The Birds of the Andes

The Jame's flamingo can be found living in the Andes.
The Jame's flamingo can be found living in the Andes.

The Andean mountains of South America are home to a great diversity of species of flora and fauna. The mountains provide a wide range of habitats varying with altitude from sea level. A greater diversity of birds is observed in the lower altitudes of the mountain range. The cloud forests of the region are especially rich in species diversity. A high level of endemism is also observed in species found in the region since the geographic isolation of many places in the vast mountain range has allowed the evolution of unique species over the evolutionary time scale. The Andean mountains are home to about 600 mammalians, 1,700 avians, 600 reptilians, and 400 fish species. About one-third of the birds found here are endemic to the region. Here, we describe some of the most iconic birds of the Andes and important features associated with these feathered mountain residents:

10. Andean Condor

The Vultur gryphus is an iconic species of the Andes. It is a New World vulture species that plays an important role in the local folklore and mythology. The bird is also the national symbol of a number of Andean states. The Andean condor has a black plumage with white on the wings and the base of the neck. It is the world’s largest flying bird. The wingspan of the avian is 3.3 meters long. The birds feed on carrion and nest at high rocky ledges on the mountain at altitudes as high as 5,000 meters. The Andean condor lives as long as 70 years being one of the world’s longest living birds. The bird is currently recognized as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN.

9. Andean Goose

The Neochen melanoptera is a resident bird of the Andes that lives in lakes and marshes at elevations of above 3000 meters. The birds mostly dwell on land and usually resort to swimming during times of emergency. The Andean goose has a white plumage with black on the tail and wings and a short pink bill. The birds exhibit territorialism during the breeding season. They nest on the ground.

8. Torrent Duck

The torrent duck is a resident breeder of the Andes region. The bird prefers to live near the water and nests in sheltered areas like waterside caves. It is an excellent swimmer and diver but flies for only short distances. The males are larger than the females and have striking white and black head while the females have a grayish head. The males also have red bills while the bill color in females is yellow. The introduction of invasive fish species, the damming of rivers, and loss of forest cover threaten the existence of these birds.

7. Giant Coot

The Fulica gigantea is a bird living in the lakes of the altiplano of South America. The adult giant coots are functionally flightless. They build huge nests near highland lakes and live as a monogamous pair and exhibit fierce territorial defense. The birds are 48 to 64 cm long and have reddish legs.

6. Diademed Sandpiper-plover

The Phegornis mitchellii is a species of plover that inhabits the Puna grassland ecozone in the South American Andes. Here, it lives in the bogs, swamps, grasslands, and mossy tundra habitats. The bird is small in size and has a black head, white neck and chest barred in black and a gray ventral surface. A white stripe runs from the top of the eye to the crown. The plover lives at altitudes of about 2,000 meters in winter but migrates to higher grounds (3,5000 to 5,000 meters) for breeding.

5. Darwin’s Rhea

The Rhea pennata or the lesser rhea is a large flightless bird found in the Andean plateau (Altiplano) and the grasslands of Patagonia. The bird has a long neck and legs while the head and bill are relatively small. They are primarily herbivores but occasionally feed on insects. The height of the birds ranges between 90 and 100 cm. They can run at high speeds and possess sharp claws that help in defense.

4. Andean Flicker

The Colaptes rupicola is a woodpecker species living in the Andes mountains at altitudes between 2,000 and 5,000 meters. The birds are large in size with a length of about 32 cm and possess a long tail and rounded wings. They have a long and powerful beak. The birds prefer to feed in large family groups and communicate with each other via different vocalizations. The woodpecker prefers to live in large colonies unlike most other birds of its kind. They are common in the Puna ecoregion of the Andes where they inhabit mountainous terrains with rocky outcrops, Alpine tundra, grasslands, and scrublands.

3. Royal Cinclodes

A critically endangered species, the Cinclodes aricomae lives in the polylepis woodlands and montane scrub ecoregions of the Andes in Peru and Bolivia. Only about 250 individuals of this species survive today. The birds are about 20 cm long and chocolate-brown in color. Streaks of white on the breast and white mottling on the face and crown also exists. The loss of habitat is the biggest threat to the survival of the royal cinclodes.

2. Andean cock-of-the-rock

The Rupicola peruvianus is a native bird of the Andean cloud forests. Sexual dimorphism is distinctly visible in this species. The males adorn a brilliant orange or scarlet plumage with a disc like crest while the females are darker and browner. During the breeding season, the males compete to win over the female by displaying their plumage and performing dance-like movements. The nests are built in protected places below rocky overhangs and the female alone raises the chicks. These birds feed on fruits, insects, reptiles, and amphibians.

1. Other Birds Of The Andes

A sierra finch in Peru.

The Andes is also home to several others groups of birds. The open habitats of the region serve as the home of sierra-finches, diuca-finches, mountain toucans, birds of tinamous species, and miners. Two species of flamingos, the James’ flamingo, and the Andean flamingo also reside in the mountains. The two species of flamingos have a sympatric distribution. Hillstar and hummingbird species are noted at altitudes above 4,000 meters. Cryptic species featuring antipittas, tapaculos, and wrens are also known to live in the Andes. Commonly sighted birds include tanagers and furnariids which are often observed as mixed species flocks. The Polylepis wood habitats of the Andes serve as the home of some rare and threatened birds like the royal cinclodes (as mentioned previously) and the white-browed tit-spinetail.


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