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Maybe 2000 bird species – what are you waiting for?
It probably isn’t biodiversity and birding tourism that most people associate with Colombia. But Colombia is a mega-diverse country – with a bird checklist of 1934 species (source: ProAves) the greatest of any country in the world. It is a number that makes the Danish bird checklist of 475 species, pale by comparison (source: Club 300; February 2019).
With Colombia’s long bird checklist, which also includes many endemic and near-endemic species, it is no wonder that the country is very attractive to birdwatchers (or birders).
The number of bird species may be even higher. There could be species hiding in remote and inaccessible areas, where there has little or no ornithological activity, or in places that were previously “off-limits”-areas. So it is not unlikely that the real number is much closer to 2000 bird species!
In other words – Colombia is a bird’s paradise and it must be the dream of any birder to visit. We have no doubt: In Colombia there are many birding experiences – so what are you waiting for?
The interest for birds in Colombia is not new
It is still not common to be a birdwatcher in Colombia, but they do exist. However, the interest in birds and birding is nothing new. For example, organizations like Asociacíon Calidris, the Colombian BirdLife International partner, and ProAves have over the past 30 years been working to protect the birds and their habitats in Colombia.
The new thing is that the interest in birds appears to be growing. This is the impression you get if you look at the activity in different Facebook groups and on Instagram. At the same time, Asociacíon Calidris, among others, are attempting to create interest around the birds by organizing workshops and bird watching for children and adolescents, but also for adults where they learn about birds and bird watching. The hope is that the interest will increase the understanding and knowledge of birds, nature and the importance of nature conservation.
Great potential and a triple-win situation
But many years of violent conflicts in the country have naturally deterred many foreign bird watchers from traveling to Colombia. But with the peace agreement in 2016, conditions have changed and bird watchers have begun to come to the country to experience the many exciting birds.
There is great potential in birding tourism – especially in a country with so many different birds. Birdwatchers like to travel for bird experiences. And when traveling, you need both accommodation and places to eat. If these places are found in the middle of birding areas with special or many bird species, most people would be willing to pay more for it. If the sites are also run by local communities trying to protect nature, it is even better..
Many visiting birdwatchers will also often need a bird guide to help find and determine the birds. There will also often be a need for transport to reach the sites. All in all, this means that birding tourism can help create jobs in poorer areas where opportunities are otherwise few. At the same time, it will have a positive significance for nature conservation, as more people can see an advantage in taking care of the birds and nature.
As Dr. R. Scott Winton writes in the article The Value of Birds in Colombia’s Post-Conflict World, the potential development of birding tourism in Colombia can provide a triple-win situation: Foreign birdwatchers will have the opportunity to experience Colombia’s unmatched mega-diversity, creating new opportunities for tourism-related incomes, and opportunities for nature protection will increase dramatically.
And the Colombians are glad to see tourists coming to the country. We have been told this several times, not just by the birders we have met, but also by “normal” (yes, we birders are not quite normal) Colombians we have met along the way.
The Northern Colombian Birding Trail
The Northern Colombian Birding Trail is an example of developments in Colombia. A number of nature conservation associations – Audubon, Patrimonio Natural and Asociacíon Calidris – have together and with the support of USAID developed The Northern Colombian Birding Trail. It is a network of trained professional bird guides, guide agencies, national parks, and private reserves. In addition, it includes other small important support companies like transportation, food, and accommodation.
So far, this collaboration has resulted in 30 local Colombians being trained as bird guides, including a group of the Wayúu people, the ethnic population living in the Guajira region.
Package Travel for birdwatchers
Most birdwatchers visiting Colombia are participants in package tours organized by companies specialized in birdwatching around the world. The advantage of this kind of travel is that everything is arranged, there is a bird guide who knows the birds and the sites and who speaks English and Spanish. It is an easy, convenient and safe way to experience exciting birds around the world.
But this kind of birdwatching is rarely cheap – in fact, it is often quite expensive. I have often been looking at exciting birding trips to exotic places and be ready to book – until I checked the price. Then it had to remain a dream.
Once in a while, we meet these groups on our travels, usually at a lodge after a day of birdwatching. It is usually very nice with bird talk and the sharing of experiences. But what we notice is that the participants are all 60+. Not that there is anything wrong with that – but it shows that it is a form of travel that not everyone can afford or have time for. But do you have to wait?
Go birdwatching with local bird guides
If you cannot afford a “package trip” or you prefer different travel arrangements, there are other options. It may require a bit more planning and more research needs to be done. If your Spanish is not completely up to date, you should be prepared for language challenges.
But if you come with an open mind and are ready to be flexible in your planning, then you can get at least as good birding experiences. And then there is the joy of making it all come together with local birders. At the same time, you get an opportunity to experience the country’s culture up close and practice your Spanish language skills. It will definitely give you an unforgettable experience.
But more about our own bird experiences in Colombia in a later post.
A Melodic Journey through Northern Colombia
Are you still not sure whether to go birdwatching in Colombia? Then watch The Birders (link to trailer below). An incredible documentary, not only of amazing locations and colorful birds. But the story is told in a completely different way, unlike other birding documentaries.
All photos © Bente Steffensen & Uffe Damm Andersen, unless otherwise stated.
- La Lista de Aves de Colombia aumentó a 1.934 especies!
- DK artslisten (via Club 300)
- The Value of Birds in Colombia’s Post-Conflict World(National Geographic)
- Birding and Ecotourism in Colombia (Audubon)