Best Places for Bird Watching in Ecuador
Ecuador is one of the best places in the world for bird-watching. With approximately 1,660 species, counting resident species and migrants, the country has a greater diversity of birds than China or India, and nearly twice as many bird species as the United States. Though the neighboring nations of Colombia and Peru may boast more species, no nation in the world has as great a diversity of birdlife in as small an area as Ecuador. The country holds approximately one-sixth of the world's bird species in an area about the size of Colorado, and gives birders the possibility of spotting more different species in a week or two than they would have just about anywhere else.
Ecuador's varied feathered creatures are scattered across its main geographical regions: the Sierra, Oriente, Pacific coast and lowlands, and Galápagos Islands. For birding purposes, the Andes could be further broken down into the highlands, Pacific cloud forest, and Amazon cloud forest. The Andean condor may be the Sierra's avian king, but the highlands' smaller species are also quite impressive, and much easier to see, especially the varied tanagers and hummingbirds. Birdlife in the Andes varies depending on the altitude, with some species found only around the peaks and high-altitude paramo, and others found only in the Sierra's valleys. There is also a good bit of difference between the birdlife of the northern highlands and that of the country's southern mountains.
The cloud forests of Ecuador's Andes are considered one of the planet's biodiversity "hot spots," with a greater diversity of birds than just about anywhere else in the world.
The Oriente, or Amazon basin, is home to some amazing birds, including colorful toucans, macaws, and jacamars, as well as the unusual hoatzin. Whereas the Oriente is relatively homogenous, the country's Pacific lowlands have a greater variety of habitats, which translates into more bird species, with the Chocó rainforest to the north giving way to tropical dry forest in the southwest, which is home to such species as the Pacific parrolet and the Ecuadorean trogon. The Galápagos Islands are often a birder's top spot in Ecuador, with a mix of endemic species, such as Darwin's famous finches, and such common species as the blue-footed booby and the red-billed tropicbird.
If you're serious about birding, you'll definitely want pick up a copy of the Birds of Ecuador Field Guide, by Robert Ridgely, Paul Greenfield, and Frank Gill, as well as a pair of gas-sealed binoculars. While the field guide is helpful, you'll get much more out of your time in the woods if you are accompanied by a naturalist guide, and fortunately Ecuador's best tour operators and nature lodges have some very experienced, dedicated birding guides. The following specialty tour operators tend to use designated lodges, several of which organize their own tours.