Peru is, without question, a must-visit destination for birders. The wildlife is exceptional and the country offers amazing natural areas for birdwatching in Peru, ranking as a top destination for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike.
Peru is home to more than 1800 different species of bird – more than can be found in the whole of North America and Europe combined – and there are also over 100 endemics, species found here and nowhere else in the world. From the capital, Lima you can head east to visit the Manu National Park, arguably the best place to watch birds anywhere in the world; north to the area around Iquitos, from where you can take a river trip along the mighty Amazon; south to Patagonia; or, if you are short of time, you can simply go birding in and around Lima itself.
1. Paracas National Reserve
Along the Peruvian coast, a short journey south of Lima, the cold waters of the Humboldt Current bring vast amounts of food, attracting large numbers of seabirds. Amongst the boobies, pelicans and gulls is one species considered a ‘must see’ bird on any visit to Peru: the Inca tern. This bird’s elegant shape, dark plumage and long, whiskery feathers behind the bill make it easy to identify. It can often be seen resting on the buildings in fishing villages along the coast, and also perched on rocks, or even cruising along beside your boat. Other species here include Peruvian pelican, Humboldt penguin, Peruvian thick-knee and a songbird that lives on the edge of the coast, constantly battered by waves, the aptly-named surf cinclodes.
Photo credit: Paracas National Reserve, Tanager Tours
2. Los Manglares de Tumbes National Sanctuary
Very close to the city of Tumbes, on the northern border of Peru, you will find an environment surrounded by mangroves; tall and leafy trees that have given the place its name: the National Sanctuary of Los Manglares de Tumbes. You can visit the Almejas, Roncal, Correa and Matapalo Islands, where vast flocks of waterbirds offer an unforgettable spectacle. Keep a close eye on the edges of the mangroves, in wooded streams, where you may catch a glimpse of a solitary, elusive bird with a striped neck: the bare-throated tiger heron. Other key species include another elusive swamp-dweller, the rufous-necked wood-rail. American crocodiles may also be seen as they cruise through the waters.
Photo credit: Los Manglares de Tumbes National Sanctuary, PromPeru
3. Pacaya Samiria National Reserve
As the water level starts to fall in the Amazon lowlands, it reveals a great variety of molluscs, amphibians, and birds. The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, covering an area of more than two million hectares, is located at the confluence of two large rivers, the Marañón and the Ucayali. There, between meandering waters and torrential rains, you should get good views of South America’s largest stork: the Jabiru. Other species include a wide range of waterbirds: herons, ibises and jacanas, as well as colourful blue-and-yellow and red-and-green macaws flying overhead.
Photo credit: Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, Jungle Experiences
4. Pomac Forest Historic Sanctuary
The adventure begins with a visit to the carob trees in the Pomac forest. In this 6000-hectare equatorial dry forest, you will find a huge carob tree more than 500 years old, to which the locals attribute miracles and legends. It is known as the millennial tree and close by you will be able to find one of the most endangered bird species in the northern part of Peru, as well as one of the most sought-after by visiting birders: the Peruvian plantcutter. You can also take the Cortarrama route, a natural birding circuit that takes about 20 minutes.
Photo credit: Pomac Forest Historic Sanctuary, PromPeru
5. Manu National Park
On the Manu road, between Acjanaco and Tono, and near the famous Tres Cruces Viewpoint, you will find one of the most famous members of the cotinga family: the Andean cock-of-the-rock. This is one of the most spectacular and well-known birds in the world, whose males are coloured an intense orange, with black backs and grey wings. They gather before dawn each day in traditional sites known as leks, where they sing and dance to one another, while lowering their heads and raising their wings, in order to attract the females. A unique experience that you will never forget. In and around the park itself there are more than 1000 different species of bird – almost one in ten of the world total in an area the size of Switzerland! These include some of the most elusive forest-dwelling species, such as a range of antbirds, tanagers and tinamous, as well as waterbirds along the river and noisy flocks of macaws screeching overhead. An unforgettable experience.
Photo credit: Manu Birding Lodge
6. Tambopata National Reserve
After a boat trip from Puerto Maldonado and a walk through the jungle, you will reach a captivating territory with a wealth of flora and fauna. Hundreds of colourful and noisy birds will accompany you on your Peru birdwatching adventure – the Tambopata National Reserve boasts over 630 different species – amongst them one of the world’s largest and most majestic birds of prey: the Harpy eagle. This bird is so big and strong that it hunts the sloths and monkeys that live among the branches of the trees. The rainforest is also home to a wide range of species, from trogons to tinamous and antwrens to antthrushes.
Photo credit: Tambopata National Reserve, PromPeru
7. Alto Mayo Protected Forest
Located north of the Alto Mayo rainforest, in an area known as Chuquillantas or La Llantería, there is a mountain ridge. This area is recognised by birders as one of the best places to witness the passing of mixed flocks of forest-dwelling bird species. If you watch carefully in the treetops or in a forest with a closed canopy, with luck you may see a sought-after bird: the ash-throated antwren. Other key species include rusty-fronted tody-flycatcher, speckled chachalaca and sapphire-spangled emerald – there is even a chance of the elusive oilbird.
Local Wildlife Specialists: Green Tours
Photo credit: Alto Mayo Protected Forest
8. Ampay National Sanctuary
On the slopes of the snow-capped Ampay mountain, between 3000 and 3600 meters above sea level, lies one of the most impressive areas of rainforest in Peru: the Intimpas forest. If you arrive early in the morning, you will find a great variety of endemic birds. Among them, you can observe the creamy-crested and Apurímac spinetails and the Apurímac brushfinch, an endemic species categorized as vulnerable. Other possibilities include the mighty Andean condor – South America’s largest bird-of-prey, soaring above the peaks.
Photo credit: Ampay National Sanctuary, PromPeru
9. Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve (Iquitos gnatcatcher (Polioptila clementsi)
A short distance from the city of Iquitos, in the lower Nanay, there is a forest that grows on white sand. Its soil has few nutrients, but the vegetation is well adapted to these poor conditions and forms forests up to 25 to 30 metres high, known as white sand forests or varillales. These are home to very specialised species restricted to this type of habitat. Among them is the Iquitos gnatcatcher, a small bird with grey plumage and a white chest, which is a must-see for visiting birders. There is also a chance of coming across the ancient antwren, a species unknown to science until 1998.
Photo credit: Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve, PromPeru
As you can see, whether you are a relative novice or highly experienced birder, you’ll find plenty of birdwatching opportunities in Peru; along with the amazing sights and sounds of this friendly country, incredible landscapes, historic monuments and food and drink. There can surely be no better place for the birding trip of a lifetime!
Are you interested in birdwatching in Peru?
For more information, contact one of the local wildlife specialists to book directly your next Peru Birdwatching adventure available throughout the year.
Birder, author and wildlife TV producer, who leads beginners’ birding tours for Somerset Birdwatching Holidays.
Originally Published: 17 Oct 2018 | Updated: 12 March 2021