Plovers, Penguins and High Altitude Peaks – The Birdlife of Chile

Desiree Michels

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For wildlife enthusiasts with a particular passion for bird watching, there are some exciting opportunities on offer through professionally-organised small group bird holidays. Led by a qualified naturalist guide, the best bird holidays not only facilitate sightings of a diverse range of avian species; participants will also encounter other wildlife species and be able to immerse in the local culture of the country they are visiting.

While every destination has its own appeal for bird holidays, Chile is unique: it has several very different kinds of habitat supporting an array of migratory and endemic avian species.

On the Land: The Magnificent Andes

The rugged mountainous terrain of the Andes, which straddles the border with Argentina, provides the ideal habitat for several of South America's most sought after species, including the Giant Hummingbird and the Andean Condor. Close to Santiago, the spectacular high-altitude landscape of Cordillera de los Andes also provides the opportunity to encounter a range of species like the Seedsnipe and the Diademed Sandpiper Plover.

In the areas closest to the coastline, seabirds including Boobies, Inca Tern and the Band-Tail Gull can be seen, while around the volcanic Lauca National Park, the Peruvian Thick-Knee and the Torrent Duck make their homes.

Still within the boundaries of the National Park is the stunning Lake Chungara, which can lay claim to the title of one of the highest-altitude lakes on the planet. Here, a proliferation of water birds can be seen, including the Andean Avocet, Andean Gull and, everybody's favourite show-off, the Flamingo.

Further south, near the town of Osorno, the Puyehue National Park encompasses a landscape of lakes, snow-covered volcanic peaks and impressive beech forests. Notable species from this area include the Black-Throated Huet-Huet and the Chucao Tapaculo – both of which are endemic to the Chilean Andes.

On and Around the Water: Quinteros, Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego

For the chance to encounter some of the country's many pelagic species, Quinteros offers brilliant access to the central coastal waters. A boat trip from the port is the best way to ensure sightings of an abundance of Petrels, Skuas, Albatross and Shearwaters.

As far south as one can go in Chile, and lapped by the waters of the infamous Magellan Straits, Punta Arenas is an ornithologists dream come true. This picturesque, windswept region is brimming with avian species and sightings of the quirky Magellanic Penguin are common, along with Flightless Steamer-Ducks, Southern Giant Petrels, Kelp Geese and the Magellanic Plover.

For those with a taste for adventure, heading across the Magellan Straits to Tierra del Fuego affords a memorable experience and the possibility of sightings of Southern Sea Lions and dolphins, along with myriad sea, land, aquatic and wading avian species.

Bird Holidays to Chile

For nature lovers who travel to Chile on bird holidays, the country's beauty as a wildlife destination lies in its extraordinary diversity, with the high-altitude peaks and slopes of the Andes a striking contrast to the hot, windy deserts and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean that surrounds its 6,000 kms of dramatic coastline. Well-organised, small group tours offer the most successful way to encounter the abundant birdlife of this spectacular landscape.

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Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in bird watching. As a passionate lover of birds, Marissa chooses the expert-led bird holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.


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