When it comes to listing the top Peru endemic birds, the choice is extremely difficult. Peru has such a richness of avian life – a mouthwatering 1,861 species at the last count, and rising every year as more are found and described for science – and a staggering 138 birds that can be found in no other country in the world!
Whittling that extraordinary number down to a meagre 18 has been hard. But there are some standout endemic Peruvian species that are going to be on every serious birder’s list – confirmed by the local specialist tour operators on our site – and that insight has led to our choice of which to feature.
So, to get you started on your birding in Peru adventure, here are Blue Sky Wildlife’s top 18 endemic birds of Peru and where to organise a tour to see them. That only leaves 120 for you to mull over and choose your favourites to add to our list once you’ve been on your trip!
Want to travel to see Peru’s endemic birds?
The local specialist tour operators on Blue Sky Wildlife offer set departure or bespoke organised trips to the most important wildlife areas where the endemic birds of Peru can be found. Enquire direct or book through Blue Sky Wildlife for the best deals.
Peru Endemics of the Northern Region
Birding areas: Alto Mayo, Abra Patricia, Marañon Valley, Huembo Reserve, Lambayeque Coast, Pomac Forest, Moyobamba, Wakanki, Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve
1. Marvelous Spatuletail
Without doubt, the Number 1 endemic bird of Peru that everyone wants to see! This beautiful hummingbird with its improbably long tail streamers inhabits the cloud forests of northern Peru. It is the males that have the tails and also an iridescent blue/green throat. The females have neither but are a pretty green on their upper parts and white below. They are to be found along the edges of mature woodland, feeding on flowers around head-height or below. They also come to feeders. The main breeding season is December to February during which males perform aerial displays at leks.
Photo credit: PromPeru, Marvelous Spatuletail hummingbird
Peru’s other endemic hummingbirds
As well as the three hummers listed in our top 18, there are another 12 that can only be seen in Peru. They are:
Green-and-white Hummingbird; Koepcke’s Hermit; Peruvian Piedtail; Bronze-tailed Comet; Gray-bellied Comet; Coppery Metaltail; Fire-throated Metaltail; Black Metaltail; White-tufted Sunbeam; Purple-backed Sunbeam; Rufous-webbed Brilliant; Spot-throated Hummingbird
2. White-winged Guan
By contrast to the tiny picturesque Marvelous Spatuletail, the White-winged Guan is large with what could be termed the visual appeal of a small turkey. Nevertheless, it is a glorious bird to encounter, perching in the trees of the dry deciduous forests of northwestern Peru. It shows a flash of white as it flies and makes a rattling noise with its wings. These birds are also worthy of note for having been brought back from the brink of extinction. In fact, it was thought to have completely died out due to over-hunting until a few were discovered in 1977 in deep valleys in the foothills of the Andes. Thanks to conservation efforts numbers have now climbed to over 250.
3. Long-whiskered Owlet
We are back to petite again with this tiny owl, which is only around 14cm (5½ in) long. It has elegant long plume feathers that radiate from its eyes and beak, prominent white eyebrows and deep amber-coloured eyes. It lives in the cloud forests on the eastern slopes of the northern Andes but it is not readily seen, although there are now some conservation areas where your chances are increased – local knowledge will help you greatly in this respect if you want to make it one of your ticks from your Peru birding tour.
4. Yellow-faced Parrotlet
This little endemic Peruvian parrot, only 15cm (6in) in length, is another victim of man’s destructive nature but this time its numbers in the wild were vastly diminished by the pet trade in the 1980s. Happily, thanks to strict new laws, tough sentences and careful conservation, the Yellow-faced Parrotlet population has stabilised at around 1,000 birds in the valley of the Marañon River. Unhappily, they are still being lauded online as a great pet, although captive-bred birds are not readily available. To see them in the wild you need to search in riparian scrub and low-density dry woodlands.
5. Peruvian Pigeon
The Peruvian or Marañon Pigeon is found in similar habitat to the Yellow-faced Parrotlet and also on farmland in northwestern Peru, and it sometimes strays into the extreme south of Ecuador. It has a fondness for large willow trees. Its plumage is a beautiful pinky-red and petrol-blue and it has a red eye ring and deep orange iris around a black pupil. Its bill is half red, half grey.
6. Peruvian Plantcutter
If you hear a sound rather like a kazoo, or a squeaky door, and you’re in amongst acacia and mesquite trees in coastal scrub and dry forest of northern Peru, chances are you’re listening to this little bird of the Cotinga family. The Peruvian Plantcutter looks like a careless artist daubed it with rusty brown paint on its chest, under its tail and on its forehead. It also has prominent white wing bars and a serrated edge to its bill. The latter helps it cope with its diet which, as the name implies, consists of leaves. Curiously, it chews its food, which along with its specially adapted intestines allows it to digest the fibrous material.
Photo credit: Green Tours, Peruvian Plantcutter
7. Rufous Flycatcher
For a flycatcher, this one is rather large, and most definitely rufous as it is an almost all-over orangy-red colour. Only the top of the back and head are brown feathered, which in the case of the head, can be raised in a small peak. The Rufous Flycatcher lives in dry, lowland forest in northern Peru in a density that’s estimated at six birds per square kilometre. It also hangs around on arable land, but too much farmland encroachment of wild areas is contributing to a slow decline in a once-numerous species.
8. Ash-throated Antwren
A rare and tiny bird of humid cloud forests of the Eastern Andes in northern Peru, it was only described for science in 1986. It is distinguished by its black cap and black-and-white striped face and white wing bars. The ‘ant’ part of its name comes from its habit, in common with all the many other antbird species around the world, of picking up ants to rub on its feathers, which is thought to play a role in dealing with feather mites, as well as providing a food source for this insect eater.
Peru Endemics of the Central Region
Birding areas: Santa Eulalia Valley, Lake Junin, Huascaran National Park, Bosque Unchog, Satipo Road, Alto Pichita Reserve, Andamarca Valley
9. Junin Grebe
Number 1 endemic in the central regions of Peru, the Junin Grebe can only be found on Lake Junin in the highlands of central Peru. It breeds and roost in the reed beds that fringe the lake. When it’s not doing either of those things it haunts the centre of the lake, making it harder to spot, especially as there are only around 250 of them. You can strike it lucky, though, as there are reports of birders seeing flocks of 30 or more at a time. The flightless Junin is a small, attractive grebe of black head and white throat, fluffy back and white wing feathering. It has a startlingly red eye if you can get close enough to see. The fact that it doesn’t fly has been attributed to a time of glaciation in this part of South America, when the grebes became isolated on their high-altitude lake with few to no predators to worry about and plentiful food ready to hand, or beak.
Photo credit: Heinz-Plenge, Junin Grebe
10. Black-necked Woodpecker
These woodland dwellers are widespread in Peru, their range stretching the entire coastal west side of the country. Quite why the black neck was picked out for its naming is not immediately obvious as the first colouration to jump out at you when you see the bird is the bright red on the top of its head and cheeks and the white mask over its eyes. Those, and its shingled-effect body, that’s brown-and-black above and black-and-white below. These woodpeckers are found in arid areas, often perched on the top of a cactus. Surprisingly, for woodpeckers, they are not fond of dense forest but they do like degraded old forest, full of insect-rich dead bark.
11. Black-breasted Hillstar
The second of our must-see hummingbirds, this gorgeous medium-sized hummer, if it’s male, has a bright emerald green scarf around its neck called a gorget. The rest of the bird is dark bronze in colour with a black belly and light brown head. The female is not quite so bright and her throat is pale and speckled. This species is a high-altitude bird, residing above 3,500m (11,000ft) and mostly found in puna grasslands where it feeds on cactus flowers. They will also come to gardens, however, especially homing in on red blossoms.
12. Great Inca Finch
Another lover of high-altitude scrub land, the Great Inca Finch is a pretty, sparrow-sized bird with the characteristic heavy finch bill in solid yellow, a colour that is echoed in its legs and feet. Although the body is mostly grey, it does have warm chestnut-coloured wings and a black bib that stretches up to the base of its bill. In fact, the sparrow comparison is most apt when it comes to the juveniles that are much less distinguishable from the bird most of us see every day at home. But even juveniles are worth the journey to see and tick off, as Great Inca Finches only inhabit a small area of central Peru on the western side of the Andes mountain range. They like hiding in dense shrubs from where they dart out to feed on the ground.
13. Rusty-bellied Brushfinch
Take a Great Inca Finch and turn it upside down… well, not really, but the Rusty-bellied Brushfinch certainly has a chestnut-coloured belly and grey upper parts topped with a black head with white bib. It also has a black finch’s bill and a wider range than the Inca Finch. It inhabits montane scrub and is also a ground feeder that should be reasonably easy to spot.
Peru Endemics of the Southern Region
Birding areas: Cusco, Machu Picchu, Manu National Park, Tambopata Research Center, Manu Road, Lima surrounds and coastal town of Pucusana, Abra Málaga and Málaga Pass, Tres Chimbadas Lake, Tambo Blanquillo Clay Lick, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, Apurimac Valley
14. Bearded Mountaineer
This is the Number 1 endemic of the southern part of Peru and the third of our recommended hummingbirds. It lives in rocky valleys in the Andes with sparse shrubs and scattered woodlands. It is easiest to find along road edges where Nicotiana tobacco plants and Eucalyptus grow. It is a handsome hummer with a striking striped purple and black head and a white V-neck sweater-effect on its chest. It is quite large for this type of bird, at 17cm (near 7in) so it should not be hard to miss.
15. Chestnut-breasted Mountain Finch
Another finch that redistributes the rufous/chestnut/grey/black-and-white theme. This time the red is on the upper chest with white above and below, there’s a black mask and heavy white eyebrow and a grey back. However, the Chestnut-breasted Mountain Finch does not have such a sturdy bill as its endemic cousins, although it still forages close to, and even on, the ground. It is another high-altitude species, preferring areas of semi-humid scrubland above 3,000m (c10,000ft).
16. Inca Wren
Listen out for a pair indulging in a bouncy, singsong whistling match and you have probably found an Inca Wren couple. They can be hard to see because they like hiding in very dense montane forest shrubbery, particularly bamboo groves, where they search for insects amongst the foliage. If you do manage to spot one, you’ll see a little ginger bird with a speckly, stripy grey, black and white face and chest, with a fine, invertebrate-grabbing bill. The birds have quite a restricted range so local knowledge is advised to ensure you get to add them to your list.
Photo credit: Green Tours, Inca Wren
17. Creamy-crested Spinetail
Another lover of moist montane environments and high-altitude scrub, the Creamy-crested Spinetail has a long rufous tail and shoulder patches and a punky blond head. They tend to feed alone or in pairs, although they can surprise by sometimes appearing in foraging mixed flocks. They can be found on the eastern slopes of the Andes and often close to Cusco. This is one bird that you have a very good chance of seeing in numbers as their populations are stable and not of conservation concern.
18. Red-and-white Antpitta
There is definitely a tendency to chestnut colouring in the southern Peru endemics. And the Red-and-white Antpitta doesn’t buck the trend. A little red ball of a bird with an upright stance, it’s a ground forager that turns over the dense undergrowth of upper montane woodlands or scrub that lies above the normal height limits of tree life. It has relatively long, metallic grey legs that stand it above the leaf litter as it pokes about for insects. This is another fairly common bird that you should not have difficulty adding to your lifelist.
- Birding in Peru: Where to Go and the Best Times to Visit
- Birds of Peru: Gifts to the Birding World
- 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
Appetite Whetted? Want to Travel to Peru to See Some Endemics?
The specialist local tour operators on Blue Sky Wildlife can offer a wide range of tours covering areas where you can see the Peru endemic birds we have listed, and a whole lot more. Enquire direct or book through Blue Sky Wildlife for the best deals.
Peru Export and Tourism Board
For your next #AdventureInPeru
Originally Published: 27 October 2022