Ecuador: Field Guides Birding Tours

Discover what makes Ecuador one of the greatest birding tour destinations on Earth in this overview of Field Guides itineraries.

Ginat Antpitta by participant Marshall Dahl

Tiny Ecuador, covering only 1.5 percent of South America’s landmass, supports more than half its avifauna—about a sixth of Earth’s bird species! Its incredible avian diversity, totaling nearly 1600 species, is a direct reflection of its habitat diversity. Cactus-clad desert on the southwest coast gives way to some of the wettest of the world’s rainforests just 200 miles to the north. Vast Amazonian rainforests east of the Andes lie but a few tens of miles from paramo grassland and glaciers at 20,000 feet!

Our fieldguides have birded most every corner of the country, and two of them (Mitch Lysinger and Willy Perez) live or have lived there for many years. Together they’ve been guiding a diverse array of birding tours for a long time. The cumulative experience of our guides, together with Ecuador’s incredible diversity, its small size, its friendly people, and its burgeoning ecotourism development, all contribute to maximizing our tour options for birding Ecuador. With ever-improving access and increased availability of comfortable lodgings right in the midst of the birds, our many Ecuador tours offer something for every birder. Like our guides, you may find yourself going back for more and more!

A Brief Summary of our Current Offerings

To start with, the Galapagos [see map] are a world apart—evolution’s showcase and a must for any interested naturalist/birder. We offer 11-day tours (during June or July) designed to make it possible to see as many of the endemic birds as possible (and, naturally, the fascinating mammals, reptiles, and flora) in the intimacy of a small group. To focus all of our time on the islands themselves and their fascinating natural history, we fly both to and from the Galapagos, basing our visit aboard a comfortable vessel with great food, naturalists, and crew, which can travel by night to maximize our enjoyment of these ruggedly beautiful islands. Folks with enough time often combine our Galapagos tour with a 10- or 11-day, summer mainland tour, either Cloudforests of Ecuador or Amazonian Ecuador: Sacha Lodge, or both, for a wonderful introduction to the birds of Ecuador.

Our mainland tours include several tours that focus on thorough coverage. Three  are 9- to 11-day, one-site tours in the East: Amazonian Ecuador: Sacha Lodge [map], which is a 6-full-day immersion in lowland rainforest birding while based at one of the most comfortable and best-run lodges in western Amazonia, with some of the birdiest canopy platforms anywhere; Ecuador’ Shiripuno Lodge: Heartland of the Waorani [map], also a 6-day immersion in lowland rainforest birding but south of the Rio Napo at the gateway to Yasuni Biosphere Reserve; Holiday at San Isidro [map], a bird-rich holiday escape that focuses on the avifauna of the humid montane forests cloaking the east slope, from high elevations down into the Andean foothills, based primarily at the very comfortable San Isidro Lodge (at 7000 feet); Ecuador’s Wildsumaco Lodge [map], an exquisite lodge located on the flanks of Volcan Sumaco in the precious ecotone between upper tropical and subtropical forest of Ecuador’s east slope, featuring species especially difficult to find anywhere along the Andean massif from Venezuela to Bolivia. Another eastern itinerary at 10 days long is Southeast Ecuador: Orange-throated Tanager & Foothill Specialties, for that rarely seen namesake tanager and numerous other specialties of a distinctive and remote region of the country. In the West, we have Cloudforests of Ecuador: All the Best of the Wild Northwest, a two-site tour for some rich Andean and Choco birding based out of Maquipucuna and Sachatamia Lodges; and Ecuador’s Deep NW Lowlands, to seek out hard-to-find specialties such as Choco Poorwill, Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, Five-colored Barbet, Rose-faced Parrot, Broad-billed Sapayoa, and Blue-whiskered Tanager.

View at Podocarpus N.P. by participant Daphne Gemmill

Two other itineraries are longer survey tours, which attempt reasonably thorough samplings of complementary routes through western and Andean Ecuador. Our Jewels of Ecuador: Hummers, Tanagers & Antpittas [map] tour (Jan/Feb or sometimes Mar/Apr) is an 18-day tour that combines a transect of the north with a sampling of specialties from stunning Podocarpus and Cajas national parks in the south. Centered around the lush, forest-cloaked slopes of the equatorial Andes, the world’s stronghold for tanagers, hummingbirds, and antpittas, this tour visits both outer slopes of Ecuador’s cordilleras, from paramo and treeline down to the rich upper tropical zone along the eastern base of the Andes and the tropical Choco lowlands in the northwest. It represents our most thorough coverage of Andean Ecuador in a single tour, and some departures can be combined with Amazonian Ecuador: Sacha Lodge for an astounding sampling of Ecuador’s birds.

Jocotoco Antpittas by participant Kathy Brown

Complementing the Jewels trip is Southwestern Ecuador Specialties: Jocotoco Foundation Reserves [map], a 15-day tour (Feb/Mar) that focuses on the many specialties of the southwest, especially the very local Ecuadorian endemics of the humid foothills and mountains and on Tumbesian specialties not normally seen on our Jewels or Northern Peru tours. This is the tour on which to see the Jocotoco Antpitta. We’ll be based primarily in the lovely Jocotoco Foundation lodges, right in the heart of good birding, and by going during the local rainy season, we’ll enjoy the arid Tumbesian habitats at their greenest and their avifauna in full song and breeding activity.

A view at Tapichalaca by Rose Ann Rowlett

All of our Ecuador offerings are for small groups, usually with a maximum of 8 participants, and all require participants to be in fairly good condition for full participation. We offer various departure dates for tours that can be done successfully at various times of the year; and given that Ecuador is right on the equator, there’s always good birding somewhere. In some cases, several different tours can be taken back-to-back (see the Combo Tours section below the tour description on individual web pages), and any of them can be extended by a day or two (click the Ecuador: Add to Your Tour! link for options on tours where available; this link is usually below the main tour’s text and the list of possible combo tours). Browse through the descriptions to refine your choices, and then check out the detailed itinerary by clicking on the blue ITINERARIES link in the right sidebar of any tour page. You can even check out what was seen on one or more past tours to that area by clicking on PAST TRIPLISTS in that right sidebar. If you have further questions, our office staff and/or guides will be happy to answer them. Just remember: Once you’ve birded anywhere in Ecuador, you’re likely to want to come again!

Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan by participant Dominic Sherony