Views from Tandayapa, a bird-watching lodge in the Ecuadorian Andes (c) Tandayapa. FWT Magazine.

Photo: Views from Tandayapa, a bird-watching lodge in the Ecuadorian Andes (c) Tandayapa. FWT Magazine.

Ecuador is a bird watcher’s paradise, especially for hummingbird lovers. With more than 1,500 total bird species, the country is one of the bird capitals of the world and a great place to see many of the birds of South America.

Only four countries can beat that number (Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Indonesia), but Ecuador is unique. It has three distinct areas – the Amazon, the Andes Mountains and the Galapagos Islands – that make for exceptional avian diversity.

An Andean Emerald hummingbird - one of the birds of Ecuador (c) Melanie Votaw. FWT Magazine.

Photo: An Andean Emerald hummingbird extends its tongue to drink nectar from a feeder (c) Melanie Votaw. FWT Magazine.

Bird watching in the Andes

Most travelers – even birders – are more likely to head to the Amazon or the Galapagos than the Andes, but the mountains are my favorite part of Ecuador for bird watching.

The rainforests of the Amazon have nothing on the cloud forests of the Andes. The plants are other-worldly with leaves so large that you could easily believe you’re in King Kong’s jungle (just, thank goodness, without the giant mammals and dinosaurs).

Less than two hours’ drive from Quito, you can sit in a thatch-roofed restaurant called Los Colibris in the town of Mindo and sip your tea while you watch hummingbirds at the sugar feeders. Some of them are surprisingly large with long, deeply colored iridescent tails. Others are so tiny that you could easily mistake them for large bees.

If you decide to be a bit more intrepid, drive up to the Yanacocha Reserve at about 11,000 feet where feeders have been placed to attract some of the world’s rarest hummers. These include the sword-billed hummingbird with a bill so long that it has to perch with its head up in order to avoid tipping over.

The males of most species are more beautiful than the females, but in this case, the female takes the prize (at least in my opinion) with large, sparkling, emerald green speckles on her white breast.

Bird watching lodges in the Ecuadorian Andes

There are several all-inclusive bird watching lodges in the Ecuadorian Andes. One such lodge is Tandayapa. To call the drive to the lodge bumpy is an understatement, but when you arrive at the top, you’ll see a veranda filled with more hummingbirds than you’ve probably ever seen in one place.

Photo: A booted racquet-tail hummingbird in Ecuador - one of the birds of Ecuador (c) Melanie Votaw. FWT Magazine

Photo: A booted racquet-tail hummingbird – one of the birds of Ecuador (c) Melanie Votaw. FWT Magazine

The booted racquet-tail is one of the tiniest in stature, but the biggest in personality. When protecting his territory, the male leans back and squeaks loudly, puffing out his fluffy white feather boots, acting for all the world like he’s a huge menacing presence. In reality, his body is no longer than your thumb. His long tail is two thin feathers with a round piece at the bottom of each.

Guides at your lodge will take you to different prime locations in the region to see more than just hummingbirds. This is an especially rich area for tanagers, a bird family that numbers about 240 species. Some of the brightly colored tanagers in the Andes are spectacular and you’ll see equally stunning butterflies.

See birds in Quito’s suburbs

If you’d rather not venture into intrepid territory, you can see quite a few birds in Quito’s suburbs, including hummers. Take your binoculars into a local park or hire a birding guide to make sure you don’t miss the best sightings.

I highly recommend that you make your way to higher elevations, though. It’s truly some of the most beautiful terrain on the planet and many of the plants and birds you will see there can’t be spotted anywhere else on earth.

Female sword-billed hummingbird. Ecuadoran Andes (c) Melanie Votaw. FWT Magazine.

Photo: Birds of Ecuador – this female sword-billed hummingbird lives only at an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet in the Ecuadorian Andes (c) Melanie Votaw. FWT Magazine.