Birds In The Spotlight
While different birding enthusiasts visit with varied expectations, Guyana is particularly good to view the top ten Guiana Shield Endemics below.
Other birds of interest include:
- Blood-coloured Woodpecker
One of the most remarkable and distinctive varieties of the veniliornis group of birds, the Blood-coloured Woodpecker is also one that is least seen amongst the woodpecker species. To spot them, one has to traverse the coastal lowlands along the Atlantic Ocean. These are specifically found in South American coastal plains, where a variety of wooded habitats, including mangroves and plantations make the safest homes for them. The Blood-coloured Woodpeckers confine themselves to flying low over the ground and are not too vocal. They remain single or travel in pairs, keeping nesting duties equal for both genders. With their deep red upper bodies and contrasting dark and pale-barred underparts (especially males), the birds add a fantastic touch of colour to green shaded forests.
- Bearded Tachur
The near threatened species, has a reasonable distribution across eastern South America, including Guyana. Most of it can be found in the savannahs of the Guianan Shield. The decline in population is the result of conversion of native grasslands to agriculture. The males have a black head, with a white stripe in front of the eye, rufous underparts, and largely brown upperparts. Females don’t adorn the black feathering on the head, but do have a pale supercilium.
- Crested Doradito
The Crested Doradito is counted amongst the brightest of flycatchers with a dotted distribution across a large part of South America. This olive and yellow bird dons a black eye mask, dusky wings with two grayish wingbars, and a short crest. It is distributed in dense marsh and marsh edge habitat filled with water. Birdwatchers are often able to spot these through their high, squeaky, four-part series call.
- Olive-sided Flycatcher
If you hear the faint pip-pip of this big-headed flycatcher from atop the highest dead branch of a tree, consider yourself lucky. The Olive-sided Flycatcher is a long-distance migrant that breeds mostly in northern coniferous forest and winters in the tropics. Over the years, the bird has become very rare to spot. Lucky birders have caught a glimpse of it in the tropical forests of Guyana, making it a go-to destination for serious avian enthusiasts that want to see the Olive-sided Flycatcher. From their high exposed perch in forest openings, natural meadows, wetlands, canyons and rivers, the birds look out for flying insects for nutrition.
The Blue-cheeked Parrot is endemic to the Guianas, which includes Guyana, south-eastern Venezuela, and northern Brazil. With a low population density, it is rarely spotted. Seasonal migrations to and from coastal sand ridge forests in Suriname provide serious birders specific timelines to visit. At other times of the year, the species stays within the interiors of forests, sometimes even in the higher regions or woodlands in the savannah. The Blue-cheeked Parrot is threatened due to loss of habitat and the caged bird trade
Also known as the Lesser Razor-billed Curassow, this species is found across much of the Guianan Shield. It can be found through the core of Guyana, reaching its southernmost limit near the city of Manaus in Brazil. The dense lowland forests are safe haunts for this species which can usually be found in close proximity to watercourses, forests in savannah, river islands, or seasonally flooded areas. The curassow’s voice is what gives it away even in the thick rainforests. It is a shy bird that is largely terrestrial, ensuring that it gets a constant supply of fruits. This bird safely retreats to a canopy when done with feeding. The sharp voice is loudest during the breeding period – the early wet season of Guyana. The Crestless Curassow is mostly black or dark blue and has a chestnut belly. Its red bill stands out in contrast.
With the male’s brilliant orange colourings, the Guianan Cock-of-the-rock is a striking bird and often on top of the list for many birders. It is a proud attention-grabbing bird that is hard to miss. About 12 inches in size, the bird weighs around 250 grams, with fruits featuring as the major part of diet. Rocky cliffs are often chosen as nesting sites where you can often find the Guianan Cock-of-the-rock nesting in groups. Fortunately, Guyana has a healthy population of the species, especially in areas like Kaieteur National Park and other dense rainforests in the heart of the country. There are several known cock-of-the-rock nesting sites or leks, giving birders a decent chance of seeing males competing for female attention during the lekking season. The mating process is rather interesting. The females and males live separately and meet only to mate. The females fly over to observe and choose a mate. On selection, the females tap the males’ rump to seek attention. Watching the birds interact is a rare experience indeed.
The Harpy Eagle is one of the largest and most powerful raptors found in the rainforests of Guyana. It usually inhabits tropical lowland rainforests in the upper canopy of trees. They can be distinguished from others by their slate black feathers and a white underbelly. The double crest is another majestic feature of the Harpy Eagle. Since the plumage of the males and females are the same, it is difficult to identify the bird by gender. This bird can weigh up to 9 kilograms. With a wingspan of 6 feet, the harpy eagle is able to easily manoeuvre in forested habitats to get to prey like sloths, monkeys, and other mammals. As South America’s largest eagle, it is also known as the ‘flying wolf’. The Harpy Eagle can be found in the central forests of Guyana. Even though they are getting harder to spot, naturalists keep themselves abreast of nesting sites to show birders. Known nests exist at Surama, Rewa, Warapoka and the Kanuku Mountains.
The vast Amazon basin is home to the Hoary-throated Spinetail species, which finds home in gallery forests surrounded by savannahs. Its small, fragmented and declining range has found it in the list of endangered species, even though ample can be seen in a limited range of habitat. The species is severely threatened by rapid conversion of the gallery forests into rice plantations.
The Guianan Warbling-Antbird occupies the north-eastern part of the Guianas, including parts of Venezuela, a large portion of Guyana, and northeast Amazonian Brazil. In the west, this species is replaced by Imeri Warbling-antbird and to the south, on the opposite bank of the Amazon, by the Spix’s Warbling-Antbird. The three kinds of warbling antbirds differ in their loud sounds and colouring. Insectivorous, the bird tends to flourish in the humid, insect-rich rainforests of the region.
The Hoatzin or the Canje Pheasant (as it is commonly called in Guyana) is Guyana’s National Bird and a rare looking species that is believed to offer a direct link to archaeopteryx, the first known bird in the world. The Hoatzin, whose average adult length is 22 inches, has a stocky, pear shaped body, reddish-brown feathers streaked white around the shoulders, and a pale brown underside. Long tail feathers and an elongated neck flank the plump body. These are normal attributes, but aren’t the characteristics that draw birders from around the world. The Hoatzin’s blood red eyes peer forth from a ring of bright-blue skin set on a tiny head that seems more diminutive, thanks to an unruly crest of long feathers. The chicks are born with two prehistoric claws protruding from their wings; the same claws are seen in archaeopteryx fossils. The bird call comprises of hoarse cries, hisses, and grunts. Birders often travel to Mahaica and Abary regions, and other low coastal plains to see this unique bird.
The now endangered Red Siskin was once found in abundance in parts of the Caribbean and tropical South American regions. In 2003, some hope was restored when large numbers were discovered in southern Guyana, amongst the Rupununi grasslands. But still, the total number of Red Siskins on earth is not likely to be more than 6000. Open country with pale grasslands, circled by forests and shrubs is the perfect habitat for these birds. Insects are abundant in the grasslands and provide a safe hideout amongst the nearby trees. The male Red Siskins can be identified by their deep red bodies, and contrasting black head, throat, feathers and tail tip. The females have grey heads, breast, and upper parts, apart from a red rump and upper tail. Reddish flanks on their grey breast makes them distinguishable from the males. Ever since the Red Siskin’s population dropped, Guyana has been the research hotspot for many experts from around the world who are focused on saving it from extinction.
Rio Branco Antbird
The severely threatened Rio Branco Antbird (Cercomacra) is endemic to the subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical moist shrublands of Roraima in Brazil and parts of southwest Guyana along the Ireng River. These birds prefer the dense forests with vines and river islands, and are usually observed in pairs. Its plumage (black in males) suggests that it forms a species group with other antbirds found in the same habitat.
Also known as the Sun Conure, the Sun Parakeet is a brightly coloured bird, native to South America. The golden-yellow plumage and orange-flushed face and belly make it one of the most striking birds to view in Guyana. As social birds, they live in flocks, but mate monogamously throughout their lifetime. They choose high canopies of tropical forests where fruit, nuts, seeds and insects are in abundance. Trapping these birds for plumage and the pet trade in the last few decades has made their population plummet. The birds are now considered endangered, therefore it is a fortunate moment if you spot one. But this has also given rise to conservation groups with a special focus on the sun parakeet. As a result, they can be found in the dense rainforest areas of Guyana and are often sighted in the village of Karasabai.