In BirdBlitz, a 2-Day Search for the Birds of Ecuador

More than 800 species of birds occur in the 11 reserves run by the Jocotoco Foundation of Ecuador—and across two busy days last month, birders managed to see 681 of them, an impressive increase from last year's 620 species.

This remarkable tally of the birds of Ecuador came during the foundation's second annual BirdBlitz. No other birding event in Ecuador covers so many incredibly diverse tropical habitats: wet Chocó rainforests of the northwest, dry Tumbesian forests of the south, and lush foothills of the Amazon.

The birders' results make clear that Ecuador is teeming with amazing birds—and Jocotoco is doing a tremendous job conserving them.

Counting Birds and Raising Funds

Inspired by the popular BioBlitz events that have taken place across the United States, Jocotoco's BirdBlitz was developed as an exciting way to count birds throughout the reserve system while simultaneously raising funds to support the organization's conservation programs.

Andean Condor/AmmitJack, Shutterstock

Andean Condor/AmmitJack, Shutterstock

More than 50 of the species protected by the reserves are globally threatened or near-threatened, and more than 100 are restricted-range or endemic species. These include the Jocotoco Antpitta, El Oro Parakeet, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Black-breasted Puffleg, Pale-headed Brush-Finch, Esmeraldas Woodstar, Andean Condor, Orange-breasted Falcon, and Banded Ground-Cuckoo.

All of the reserves are recognized as Important Bird Areas and biodiversity hot-spots. Two are Alliance for Zero Extinction sites.

Searching for Threatened Birds of Ecuador

Jocotoco's BirdBlitz unfolded much like a Christmas Bird Count or a Big Day competition. Over two 24-hour periods, teams composed of staff, board members, and volunteers covered as much ground as possible. All 11 Jocotoco reserves had teams on the ground, and representatives from Ecuador's Environment Ministry participated at Antisanilla and Tapichalaca reserves.

Every team tallied which species they saw and how many of each, and all of the counts were entered into eBird. By the time the birders called it a day, they had counted 6,475 birds representing 681 species. Some groups of birds were particularly well represented: the birders spotted 74 species of hummingbirds—17 more than last year.

Esmeraldas Woodstar/Roger Ahlman

Esmeraldas Woodstar/Roger Ahlman

One of the most encouraging outcomes of the event was the birders' success in finding the threatened species that Jocotoco works so hard to protect. Birders found 50 El Oro Parakeets —roughly one-fifth of the Buenaventura reserve's population. They saw Pale-headed Brush-Finch at Yunguilla; Esmeraldas Woodstar at Ayampe; Orange-breasted Falcon at Narupa; and Jocotoco Antpitta at Tapichalaca.

Beyond the Birds

At Canandé, three teams divided the reserve for the count. One team, having finished its section, decided to catch up with another team. As the birders approached, they noticed fresh puma tracks on the trail—more recent than the tracks of the team in front of them. Large mammals like the puma signal healthy ecosystems.

The Canandé teams observed a number of rare species, including Tooth-billed Hummingbird, Ochraceous Attila, and Plumbeous Hawk. There were other animals to behold, too, including 12 troops of the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey and tracks of bush dog, a rare small South American wild canid.

The teams also counted 45 individuals of the critically endangered tree, Ecuadendron acosta-solisianum, up from just four known trees previously within the reserve. Canandé may be the last refuge for this unique tree.

Ochraceous Attila/Nick Athanas

Ochraceous Attila/Nick Athanas

Migratory birds that had recently returned to their winter territories were among the many birds teams observed. Narupa, in particular, is a winter home for these birds, among them Cerulean Warbler, a species listed as vulnerable and a primary motivation for the creation of the reserve. Joining Cerulean Warblers were five other migratory songbirds: Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Swainson's Thrush.

Some species seen during last year's event managed to escape detection. Birders missed the Military Macaw, for instance, as well as the Great Green Macaw. As anyone who has gone in search of rare birds knows, sometimes they just don't cooperate!

But 681 species out of more than 800? That's a number to celebrate.

phillips_glennGlenn Phillips is ABC's Bird Collisions and Development Officer. He began his career in the environment as a second-grader, bringing his collection of reptiles and amphibians for his school's kindergarten classes. More recently, Glenn was Executive Director of the New York City Audubon Society, where he expanded the organization's science and conservation efforts. Glenn works out of New York City.