Birding in Las Tangaras Reserve, Mindo, Ecuador

Updated: Apr 15

I recently had the opportunity to hike into an Andean Cock of the Rock lek in the cloud forests of Mindo, Ecuador. Here, on the western slope of the Andes, we find Rupicola peruvianus sanguinolentus, the only area of the world where these birds are colored a brilliant scarlet red. On the eastern side of the Andes and throughout Peru, they are more orange in color. Easily disturbed by human activity, it is difficult to get a look at the crested males who dance in the treetops, performing vigorous confrontation displays for onlooking females. We had to get high above them, get into a hide, and look down into the canopy to see them.



The expression "the early bird gets the worm" is appropriate here, as the dancing starts at day's first light. This required me to be on the muddy trail hiking in with a headlamp at 4:15am. Thanks to Marcos, the owner of the hostel I was staying at in Mindo, I had a ride up to the reserve where we parked at the trailhead. Marcos, a native to Mindo, had always dreamed of seeing the Cock of the Rock but still had never gone.


I will never forget the frog-like croaking and vibrant colors of an estimated 18 males using the lek that morning. We can thank the Cock of the Rock for being one of the most important seed dispersal agents of the Andean cloud forests, generating new growth year after year.


A male Andean Cock of the Rock (Rupicola peruvianus sanguinolentus) displays for females at a lek at Las Tangaras Reserve in Mindo, Ecuador. The band on its right leg was placed there by reserve volunteers


After the activity at the lek subsided, we worked our way down the hillside and started a great day of birding. Within minutes of each other, we were treated to several glimpses of a Choco Toucan (Ramphastos brevis) and a pair of Guayaquil Woodpeckers (Campephilus guayaquilensis).


The Choco Toucan (Ramphastos brevis) is found in the Choco Biodiversity Hotspot in lowland and foothill forests of western Colombia and Ecuador. It was previously considered a sub-species of the Yellow-throated Toucan () but has now been separated. It has black on the mandible instead of chestnut, which can be difficult to distinguish in poor light. The best way to tell the difference is by voice: it makes more of a rasping or croaking instead of a yelping


This pair of Guayaquil Woodpeckers (Campephilus guayaquilensis) put on a wonderful show in the canopy above us. The male (left) has a white spot on the cheek, while the female (right) has a white line across the face. This species can be easily differentiated from the Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus) because it does not have a black stripe through the eye and the white stripes come together on the back. Its range is distinct from similar-looking Crimson Crested Woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos)and Red-necked Woodpecker (Campephilus rubricollis)



My bird list includes 14 different hummingbirds, most of which were spotted at the feeders near the cabin's porch. One of the species we saw away from the feeders was a Gorgeted Sunangel (Heliangelus strophianus). Unfortunately, I couldn't get a good photo or appreciate its beauty because of the very dim lighting. Another species I saw away from the feeder I was able to photograph. This Green-fronted Lancebill (Doryfera leudovicae) landed in front of me on a branch overhanging a river.


The Green-fronted Lancebill (Doryfera leudovicae) is a large forest hummingbird with a very straight bill and bronzy nape. It most commonly associates with montane streams.


The Purple-bibbed Whitetip (Urostichte benjamini) is one of the more common hummers near the feeders at Las Tangaras. Notice the short white line behind the eye. The male has a prominent purple throat patch and white tips to the inner tail feathers that form a round spot in the middle of the tail. The female is spangled green with white tips on the outer tail feathers


The Andean Emerald (Amazilia franciae), seen on the left, is unique in its range due to its clean white breast. The crown is blue on the male and green on the female. The Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl), to the right, has a green body, rufous tail, and almost straight red bill with a black tip


Another species that always dazzles the senses is the Red-headed Barbet (Eubucco bourcierii). I photographed this male and we made our way down the trail.


The male and female Red-headed Barbet (Eubucco bourcierii) are a good example of sexual dimorphism. When seeing the female, I've often thought I was looking at an entirely different species. The female has a blue cheek, yellow crown and nape, and a black mask


The cloud forests of Mindo, Ecuador get most of their precipitation from the low-lying clouds. The area ranges from 960 to 3,440 meters above sea level and occurs in an area where the Choco lowlands meet the Tropical Andes


A Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus) is a barely noticeable extension of this branch. This species is in the Nightjar family and is a close relative of the owl. It is nocturnal and hunts a little like a flycatcher, sallying out to catch flying insects and returning to the same spot. It has a haunting song, heard especially on moonlit nights that gradually descends in pitch




After descending from the Cock-of-the-rock lek, Marcos and I joined reserve managers Henry and Bridget in their morning mist-netting effort to band the reserve's birds. This allows them to learn more about bird migration patterns, movement, and site fidelity. We hauled three volleyball-like nets down from the cabin and set them up in different locations throughout the property.


Marcos and I joined Henry and Bridget to set up a mist net to capture birds on the wing in Las Tangaras reserve



Henry measures the bill size on a juvenile Slaty Spinetail (Synallaxis brachyura)


The Slaty Spinetail (Synallaxis brachyura) often stays hidden in dense low-lying vegetation and brambles


Henry and Marcos carefully unravel one of the mist nets


The yellow-bellied Seedeater (Sporophila nigricollis) male is fairly distinctive, with a yellow to pale belly and dark face and breast. The female is brown and very difficult to identify, unless seen with her male counterpart


The Thick-billed Euphonia (Euphonia laniirostris) is a small finch-like bird that can be seen in mixed foraging flocks with other tanagers and warblers


Henry extracts a Yellow-throated Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus flavigularis) from the mist net


You don't have to ask Marcos to learn that the opportunity to view a wild Andean Cock of the Rock lek is the experience of a lifetime. Coupling this adventure with a morning of birding and banding provided an intimate look into the wild world of Andean cloud forest birds that I will never forget.


Las Tangaras Reserve keeps a lovely blog on their research efforts. It can be found here: https://lastangaras.wordpress.com/2020/04/28/a-scientific-tidbit/



Bird List

  1. White-necked Jacobin

  2. Brown Inca

  3. Booted Racket-tail

  4. White-whiskered Hermit

  5. Gorgeted Sunangel

  6. Purple-bibbed Whitetip

  7. Fawn-breasted Brilliant

  8. Green-crowned Brilliant

  9. Green-fronted Lancebill

  10. Empress Brilliant

  11. Purple-throated Woodstar

  12. Crowned Woodnymph

  13. Andean Emerald

  14. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

  15. Turkey Vulture

  16. Black Vulture

  17. Common Potoo

  18. Red-headed Barbet

  19. Choco Toucan

  20. Guayaquil Woodpecker

  21. Lineated Woodpecker

  22. Russett Antshrike

  23. Plain-Brown Woodcreeper

  24. Buff-front Foliage-gleaner

  25. Red-faced Spinetail

  26. Slaty Spinetail

  27. Club-winged Manakin

  28. Andean Cock-of-the-rock

  29. Dusky-capped Flycatcher

  30. Black Phoebe

  31. Tropical Kingbird

  32. Yellow-throated Chlorospingus

  33. Slate-throated Redstart

  34. Summer Tanager

  35. Flame-rumped Tanager

  36. Blue-gray Tanager

  37. Palm Tanager

  38. Rufous-throated Tanager

  39. Beryl-spangled Tanager

  40. Golden Tanager

  41. Orange-bellied Euphonia

  42. Yellow-bellied Seedeater

  43. Bananaquit

  44. Buff-throated Saltator

  45. Black-winged Saltator


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