Category Archives: Ecuador

Flying North

View from an airplane window (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

6 February 2023, on the plane heading home

Today I’m on a “red eye” flight from Quito to the U.S. If all goes well I’ll be home tonight after 15 hours of pre-flight waiting, flying, layovers, and ground transportation.

It will take a lot longer for the Blackburnian warblers we saw in Ecuador to reach their breeding grounds in North America.

Blackburnian warbler (photo by Steve Gosser)
Blackburnian warbler (photo by Steve Gosser taken in Pennsylvania)

I wonder when they’ll start flying north.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and by Steve Gosser)

Last Day in Ecuador, Birding Our Way Home

Chestnut-crowned antpitta (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

5 February 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 8, last full day, birding on our way to Puembo

Today we leave Séptimo Paraíso Lodge, birding on our way to Puembo and the airport. Tonight I leave Ecuador on a red-eye flight for home.

Refugio Paz de las Aves was one of the highlights of our trip. Their video below is a good summary of the wonders saw in Mindo and the Northwest Andes.

Army Ants Build A Bridge

Army ants (Labidus spininodis) in Mindo, Ecuador (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

4 February 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 7, birding in Mindo and the NW Andes

Antbirds — antshrikes, antwrens, antvireos, etc. — keep track of army ants who flush tasty insects as they march through the forest. Army ants do the work, the antbirds get an easy insect meal.

Seven years ago when the old Greenfield Bridge was missing over the Parkway East I learned that army ants can build bridges and they seem to be quick about it. It took two years to build the new Greenfield Bridge. The ants would have been faster (but unable to carry traffic).

Find out how ants build bridges. Check out the video at:

p.s. The Anderson Bridge that carries the Boulevard of the Allies into Schenley Park closed this week for at least four months because inspection revealed a “weak member” — i.e. unsafe to drive on! We need those army ants again.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

Tanagers Galore in Ecuador!

3 February 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 6, birding in Mindo and the NW Andes

I used to think hummingbirds (Trochilidae) were the most numerous bird family on our WINGS trip in Ecuador until I looked at the tanagers.

Tanagers (Thraupidae) are the second largest family of birds(*) and a Neotropical specialty. Nearly 40% of Thraupidae species live in Ecuador; 20% of the family is on our tour checklist.

Graph based on Thraupidae information, an article on Ecuadoran tanagers and the WINGS checklist

Thraupidae membership is constantly in flux as DNA tests move birds in and out of the family every year. Some species names no longer match their family(**). There’s a tanager called a “cardinal” and members of the Cardinal family Cardinalidae called “tanagers.” To make matters worse some members of the family aren’t called “tanagers” at all, including honeycreepers, conebills, flowerpiercers and saltators.

To bring some order out of the chaos I looked at colorful Thraupidae on our tour checklist whose names include “tanager” and picked 17 of the best for the slideshow. Here they are in order with links to their eBird descriptions and [photo] on Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Beryl-spangled tanager (Tangara nigroviridis) [photo]  
  2. Black-chinned mountain tanager (Anisognathus notabilis)   [photo]
  3. Blue-and-black tanager (Tangara vassorii)   [photo]
  4. Blue-capped tanager (Thraupis cyanocephala) [photo]  
  5. Black-capped tanager (Tangara heinei)  [photo]
  6. Blue-necked tanager (Tangara cyanicollis)   [photo]
  7. Blue-winged mountain tanager (Anisognathus somptuosus)   [photo]
  8. Fawn-breasted tanager (Pipraeidea melanonota)   [photo]
  9. Flame-faced tanager (Tangara parzudakii)  [photo]
  10. Glistening green tanager (Chlorochrysa phoenicotis)   [photo]
  11. Golden tanager (Tangara arthus)  [photo]
  12. Golden-naped tanager (Tangara ruficervix)   [photo]
  13. Grass-green tanager (Chlorornis riefferii)   [photo]
  14. Guira tanager (Hemithraupis guira)   [photo]
  15. Hooded mountain tanager (Buthraupis montana)   [photo]
  16. Scarlet-bellied mountain tanager (Anisognathus igniventris)   [photo]
  17. Swallow tanager (Tersina viridis) [photo]

(*) The largest family of birds on earth are the Tyrant flycatchers Tyrannidae.

(**) The red-crested cardinal at left is a Tanager (Thraupidae) while the scarlet tanager on the right is a Cardinal (Cardinalidae).

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the links above to see the originals)

Cock-of-the-Rock Throws a Party

Male Andean cock-of-the-rock in Colombia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2 February 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 5, birding in Mindo and the NW Andes

Male animals have many different ways of courting females, from individual solicitation to showing off as a group. Their rituals are closely tied to the females’ preferences. For Andean cock-of-the-rock, the females want to see all the guys in one place — in a lek — displaying and competing with each other. Witnessing an Andean cock-of-the-cock lek is one of the highlights of our trip.

As a member of the Cotinga family, the Andean cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruviana) is very sexually dimorphic. The males are stunning red, black and white with a large red crest from crown to beak.

Male Andean cock-of-the-rock in Colombia + a lek in Peru (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

The males throw a loud and boisterous party at the lek, hoping that the much less colorful females will show up. While we humans focus our attention on the beauty and behavior of the males, a lot is happening behind the scenes.

See and hear the males at the lek in these two videos.

video from William Shaughnessy on YouTube
video from American Bird Conservancy on YouTube

p.s. Today is Groundhog Day back home in Pennsylvania where the northern hemisphere has reached the celestial midpoint between winter and spring. On the equator, days and nights are the same length all year long. The winter and summer solstices have no meaning in Ecuador.

Day and night lengths vary a lot from the Arctic to the Equator, illustrated below by yearlong day/night lengths for three locations: Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) Alaska, Pittsburgh and Mindo, Ecuador. These Day/Night graphs are screenshots from

Screenshots of Day/Night Length for Utqiagvik (Barrow) Alaska, Pittsburgh PA, Mindo Ecuador at

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals. Day/night graphs from; video from William Shaughnessy and American Bird Conservancy on YouTube)

How Big is a Giant Antpitta?

Giant antpitta in Mindo, Ecuador (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1 February 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 4, birding in Mindo and the NW Andes

Antpittas (family Grallariidae) are forest birds of Central and South America that specialize in eating ants. Though they nest in trees, they spend most of their time on the ground where their brown-rust plumage provides excellent camouflage. They are usually heard, not seen.

The typical antpitta is often described as a “ball on sticks” because most of them are small, plump and nearly tailless with long legs.

The giant antpitta (Grallaria gigantea) is far from typical. He’s the length of an American robin but weighs four times as much. He’s same weight as a pileated woodpecker and triple the weight of other antpittas in his area. Wikipedia explains:

G. gigantea is, as its name suggests, a huge antpitta. Length ranges from 24 to 28 centimetres (9.4 to 11.0 in) and weight is up to 300 grams (10.6 oz), which makes it easily the heaviest of all tracheophone suboscine birds. Its nearest rival, the chestnut-throated huet-huet [native to Chile], is not known to exceed 185 grams (6.5 oz).

Wikipedia: Giant antpitta

Usually a giant antpitta is never seen but you know he’s out there when you hear a sound like an eastern screech-owl that rises at the end. (Do you hear the rain in this audio clip?)

We expect to see him at Refugio Paz de las Aves because bird whisperer Angel Paz can call them into view to snack on earthworms.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, audio from Xeno Canto; click on the media links to se the originals)

Iconic Bird in Mindo

Toucan barbet photos from Wikimedia Commons (originals at links left, right)

31 Jan 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 3, birding in Mindo and the NW Andes

Now that we’re based at Séptimo Paraíso Lodge in the Mindo Valley we expect to see this iconic bird several times in the next five days.

Bright and colorful, the toucan barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus) is about the size of a starling though heftier. He uses his short fat beak to eat fruit, squeeze nectar from flowers, and dig nest holes in trees.

Toucan barbet (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Toucan barbets are very social, living year round in a family group of six+ birds that claim 30 – 40 acres of mountain forest. The group consists of the breeding pair plus their offspring from prior years who help raise the young during the February-to-May (or as late as October) breeding season.

Cloud forest near Mindo, Ecuador (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The group starts the day with a duet to tell the neighbors: “Good morning! We are here! This territory belongs to us! We will fight you if you come here!” Other groups will sneak onto their land if they think the owners are far away.

Watch them eat, preen and “sing” in this video.

video from Edison Ocaña on YouTube

p.s. Seen at Reserva Amagusa on 4 Feb 2023.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, video from Edison Ocaña on YouTube, online resources: Birds of the World: Toucan barbet)

Loads of Hummingbirds!

30 Jan 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 2, Yanacocha Reserve on Pichincha Volcano

If you want to see hummingbirds, Ecuador is the place to be. It holds the worlds record for the highest number of species and contains about 40% of the total.

The checklist for our tour has 51 hummingbirds on it, 28 of which have been seen every time WINGS makes the trip. The slideshow displays 20 that we’re certain to see. I tried to memorize them in advance but there are just too many!

As you look at the hummingbirds, here’s something to watch for: Nearly every species has a white dot, called a post-ocular spot, or a white stripe of feathers behind the eye. Why do they have this and what is it for? My Google searches cannot find an answer.

Here are the species in slideshow order with links to their eBird descriptions and [photo on Wikimedia Commons].

  1. Andean emerald (Amazilia franciae) [photo] 
  2. Gorgeated sunangel (Heliangelus strophianus) [photo]
  3. Booted racket-tail  (Ocreatus underwoodii) [photo] 
  4. Brown Inca (Coeligena wilsoni) [photo] 
  5. Buff-tailed coronet (Boissonneaua flavescens) [photo] 
  6. Collared Inca (Coeligena torquata) [photo] 
  7. Empress brilliant (Heliodoxa imperatrix) [photo] 
  8. Fawn-breasted brilliant (Heliodoxa rubinoides) [photo] 
  9. Great sapphirewing (Pterophanes cyanopterus) [photo]  
  10. Purple-bibbed whitetip (Urosticte benjamini) [photo] 
  11. Purple-throated woodstar (Calliphlox mitchellii) [photo] 
  12. Sapphire-vented puffleg (Eriocnemis luciani) [photo] 
  13. Sword-billed hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) [photo] 
  14. Sparkling violetear (Colibri coruscans) [photo]
  15. Speckled hummingbird (Adelomyia melanogenys) [photo]
  16. Tawny-bellied hermit (Phaethornis syrmatophorus) [photo] 
  17. Tyrian metaltail (Metallura tyrianthina) [photo] 
  18. Violet-tailed sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis) [photo] 
  19. Velvet-purple coronet (Boissonneaua jardini) [photo] 
  20. White-whiskered hermit (Phaethornis yaruqui) [photo] 

NOTE: The photos may not match exactly to the Mindo Valley hummingbirds because some species vary by location. For instance, see this illustration of the booted racket-tail.

Hello From Puembo

Scrub tanager, Columbia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

29 Jan 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 1, Puembo Birding Garden

Today I’m spending my first day in Ecuador at the Puembo Birding Garden, a bed and breakfast with cool birds conveniently located near Quito’s airport. Our WINGS tour opens here tonight at dinner.

Puembo Birding Garden is an eBird hotspot so I found out what I’m likely to see long before I arrived. #1 will be a Life Bird that ranges from Columbia to Ecuador, the scrub tanager (Stilpnia vitriolina), easily attracted to fruit trays even in the rain.

Scrub tanager in the rain, Columbia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps I’ll hear a croaking ground dove (Columbina cruziana) that looks like an orange-billed mourning dove and sounds like a frog …

Croaking ground dove, Peru (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

… or the bright red crimson-mantled woodpecker (Colaptes rivolii) …

Crimson-mantled woodpecker (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

… or an amazing hummingbird, the black-tailed trainbearer (Lesbia victoriae).

Black-tailed trainbearer in Quito (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Check out this video for a look at where I am today.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, click on the captions to see the originals)

Gone Birding in Ecuador’s NW Andes

Choco toucan, Ecuador (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

28 Jan 2023, WINGS in Ecuador: Day 0, Fly to Quito before the tour begins

Today I’m on my way to a 9-day WINGS Birding Tour in Ecuador’s Mindo and Northwest Andes. I expect to see at least 200 Life Birds including the choco toucan (Ramphastos brevis), described as the most emblematic bird of the Pichincha Province where we’ll be birding.

This is my first trip to Ecuador so everything will be new. Located on the Pacific Coast of South America, it’s about the size of Oregon with a population density similar to Michigan’s. Amazingly, it is directly south of Pennsylvania and presently in the same time zone because PA is on Standard Time right now.

Map of Ecuador and its neighbors (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Ecuador is famous for its biodiversity and especially its birds. The country’s checklist of 1,656 species is considerably more than the number in the entire U.S. Our tour in the Northwest Andes won’t need to travel far to see them. Staying within Pichincha Province and 100 miles of Quito, our checklist contains 535 species including 51 hummingbirds and 59 tanagers.

WINGS Birding Tours route in Ecuador NW Andes, 29 Jan – 5 Feb 2023 (image from WINGS Birding Tours)

This large number of birds is directly related to the Ecuador’s diverse habitats.  Though we will never see the ocean we’ll travel in cloud forest from 5,000 to 12,000 feet. At the higher elevations we may see the Chuquiraga plant (Chuquiraga jussieui), a hummingbird favorite and the national flower of Ecuador.

Chuquiraga jussieui, the National Flower of Ecuador (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Though we’ll have WiFi at the lodge I know I’ll be too busy to blog so I’ve written all 10 days of articles in advance.  For now, I’m (mostly) off the grid until I my return to Pittsburgh on Monday evening, February 6.


  • The National Bird of Ecuador is the Andean condor. It is extremely unlikely we’ll see it.
  • The number of species in the U.S. varies based on what’s included. Wikipedia’s list of 1,125 includes 155 accidental, 101 casual, 55 introduced and 33 extinct. The real wonder is that the U.S. spans a continent and includes arctic Alaska and tropical Hawaii yet it has fewer species than Ecuador, which is only the size of Oregon.

(photo and maps from Wikimedia Commons and WINGS. Click on the captions to see the originals.)