conveniently close to prime birdwatching routes.
As a matter of fact, if you want to combine awe-inspiring wildlife watching with fascinating culture, explore the heights of the Andes or the richness of the Amazon rainforest, Peru is the ideal destination. For bird lovers it is a one-stop shop: in fact, there is no other country in the world where, on just a two-day trip, you can enjoy penguins, flamingos, hummingbirds, condors, massive flocks of macaws and a high number of endemics.
Want to travel to see Peru’s birdlife?
The local specialist tour operators on Blue Sky Wildlife offer set departure or bespoke organised trips to the best birding locations in Peru as well as to other most important wildlife areas in the country. Enquire direct or book through Blue Sky Wildlife for the best deals.
Over the past 35 years scientists have discovered more new bird species in this South American country than have been identified in the rest of the world combined. Curiously, though, despite its importance to the avian world, Peru is still somewhat of a hidden gem, unknown to many birdwatchers.
Here are some more reasons to consider Peru for your next birding adventure:
As previously stated, Peru is the most spectacular destination imaginable for seeing birds. In 1983, two prestigious ornithologists, Ted Parker and Scott Robinson, recorded 331 bird species in a single 24-hour period in the area around the Cosha Cashu Biological Station in the heart of the Manu National Park. On 14 October 2014 a Louisiana State University team of four birders tallied 354 species in the same time frame, starting from Pomacochas Lake in the eastern Andes and ending in the lowlands of the Moyabamba Valley.
Both of these were world records in their time and give you an idea of the possibilities that lie in Peru if you plan a week’s tour there, let along a fortnight!
Peru Tops the Bird Charts
It is important to stress that South America in general leads the world in terms of bird species’ diversity. It boasts six nations with the highest known number of birds – Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela. It contains more than a third of all the birds in the world, and nearly 1,000 more species than can be found on the African continent.
In terms of single countries, the next nearest to any of the South American six is gigantic China, but it actually hosts 500 fewer bird species than Peru.
Marvelous Spatuletail hummingbird
On average over the past few decades, Peru has described one new species per year. To put this in perspective, it has been more than 150 years since a new bird species was discovered in Europe.
Continuing the superlatives, of all the nations on the planet there are just two that can claim more than 1,800 bird types: Peru and Colombia, with the latter just taking the crown with 12 more species. H0wever, historically there has been more ornithological research conducted in Colombia than there has been in Peru. So there’s a suspicion that, as new bird counts are done, it will be confirmed that at least 20 species living in bordering countries will also be found in Peru.
If you needed any further reason why Peru should be at the top of your birding bucket list, it is also home to the world’s largest flying bird, the Condor, and the second smallest, the Little Woodstar, at 6.4 cm from beak to tail just 1mm longer than the Bee Hummingbird in Cuba.
Peru’s Birds in History
Birds have always been important to Peruvians. Historian Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa wrote in the 16th century about the the Incan emperor, Manco Cápac, who reigned in Cusco between 1200 and 1230 and who in legend carried with him an Aplomado falcon named Inti as a symbol of his power and divinity.
Photo: Nazca Line hummingbird
One of the mysterious Nazca Lines in southern Peru represents the figure of a hummingbird, more than 50m in length and etched into the desert floor. And there are a large number of bird images carved into the rocks at Toro Muerto, in the coastal deserts of Arequipa in the south of the country.
In pre-Colombian Peru, along the Pacific coast, the peoples given the name of Chávin featured a large bird on much of their iconography. Previously thought to be a Condor, the species has now been re-described as a Harpy Eagle, the largest, most powerful bird of prey in the Americas, due to the anatomy of the images’ claws.
According to Walter Alva, archeologist and author of Royal Tombs of Sipan, some birds played the role of gods in the Moche civilisation in northern Peru. He identified deities such as the owl warrior, the duck man, and the owl priestess, connecting Earth and Heaven, establishing order and marking the rhythm of life for these ancient people.
Another group of birds, cormorants, pelicans and boobies, had a great influence on pre-Hispanic coastal civilisations such as the Paracas, Chimu and Chancay. Not only were these birds used for fishing, tying strings to their legs, but their droppings that collected on the islands off the Peruvian coast were a fertiliser par excellence for farmlands.
Likewise, the regal Nascas used to wear clothing into which they wove feathers from macaws, cotingas and other vividly coloured birds found in Peru’s remote jungles. For historians, this proves they must have known the exact location and distribution of those species’ habitats in order to gather the raw materials to create their lavish outfits.
Peru’s Birding Regions
There are four large regions in Peru running parallel to the Andes, each with its own particular birdlife. These are the Amazonian Plains, the Cloud Forests, the Highlands and the Coast.
The Amazonian Plain, when seen in satellite images, appears uniform, but it is, in reality, made up of a complex structure of spaces, which explains why 50% of the birds of Peru live there. “According to studies done at the Manu National Park,” says renowned Peruvian ornithologist, Thomas Valqui, “in one single point you can find up to 160 overlapping territories of different bird species. To give us an idea of this diversity, the number of overlapping territories in the richest North American temperate forests is, at best, 40.”
Photo credit: Green Tours
The second region, the Cloud Forests, is comprised of jungles located on steep mountainsides. While this only represents 5% of all Peruvian territory, forests at elevations between 800m and 3,200m (known as the eyebrow of the jungle) shelter more than 600 bird species. Among these can be found the Andean Cock-of-theRock, the Peruvian national bird.
The third region, the Highlands, is the country’s most distinctive and emblematic, characterised by its massive 2,500km mountain range. The Andes is not an old mountain range as it reached its great height and extreme climatic conditions about one million years ago. Studies have shown that most of the species living among its peaks originated in the Patagonia area in the extreme south and close to Antarctica and so were conditioned for the harsh environment.
The majority of Peru’s aquatic birds – ducks, herons and coots – live in the seemingly neverending number of upper Andean lakes scattered throughout the mountain range, including the famous Lake Titicaca.
Lastly, there is the Coast region, sandwiched between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. To the north, there is the famed Tumbesian zone that encompasses mangroves and tropical forests and the dry forests of Piura, Lambayeque and La Libertad. At least 55 species can be found only in that area, making it one of the three most important centres of endemism in the world.
Farther south, the coastal region becomes more arid, turning into the largest coastal desert in the world. There are 53 rivers that empty into the Pacific Ocean from the mountains here, and along the way form surprising oases of plant and animal life. Other seasonal oases, the so-called ‘lomas’ fed by winter mists, are visited by valley-dwelling birds.
The ocean, with the cold, rich Humboldt current running through it, attracts cormorants, pelicans, boobies and penguins, along with many other species that feed exclusively on fish. In total, this is the home of 10 endemic bird species and in the open sea there are pelagic birds such as albatrosses.
The Main Birding Routes in Peru
1. Peru’s North Amazonian Circuit: the route for specialist birds
With more than 1,200 bird species, the North Amazonian Circuit is best known for its endemic birds. These include the Marvellous Spatuletail hummingbird and the rediscovered White-winged Guan, the Long-whiskered Owlet and the Iquitos Gnatcatcher.
Photo credit: Green Tours, White-winged guan
Read more: Taking the Northern Peru Birding Route
2. Peru’s Central Circuit: a birding paradise
This is an eight-day route that begins in the capital city, Lima, and ends in the tropical forest at the Cueva de las Lechuzas (Screech Owl Cave) in Huanuco. There are more than 350 species you can observe along the way, and among these, the standout is the Junin Grebe, star inhabitant of Lake Chinchaycocha: beautiful, endemic and at critical risk of extinction. Also, there is the Hooded Mountain Tanager, resident of the superb Unchog cloud forest.
Photo credit: Kolibri Expeditions
3. Peru’s Southern Andean Circuit: the classic, historical route
This route crosses a large part of what was the Incan Empire and takes in its grand architectural legacy. It also includes Manu National Park, one of the most important protected areas in Peru. This circuit is easier than most for travellers as it has a good tourist infrastructure.
Along the route you can see endemic birds such as the Chestnut-breasted Mountain Finch and the Creamy-crested Spinetail, as well as good chances of Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and Solitary Eagle and maybe even the mighty Harpy Eagle!
Photo credit: PromPeru, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock
- Birding in Peru: Where to Go and the Best Times to Visit
- Top 18 Peru Endemic Birds
- Birding in Peru’s Amazonian Rainforest
- Endemic Hummingbirds of Peru
- Natural areas for Birdwatching Peru
- A Guide to Amazon Rainforest Tours in Peru
- Why Peru is the ultimate birding destination
Photo credit: Green Tours, Machu Picchu
Are you interested in birding in Peru?
For more information on Peru birds or if you are interested in a birding tour in Peru, contact one of our specialist Peruvian wildlife tour operators and companies to book directly for best pricing.
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Originally Published: 23 May 2017 Updated: 24 July 2022