The experts in boutique travel To Peru and South America

Birds of Peru: 10 Fascinating & Must-See Species

December 18, 2023 by Liz

Peru harbors a remarkable array of biodiversity, with particular emphasis on birds. Totaling 1,869 species, the birds of Peru represent 18.57 percent of Earth’s avian species and 54.97 percent of South America’s. The staggering diversity of Peru’s natural environment is evident in the unique and specialized bird species that it supports. Scattered across Peru’s costa (coast), sierra (highlands) and selva (jungle) are some of the world’s most fascinating birds. Continue reading to learn about ten spectacular birds of Peru and where you can find them!

*Cover photo by Panegyrics of Granovetter. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Cropped and compressed from original.

Table of Contents

Andean Condor

Possessing a wingspan of up to 10 feet 10 inches (3.3 m), the majestic Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) is not only the biggest condor in the world but one of the largest flying birds. Arguably one of the most important birds of Peru, the Andean Condor holds tremendous spiritual significance in Andean culture. Specifically, it represents the connection between the earth and the heavens.

An Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) soars above the Colca Canyon.

One of the South American birds of prey, the Andean Condor scavenges large pieces of carrion. You’ll observe these regal Andean birds circling high above in search of their next meal. They even prefer to nest at high elevations (up to 16,000 feet, or 5,000 m, high)! Equally important, the Andean Condor is the only species of the condor family that exhibits sexual dimorphism. Both males and females are mostly black with a striking white neck ring and bald head. However, males are larger and have a red caruncle atop their heads.

Due to their large size, these Peruvian birds of prey rely on strong winds to keep afloat. Therefore, they are found throughout the Andes Mountains as well as in windy coastal and desert areas. The best place to observe these massive birds in Peru is at the enchanting Colca Canyon, located three hours north of Arequipa. As the world’s second-deepest canyon, the Colca Canyon is certainly worth a visit while birding Peru!

Fast Facts

Humboldt Penguin

Seven penguin species are distributed throughout South America. However, only the Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) inhabits Peru. This medium-sized penguin derives its name from Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt and the nutrient-rich Humboldt current that defines its range.

The Humboldt Penguin is most closely related to the African, Galapagos and Magellanic penguins, the latter of whose range it overlaps in central coastal Chile. All four species exhibit similar rosy pink splotches above their eyes to varying degrees. However, this feature is most pronounced in the Humboldt Penguin. These pink patches of bare skin are also found beneath their wings and on their feet, an adaptation to their habitat’s warm climate.

Humboldt Penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) diving into the Pacific Ocean. Photo by Sebastian Seck on Unsplash.

A top predator, the Humboldt Penguin primarily subsists on pelagic schooling fish, with Peruvian anchoveta as their preferred choice. This particular fish is also harvested by humans to create animal feed. As a result, a combination of overfishing and climate change threaten these charismatic creatures. Thus, the IUCN identifies their conservation status as vulnerable.

In Peru, ecotourism efforts aim to protect the Humboldt Penguin and boost its population. Without a doubt, the best destination to see these seabirds of Peru is in the Ballestas Islands, located three hours south of Lima and off the coast of the Paracas National Reserve. However, for travelers short on time, there are day tours from Lima to the nearby Palomino Islands. Regardless of which site you choose, you are likely to witness several spectacular coastal birds of Peru.

Fast Facts

Scarlet Macaw

Among the many Amazon Rainforest birds, macaws are some of the most fascinating. In Peru, there are eight species of macaws in the Amazon. Of these large colorful birds, the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is particularly spectacular.

A monogamous species, Scarlet Macaw pairs mate for life. In southeastern Peru, the breeding season coincides with the rainy season (November to April). Females lay between two and four eggs. However, after they hatch, the eldest chick is prioritized, and it is unlikely that more than two of the baby birds will survive to fledge.

Several species of macaws (Scarlet (Ara macao), Red-and-green (Ara chloropterus) and Blue-and-yellow (Ara ararauna)) gather at a clay lick in Tambopata National Reserve. Photo by Paul Bertner for Rainforest Expeditions.

While the Scarlet Macaw is found throughout the Peruvian jungle, the best location to observe these Amazon Rainforest parrots is in southern Peru’s Tambopata National Reserve. In a most magnificent display of color, hundreds of these tropical rainforest birds gather at clay licks to consume sodium-rich clay. Additionally, the Scarlet Macaw preys upon insects, snails and larvae.

Guests of Rainforest Expeditions’ Refugio Amazonas and Tambopata Research Center (TRC) can visit the Chuncho and Colorado macaw clay licks, respectively. For the ultimate birding in Peru adventure, we specifically recommend staying at TRC, the only lodge located within the Tambopata National Reserve and the headquarters of the Tambopata Macaw Project. Excursions focused on witnessing these incredible parrots in the Amazon Rainforest, combined with evening lectures about studies on Peruvian birds, make for a truly remarkable experience!

Fast Facts

Amazon Rainforest Tours:

Marvellous Spatuletail

The Marvellous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) is one of the most visually stunning birds in Peru. As can be seen below, the male Marvellous Spatuletail is a colorful bird with long tail feathers that resemble two intertwined spatulas. Contrarily, females have a shorter tail and only vestigially exhibit the iconic spatula-shaped feathers. During the breeding season (late October to early May), these endemic Peruvian hummingbirds congregate at leks where males present their exquisite tails to nearby females.

The endemic Marvellous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis). Photo, with permission, by Rob Graham on Instagram.

Like many hummingbirds of Peru, the Marvellous Spatuletail is restricted to a small patch of Peru’s northern birding route. While considered off-the-beaten-path, this area is home to some of Peru’s most impressive archaeological and natural wonders, including Gocta Waterfall and Kuélap Archaeological Fortress. In these rural landscapes, the Marvellous Spatuletail inhabits forest edges, montane scrub and secondary forest. However, due to a combination of deforestation and hunting of males for aphrodisiac purposes, the IUCN currently identifies these indigenous Peruvian birds’ conservation status as endangered.

Fortunately, local communities and Peruvian NGOs are working to reverse this trend, partly through ecotourism initiatives. The NGO Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) protects and restores over 91.5 acres (37 ha) of the Marvellous Spatuletail’s habitat at its Huembo Reserve. Here, visitors can explore more than 1.2 miles (2 km) of walking trails. In fact, just a short walk from the lodge is a sitting area and feeders where up to thirteen species of hummingbirds can be spotted at once—this creates ideal opportunities for close-up and beautiful photos of birds!

Fast Facts

Andean Cock-of-the-rock

Within Peru’s humid montane forests lives the emblematic Andean Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruvianus), or tunki in Quechua. Considered the national bird of Peru, three of four subspecies are found in the Peruvian Andes: R. p. Aequatorialis (central Andes), R. p. Peruvianus (eastern Andes) and R. p. Saturatus (southeastern Andes). As its name suggests, the Cock-of-the-rock nests on rocky surfaces and cliffs.

The Andean Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruvianus) is the Peruvian national bird. “20965” by Panegyrics of Granovetter. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Compressed from original.

A sexually dimorphic species, females are predominately rusty-brown colored and have a soft blue iris. Conversely, adult males have a bold orange (R. p. Saturatus) or red-orange (R. p. Aequatorialis and R. p. Peruvianus) crested head and upper body with gray and black wings and a black tail. Interestingly, the male’s crest is so voluminous that it appears to be a bird with no beak. However, this is not without purpose as these polygamous, orange-crested birds compete in extravagant mating displays. Twice daily, males gather at leks and flaunt and flap their plumage, jump and emit distinct vocalizations, all in an effort to attract onlooking females.

Truly one of the most fascinating birds of Peru, the Andean Cock-of-the-rock is a must-see while bird watching in Peru. While this species can be observed throughout the Peruvian Andes, the best location to witness its impressive mating display is at the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge, located outside Manú National Park and Biosphere Reserve in the Cusco Region.

Fast Facts

Harpy Eagle

Of all the Amazon Rainforest birds of prey, the Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is distinguished as the strongest and grandest in size. Incredibly, the talons of this mighty eagle can equal the size of grizzly bear claws! While males and females share the same plumage colors and patterns, females are significantly larger than males. A female Harpy Eagle’s average weight is 16.3 pounds (7.4 kg), whereas males generally only weigh 13 pounds (5.9 kg).

These tropical birds of prey feed primarily on arboreal mammals. In fact, in their 2020 publication, Bowler et al. discovered that Harpy Eagles nesting near Rainforest Expeditions’ Refugio Amazonas lodge most frequently feasted on porcupines, howler monkeys and two-toed sloths. Given this bird’s colossal size, this comes as no surprise!

In Peru, the Harpy Eagle inhabits Peru’s northern, central and southern rainforests. Unfortunately, their preferred nesting sites, Ironwood trees (Dipterix micrantha), are felled due to their commercial value. As a result, the populations of these magnificent Amazonian birds has decreased in recent years. However, the Harpy Eagle is a cherished flagship species that ecotourism initiatives aim to protect. Without a doubt, the best location to observe this powerful eagle is at Refugio Amazonas. For a sneak peek, check out the lodge’s HarpyCam video below of a nesting pair and their chick!

Fast Facts

White-winged Guan

One of the least common birds of Peru, the White-winged Guan (Penelope albipennis) was presumed extinct for one hundred years until its rediscovery in 1977. Since then, a captive breeding and reintroduction program, combined with environmental education efforts, has aimed to restore this interesting bird’s population. In 2015, researchers Fernando Angulo and Fabiola Riva estimated that this species’ population size was 300 individuals. 

The endemic White-winged Guan (Penelope albipennis) in Chaparrí Ecological Reserve. Photo, with permission, by Kevin Eduardo Sánchez Cotrina on Instagram.

The White-winged Guan is endemic to northern Peru’s Tumbesian dry forests, occupying a range of only 108.74–118.06 miles (175–190 km) in length and 3.10–24.85 miles (5–40 km) in width (Angulo 2008). While exhibiting a mostly deep brown plumage, these birds possess a red dewlap and white primary feathers for which it is named.

Birders can find this rare bird at Chaparrí Ecological Reserve, Laquipampa Wildlife Refuge and Quebrada El Limon. Apart from its ~100 White-winged Guans, Chaparrí Ecological Reserve is also worth visiting to observe the Andean bear (also called spectacled bear). Presently, seven bears rescued from captivity inhabit semi-wild enclosures. Chaparrí is truly a delight for any wildlife enthusiast!

Fast Facts

Long-whiskered Owlet

The Long-whiskered Owlet (Xenoglaux loweryi) is among the most enigmatic birds of northern Peru. Although first discovered in 1976, it was not observed by researchers again until 2002. This pint-sized bird measures 5.1–5.5 inches (13–14 cm) and weighs approximately 1.68 ounces (47.5 g), therefore making it one of the world’s tiniest owls!

The endemic Long-whiskered Owlet (Xenoglaux loweryi). Photo, with permission, by Dustin Chen on Instagram.

Due to its overall mysteriousness, few studies have focused on the endemic Long-whiskered Owlet. With a geographic range restricted to just a small patch of Peru’s northern cloud forests, it is estimated that only 250 to 999 individuals exist. Consequently, the IUCN identifies its conservation status as endangered. Researchers Daniel Lane and Fernando Angulo believe that the Long-whiskered Owlet is primarily insectivorous but may also opportunistically prey upon vertebrates no larger than the size of a small frog.

Despite its relative obscurity and small population size, adventurous travelers have the opportunity to witness the Long-whiskered Owlet while birding in Peru. It has been recorded at twelve locations in Peru’s Amazonas and San Martin regions. For the best chance, stay at the Owlet Lodge, located within the Abra Patricia Private Conservation Area. Operated by the NGO Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN), Abra Patricia and the Owlet Lodge offer visitors cloud forest exploration through four walking trails. During your search for the Long-whiskered Owlet, your guide will play recordings of the owlet’s vocalizations and locate responding individuals with a flashlight. Apart from this nocturnal creature, you may also spot the endemic Ochre-fronted Antpitta (Grallaricula ochraceifrons) and Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey (Lagothrix flavicauda)!

Fast Facts

Inca Tern

The Inca Tern (Larosterna inca) is one of the most cherished and striking coastal birds of Peru. Adults of this species exhibit a predominately graphite-colored plumage, red bill and legs, yellow wattles and curved white mustache. Interestingly, the length of their signature handlebar mustache is a key indicator of individual quality. Velando et al. found that both male and female individuals with long mustaches were more reproductively successful and had heavier and healthier offspring.

Inca Terns (Larosterna inca) in Pucusana, Peru. “Inca Tern pair (Larosterna inca)” by Dominic Sherony. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Compressed from original.

Similar to other Peru birds featured in this article, male Inca Terns engage in a dazzling courtship display. Through high-velocity flights and examples of diving/fishing prowess, males indicate to females that they are worthy mates. This species is monogamous and both males and females incubate eggs and care for their young.

The Inca Tern is endemic to the cold, nutrient-rich Humboldt Current. Like the Humboldt Penguin, you can find these shorebirds of Peru off Lima‘s coast in the Palomino Islands, as well as in Lima’s southern Pucusana district. Moreover, by traveling three hours south of Lima to Paracas, travelers can balance a relaxing getaway with some of Southern Peru’s best birding. There are several bayside luxury hotels located near the Paracas National Reserve. On a tour of the nearby Ballestas Islands, you’ll have the opportunity to spot eighteen species of birds as well as iconic marine mammals like the South American sea lion and bottle-nose dolphin!

Fast Facts

Curl-crested Aracari

Eighteen species of toucan inhabit Peru, ranging from the northernmost corner of the Peruvian Amazon to Peru’s southern border with Bolivia. Of these, the Curl-crested Aracari (Pteroglossus beauharnaisii) is particularly intriguing. These colorful birds with long beaks possess a unique shiny and curly crown that is not found in other toucan species. As a result, the Curl-crested Aracari was initially and incorrectly described as the monotypic genus Beauharnaisius.

A Curl-crested Aracari (Pteroglossus beauharnaisii) in Tambopata National Reserve. Photo by Thomas Marent for Rainforest Expeditions.

Generally social creatures, Curl-crested Aracaris commonly fly in flocks of up to twelve individuals. You can distinguish males from females by their larger beak size. During the breeding season, males prepare nests in hollow tree cavities. The mating pair both incubate the eggs and feed their young. While Curl-crested Aracaris are primarily frugivorous, they are also known to eat other bird eggs and hatchlings.

Despite their vibrant plumage, this big, colorful bird is relatively rare. In Peru, the best location to find them is within the Tambopata National Reserve. Scale Posada Amazonas’ canopy tower or cruise down the Tambopata River searching for this Amazon bird and eight other toucan species!

Fast Facts

The variation observed among the birds of Peru distinctly represents the overall diversity of the class Aves. Regardless of where you travel within the country, and for how long, you are likely to observe several must-see birds of Peru. Contact us to begin planning your next birding adventure!

About the author

Liz found herself in Peru by following her passion for wildlife conservation. In remote parts of the Peruvian montane forests, she also discovered a love for arracacha (her favorite Andean tuber) and spicy rocoto sauce.

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