With more than 1,600 bird species having been recorded within her boundaries, Ecuador is a birdwatching paradise. More than 20 species of parrots, macaws, and parakeets live in Ecuador along with dozens of stunning hummingbirds, a myriad of antbirds, flocks of colorful tanagers, and much more. With so many birds to pick from, it’s tough to choose a “top ten” but the following species are among the most spectacular. In no particular order, these are:
- Andean Condor: The fact that this huge vulture is one of the largest flying birds on the planet guarantees a spot for it on this list. In Ecuador, the majestic Andean Condor lives in the bleak, harsh and cold landscapes of the high mountains. Although it has been seen in the outskirts of Quito on occasion, this rare bird of prey occurs in very small numbers and is mostly seen in the Antisana area, on the slopes of Cotopaxi Volcano, and in Cajas National Park.
- Harpy Eagle: Like the condor, the Harpy Eagle is a big majestic raptor. The similarities stop there, though, because this monstrous bird of prey doesn’t scavenge but hunts monkeys, sloths, and even Brocket Deer in the dense jungles of eastern Ecuador. With talons the size of Grizzly Bear claws and a massive hooked beak, the Harpy Eagle is modern day, winged monster. Watch for this very rare resident near remote Amazonian ecolodges such as the Huaorani Ecolodge.
- Waved Albatross: Most albatross species frequent the stormy, cold oceans of the southern hemisphere. Three other species live in the northern oceans but just one makes its home in equatorial waters. That unique species is the Waved Albatross, the only albatross to nest on the Galapagos Islands along with Isla de la Plata. This huge seabird uses its 7.4 foot (2.25 meter) wingspan to soar and fly 1,000 kilometers to forage in waters off the coast of Peru.
- Blue and gold Macaw: Each of the seven macaw species that occur in Ecuador is spectacular in its own right but the Blue and gold is nothing short of stunning. Its brilliant golden yellow underparts and rich sapphire blue upperparts are even more breathtaking as these large parrots fly over the rainforest canopy in loud, screeching flocks. Watch for this spectacular bird in remote jungles of eastern Ecuador.
- Sword-billed Hummingbird: In Ecuador, hummingbirds occur from the hot lowlands up to high elevation paramo habitats. Cloud forests in particular are home to dozens of fantastic species. Among that bevy of wonderful bird species is one that looks simply surreal. This strange species is the Sword-billed Hummingbird, a bird with a bill much longer than its own body. As it flies in to feed at a bunch of angel trumpet flowers, the Sword-billed Hummingbird looks more like a beak with feathers than a bird.
- Violet-tailed Sylph: Visit the cloud forests of western Ecuador and you have the chance of seeing several species of gorgeous, glittering hummingbirds. One of the most spectacular is the Violet-tailed Sylph, a colorful hummingbird that makes up for its short bill with a long, training, vivid violet tail. Happily, this beautiful bird is one of the more common hummingbird species in the cloud forests of western Ecuador.
- Golden-headed Quetzal: The cloud forest is home to hundreds of stunning, beautiful birds. One of the most regal is the Golden-headed Quetzal. This montane trogon species is clad in glittering iridescent shades of jade green that shows shades of blue and gold depending on the light, and has a deep velvet red belly. Look for this spectacular cloud forest treasure in such places as Mindo, Santa Lucia, and cloud forest near Banos.
- Plate-billed Mountain Toucan: Most toucans sport an array of beautiful colors along with that signature banana-shaped beak. While most live in the jungles of the lowlands, there are a few other species that never leave the cool, misty cloud forests of the mountains. These are the mountain toucans and the most spectacular might be the Plate-billed Mountain Toucan. This grayish-blue bird with a clown-like red and yellow bill only occurs in the wet cloud forests of western Colombia and Ecuador. This exotic bird can be seen at a number of cloud forest sites in western Ecuador.
- Andean Cock of the Rock:If one had to choose a bird to represent the exotic beauty and biodiversity of Andean cloud forest, this bird would be it. The Andean Cock of the Rock is a type of cotinga around the same size as a pigeon. However, unlike pigeons, males have a crest shaped like a Trojan helmet, are clad in flaming red (on the western slope of the Andes), or bright orange (on the eastern slope of the Andes), and sport black and white wings. They also have loud, raucous calls, and showcase their feathered finery with spectacular courtship displays. A trip to a courtship lek of these amazing birds is a must when visiting cloud forest sites in Ecuador.
- Paradise Tanager: With a name like that, you know that the bird in question is spectacular. The Paradise Tanager lives up to its evocative name with plumage that shows nearly every color of the rainbow. It dazzles with a bright red rump, purple throat, a bright yellow-green head, and sky blue underparts. Look for this fairly common species in the canopy of Amazonian forests in eastern Ecuador.
While the species listed above are truly spectacular, they are just a handful of the many colorful birds waiting to be seen in Ecuador. Look for them on tours to this exiting country.