South America is universally known as the “bird continent,” and rightly so: nearly half of the world’s birds are found there alone! Five of the birdiest countries (the countries with the biggest bird lists) in the world are in South America: Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Bolivia, you ask? Who ever thinks about birding Bolivia? Well, we do! Field Guides has been leading tours to Bolivia for decades, providing our participants with great experiences in one of the world’s great unsung birding destinations. Bolivia is not yet famous for its ecotourism, but it should be–there are fabulous birds and landscapes, we can stay in comfortable lodgings in the main cities, and there are even some ecotourism-geared lodges closer to our birding destinations.
Bolivia is replete with incredible scenery: from the open plains within sight of the “bend in the Andes” near Santa Cruz city, to the striking arid landscapes of the intermontane valleys at the border of Santa Cruz and Cochabamba departments, to the (quite literally!) breathtaking beauty of the high Andes of Cochabamba and La Paz. Those with cameras and a good eye will have their hands full if they want scenics! These settings are a fine backdrop for the amazing biogeography that has generated the country’s avian wealth. Bolivia, near the very center of the South American continent, is also at the nexus of many of the continent’s characteristic habitats, from the Altiplano and high, snow-capped peaks of the Andes, and the humid cloudforests on the Amazonian-facing slopes, to the arid rainshadow valleys that harbor many of the country’s true endemics, to the mixture of Amazonian and semi-deciduous forests at the foot of the Andes and out into the open grasslands in the lowlands of Santa Cruz and Beni departments.
These habitats provide Bolivia with an extraordinarily rich avifauna that compares well to any of its better-known neighbors as a birding destination…only its lack of a coast prevents it from climbing the list into the top-most tier! “Endemism” is a term known to many world birders, and though Bolivia has not fared well “officially” in the endemism game (fewer than 20 species that are true endemics), the fact is many near-endemic species just barely spill over political borders into neighboring countries, and in many cases these species are far easier to find within Bolivia than in the remote mountains of Peru or the border regions of Brazil or Argentina. Taking such species into account, the number of specialties in Bolivia suddenly jumps up to about 100 or so — essentially stealth endemics. Plus, there are still distinct forms within Bolivia that may be separated as species and may cause the Bolivian specialties list to swell yet more.
The birdlife of Bolivia features some real stars that will captivate your imagination with their beauty and charm: from the mind-blowing aqua rump of the Black-hooded Sunbeam to the stealth of the Rusty-faced Antpitta, from the garrulous flocks of Bolivian Blackbirds to the solitary lifestyle of the Scribble-tailed Canastero. Bolivian birds are also quite varied in their coloration. In the dusty, semi-arid habitats such as in the intermontane valleys, humble brown and gray birds abound, such as the Bolivian Earthcreeper or Gray-crested Finch, but when you enter more humid forests, eye candy such as Hooded Mountain-Toucan and Orange-browed Hemispingus brighten up the list. Hummingbirds are well-represented, too, such as the fantastic Red-tailed Comet and the impressive Wedge-tailed Hillstar. And of course, we can’t leave out parrots, such as the endemic Red-fronted Macaw and the endemic intermontane forms of Monk Parakeet and Blue-crowned Parakeet, both of which are likely distinct enough that they will be split once research has exposed their differences from other populations of those species!
We’ve revamped our Bolivia tour with visits to a few more foothill localities that should increase our chances at finding rare specialties such as Bolivian Recurvebill and Ashy Antwren, at the same time getting us out of the bustling cities and closer to our birding sites. We still offer an extension to the Beni, a region of incredible diversity with habitats similar to the llanos or Pantanal, but with birds all its own such as Blue-throated Macaw, Unicolored Thrush, and endemic forms of Plain Softtail and Velvet-fronted Grackle, as well as a huge potential list of other open country and gallery forest species!
Why not join us to discover Bolivia’s bird bounty? Our tour this year is scheduled for September 3-19, with the optional pre-tour to the Beni beginning on Aug 29. There are still a few spaces left to join me!
Read more about Dan and his upcoming schedule on his bio page.