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Amazon: Bird is the word

The Amazon embraces seven countries that positively teem with birdlife, with Colombia’s total of over 1,800 species topping that of the USA and Australia combined. This feathered cornucopia ranges from jewel-like hummingbirds and tanagers to spectacular toucans and macaws. With many of them high up in the canopy, your ears will be as important as your eyes

Amazon: Bird is the word
Hoatzin, Rio Napo, Amazon Basin, Ecuador. Image: Getty

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Six to spot

01 Harpy eagle
The world’s most powerful eagle is the top predator of the rainforest canopy, using talons larger than a tiger’s claws to pluck sloths and monkeys from the branches. Rare and elusive, you may spot one during its soaring display flight or, if lucky, at a known nest-site near your lodge.

02 Cock-of-the-rock
Males flaunt their florescent orange plumage at on-looking females during theatrical ‘lek’ courtship displays. Belonging to the cotinga family, two similar species can be found in the Amazon: the Andean cock-of-the-rock frequents cloud forest in the west, while the Guinean cock-of-the-rock inhabits rocky outcrops to the north and east.

03 Scarlet macaw
A spectacular, long-tailed member of the parrot family with dazzling red, blue and yellow plumage, it inhabits lowland rainforest across the Amazon, often betrayed by raucous calls as pairs or small parties overfly the canopy. The bird tends to gather with other macaw species to collect mineral salts from riverbank ‘clay licks’, notably at Manu and Tambopata reserves in Peru.

04 Hoatzin
A bizarre, prehistoric-looking bird of swamp forest and backwaters across the Amazon. The only member of its family, it’s known locally as ‘stinkbird’ for the manure-like odour produced by fermenting vegetation in its throat. Chicks hatch with claws on their wings, which they use to scramble away from predators and before they fledge.

05 Screaming piha
This drab brown bird may not be much to look at but its piercing, three-part whistled song is the signature sound of the Amazon used in every jungle movie soundtrack. Another member of the cotinga family, it’s abundant in lowland rainforest.

06 Sunbittern
A skulking, bittern-like waterbird unrelated to any other South American species. Its highly cryptic plumage makes it hard to spot as it creeps beside the water’s edge. Whenever it’s disturbed, it alarms its predators by raising its wings to reveal bold eye-like markings.

How to do it: With more than 1,500 bird species — the fifth largest population in the world — Ecuador is the perfect place to discover the Amazon’s rich birdlife. NatureTrek’s 11-day Amazonian Ecuador tour explores prime bird-watching habitats along the Napo River basin with expert guides. From £2,595 per person, including flights, meals and accommodation.

Read more in the December 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)