The Amazon Basin as a whole, and Iquitos in particular, is one of the world’s most attractive destinations for birders. They migrate here throughout the year in search of some 600 officially recorded species, from more than 60 different families with new and previously unknown birds discovered regularly.
Several operators cater specifically to birders, with specialized tours, guides and overnights at local lodges renowned for their biodiversity. Online forums offer recommendations for several different guides and companies.
The key, as anywhere, is to visit several different biomes, of which there are many here at the birthplace of the Amazon. The rainforest is home to some of the flashiest birds, including enormous scarlets, blue and gold macaws, assorted parakeets and trogons, paradise, opal, masked crimson, hooded tanagers and many more. Columns of army ants can attract flocks comprising dozens of different species looking for a meal.
At the edge of civilization, you’re more likely to find black-fronted nunbird, thrush-like wren, sun bitterns and more, while the flood plains are home to silvered antbird, pale legged horneros, nocturnal currasow, black-necked red cotinga and different manakins.
On the rivers and lagoons, look for the many different species of kingfishers—ringed-green rufous, pygmy, and others—as well as capped herons, horned screamers, jabirut storks, roseate spoonbills, hoatzin birds, black-collared hawks, and many, many more.
What to Bring
While local guides are extremely knowledgeable, and capable of spotting the smallest of our feathered friends as they flit through the understory, they may not be as well equipped for the excursion as you’d like. Consider bringing your own bird cards and/or books, as well as binoculars, for the trip. Appropriate clothing for the steamy jungle, sunscreen, DEET-based insect repellant (also consider taking anti-malarials if you plan to be in the region for long), a hat and other accouterments of a jungle expedition are also highly recommended.
Several lodges sit on private wildlife preserves threaded by trails through various biomes, both pristine and recently disturbed. Before booking, ask about their bird lists (almost all lodges keep them) and if they can arrange special guides.
Amazon Conservatory Field Station and Canopy Walkway
For a trek into the treetops, where so many of the Amazon’s most beautiful birds spend their lives, arrange a trip to Amazon Conservatory Field Station and Canopy Walkway. The suspended bridge, about 35m (115ft) above ground, spans some 500m (1,640ft) through the forest canopy. Serious birders should consider spending the night in the field station, as birds are most active in the early morning, then return to the roost in the late afternoon. Motmots, woodcreepers, antbirds, flycatchers, barbets, toucans, red-throated caracaras and great potoos are just a few of the species you might see.
Many birders come to Iquitos just to visit vast Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, the largest protected rainforest in Peru and among the most biodiverse in the Amazon. The oft-flooded forest has more than 500 officially catalogued species, but there are scores more just waiting to be recorded. If you have time it’s also worth heading into the newly protected and very different AIlpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve. The rare white-sand rainforest, with its distinctive riparian zones, is home to many different birds, including at least six entirely new species discovered here since 2008.