For birders the world over, Peru is quite simply the ultimate birding destination. No other country on the planet offers quite so much variety.
From the Pacific Coast via the High Andes to the Amazon Basin, Peru is home to more than 1800 different species of birds – one-sixth of the world’s total. Stephen Moss suggests ten top reasons to put this wonderful location at the top of your birding destinations wishlist.
1. Variety of Habitats and Species
Peru is probably the best place to watch birds in the world. No other destination offers quite so much variety of habitats and species in such a relatively small area. Peru is one-eighth the size of Europe and just one-twentieth the size of North America, yet the country boasts more different kinds of bird than those two continents combined. Read more: Birds of Peru: a gift to the world
2. The Pacific Coast
Peru has one of the most productive coastlines in the world for birdlife. The Pacific coast, a short drive south of the capital city, Lima, is chock-full of birds. On a short boat-trip just offshore, you can watch Humboldt penguins and Peruvian pelicans attracted by the cold water currents, along with elegant Inca terns, comical-looking blue-footed boobies and vast flocks of guanay cormorants, in what can be a truly incredible feeding frenzy.
Humboldt Penguins. Photo credit: Ecologistica Peru
3. The Andes
The Andes are home to high-altitude specialists, hard to see anywhere else. From the Andean flicker – a mountain-dwelling woodpecker – to the starling-sized giant hummingbird, the largest member of its family; and the bizarrely camouflaged Andean potoo to the colourful Highland motmot; all set against a backdrop of some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
4. Manu National Park
Manu offers a higher concentration of species than anywhere else on the planet. Roughly the size of Switzerland, Manu National Park and its surroundings are home to more than 1000 species of birds, including some of the most spectacular and sought-after of all South American species. From a dawn visit to the lek of the Andean cock-of-the-rock to the overhead fly-pasts of colourful macaws at dusk, Manu provides a kaleidoscope of avian experiences to beat any location in the world.
5. Rainforest Birding
Manu also offers the ultimate in hardcore rainforest birding. Those 1000 species include some of the trickiest to see: from tinamous to tacapulos, woodcreepers to woodpeckers and countless antbirds, antthrushes and antwrens, there is more than enough to keep the dedicated rainforest birder happy. Read more: Bird in Peru’s Amazonian Rainforest
Female Harpy Eagle. Photo credit: Rainforest Expeditions Diego Balbuena
6. Peru’s Rivers
Peru’s rivers provide easy, hassle-free birding. Access to Manu and the rest of the Amazon basin is only possible by boat. This provides the opportunity for a leisurely contrast with rainforest birding. A typical trip will provide great views of a wide variety of waterbirds, ranging from horned screamers to Orinoco geese, and large-billed terns to black skimmers, along with tiger-herons, kingfishers, water-tyrants, anhingas and limpkins, all offering great close-up views – and great photographic opportunities – as you drift past. The rivers also attract a great selection of landbirds, including sand-coloured nighthawks, macaws and toucans.
7. Northern Peru
Northern Peru provides a great contrast with the south – with new and very different birds. There are many birds in Northern Peru that are found nowhere else in the world. These include one of the most incredible birds on the planet, with a name to match: the marvellous spatuletail – a tiny hummingbird with an incredibly long tail – and its cousin, the only bird in the world with a bill even longer than its body, the incredible sword-billed hummingbird. Other endangered endemics include the very rare long-whiskered owlet, which was only first seen in the wild as recently as 2007.
Marvelous Spatuletail. Photo credit: Green Tours
8. Safe and Friendly
Peru is safe and friendly, with easy, efficient travel networks and great places to stay. Peru is one of the safest countries in South America for travellers, with a low crime rate, and friendly, helpful, hospitable people. It is easy to get to: via international flights to Lima; and also easy to travel round, with a regular and efficient network of internal flights, good roads and – to get deep into the Amazon Basin – fast, comfortable boats. The lodges, especially those in the rainforest, are luxurious and comfortable, with excellent local cooking.
9. Machu Picchu
Peru has many of the world’s ‘must-see’ destinations. The fifteenth-century Inca citadel of Machu Picchu really must be seen to be believed. Set amongst spectacular mountain scenery north of the city of Cuzco, it is conveniently close to top birding destinations. Indeed, it boasts some spectacular birds of its own, including the mighty Andean condor, which can be seen regularly as it soars high overhead. You can also visit Lake Titicaca on the border with Bolivia; Nazca, with those prehistoric lines on the ground that were once thought to have been made by extra-terrestrial visitors; and Lima itself – a modern, vibrant city with great cultural attractions – and even more birds!
10. Other Wildlife
Don’t forget the other wildlife. From giant river otters to huge, hairy tarantulas, and capybaras (the largest rodent in the world) to jaguars, a trip to Peru offers a great supporting cast to the spectacular birdlife.
In my view, if you never visit Peru, you’ll always regret it. As the late Ted Parker, the US ornithologist who knew more about the birds of South America than anyone, once said: “Peru offers bird-enthusiasts more than any other country in the world… Being here is like being a child visiting a huge store filled with new and fascinating toys”. That just about sums it up!
Are you interested in visiting Peru?
For more information, contact one of our specialist Peruvian wildlife tour operators and companies to book directly your next Peru Birding adventure available throughout the year.
Birder, author and wildlife TV producer