While different birding enthusiasts visit with varied expectations, Guyana is particularly good to view the below top ten birds, that are unique to this region.
The hoatzin or the canje pheasant (as it is commonly called in Guyana) is Guyana’s national bird and a rare looking species that is believed to offer a direct link to the archaeopteryx, the first known bird in the world. The hoatzin, whose average adult length is 22 inches, has a stocky, pear shaped body, reddish-brown feathers streaked white around the shoulders, and a pale brown underside. Long tail feathers and an elongated neck flank the plump body. These are normal attributes, but aren’t the characteristics that draw birders from around the world. The hoatzin’s blood red eyes peer forth from a ring of bright-blue skin set on a tiny head that seems more diminutive, thanks to an unruly crest of long feathers. The chicks are born with two prehistoric claws protruding from their wings; the same claws are seen in archaeopteryx fossils. The bird call comprises of hoarse cries, hisses, and grunts. Birders often travel to Mahaica and Abary regions, and other low coastal plains to see this unique bird.
The Harpy Eagle is one of the largest and powerful raptors found in the rainforests of Guyana. It usually inhabits tropical lowland rainforests in the upper canopy of trees. They can be distinguished from others by their slate black feathers and a white underbelly. The double crest is another majestic feature of the harpy eagle. Since the plumage of the males and females are the same, it is difficult to identify the bird by gender. This bird can weigh up to 9kg. With a relatively small wingspan, but still 6 feet, a harpy eagle increases maneuverability in forested habitats to get to prey like sloth bears, monkeys, and other mammals. As the world’s largest eagles, it is also known as the ‘flying wolf’. The harpy eagle can be found in the central forests of Guyana. Even though they are getting harder to spot, naturalists keep themselves abreast of nesting sites to show birders.
With the male’s brilliant orange colourings, the Guianan cock-of-the-rock is a striking bird and often on top of the list for many birders. It is a proud attention-grabbing bird that is hard to miss. Fortunately, Guyana has a healthy population of the bird, especially in areas like Kaieteur National Park and other dense rainforests in the heart of the country. The country has several known cock-of-the-rock nesting sites, giving birders a decent chance of seeing males competing for female attention. While the brown colorings of the female aren’t as striking, watching the birds (who often build their nests in groups) interact is a rare experience indeed. About 12 inches in size, the bird weighs around 250gms, with fruits featuring as the major part of diet. The mating process is rather interesting. The females and males live separately and meet only to mate. The females fly over to observe and choose a mate. On selection, the females tap the males’ rump to seek attention. Rocky cliffs are often chosen as nesting sites.
Also known as the sun conure, the parakeet is a brightly coloured bird, native to South America. The golden-yellow plumage and orange-flushed face and belly make it one of the most striking birds to view in Guyana. As social birds, they live in flocks, but mate monogamously throughout their lifetime. They choose high canopies of tropical forests where fruit, nuts, seeds and insects are in abundance. Trapping these birds for plumage or pet trade in the last few decades has made their population plummet. But this has also given rise to conservation groups and special focus on the sun parakeet. The birds are now considered endangered, therefore it is a fortunate moment if you spot one. Sun parakeets can be found in the dense rainforest areas of Guyana.
Blood Coloured Woodpecker
One of the most remarkable and distinctive varieties of the veniliornis group of birds, the blood coloured woodpecker is also one that is least seen amongst the woodpeckers. To spot them, one has to traverse along the coastal lowlands along the Atlantic Ocean. These are specifically found in South American coastal plains, where a variety of wooded habitats, including mangroves and plantations make the safest homes for them. The blood coloured woodpeckers confine themselves to flying low over the ground and are not too vocal as well. They remain single or in pairs, keeping nesting duties equal for both genders. With their deep red upper bodies and contrasting dark and pale-barred underparts (especially males), the birds add a fantastic touch of colour to green shaded forests.
The now endangered red siskin, was once found in abundance in parts of the Caribbean and tropical South American regions. In 2003, some hope was restored when large numbers were discovered in southern Guyana, amongst the Rupununi grasslands. But still, the total number of red siskins on earth is not likely to be more than 6000. Open country with pale grasslands, circled by forests and shrubs is the perfect habitat for these birds as they can get insects in the grasslands, and have a safe hideout amongst the trees. The male Red Siskins can be identified by their deep red bodies, and contrasting black head, throat, flight feathers and tail tip. The females have grey heads, breast, and upper parts, apart from a red rump and upper tail. Reddish flanks on their grey breast makes them distinguishable from the males. Ever since the red siskin has population dropped, Guyana has been the research hotspot for many experts from around the world, to save it from extinction.
Also known as the lesser razor-billed curassow, this species is found across much of the Guianan Shield. It can be found through the core of Guyana, reaching its southernmost limit near the city of Manaus in Brazil. The curassow’s voice is what gives it away even in the thick rainforests of the region. It is a shy bird that is largely terrestrial, ensuring that it gets a constant supply of fruits. This bird safely retreats to a canopy when done with feeding. The sharp voice is loudest during the breeding period – the early wet season of Guyana. The crestless curassow is mostly black, (or dark blue), marked by a chestnut belly region. Its red bill stands out as a contrast. The dense lowland forests are safer haunts, usually in close proximity to watercourses, forests in savannah, river islands, or seasonally flooded areas.
The blue-cheeked parrot is endemic to the Guianas, which includes southeastern Venezuela, adjacent northern Brazil and Guyana. With a low population density, it is rarely spotted. Seasonal migrations to and from coastal sand ridge forests in Suriname give specific timelines to serious birders to visit. Else, the bird stays within the interiors of forests, sometimes even in the higher regions or woodlands in the savannah. The blue-cheeked parrot is threatened due to loss of habitat and cage bird trade.
The guianan warbling-antbird occupies the northeastern part of the Guianas, including parts of Venezuela, a large portion of Guyana to the northeast Amazonian Brazil. In the west, this species is replaced by Imeri Warbling-antbird and to the south, on the opposite bank of the Amazon, by the spix’s warbling-antbird. The three kinds of warbling antbirds differ in their loud sounds and some colouring. As an insectivorous, the bird has a flourish of diet in the humid rainforests of the region.
If you hear a faint pip-pip of this big-headed flycatcher from atop the highest dead branch of a tree, consider yourself lucky. The olive-sided flycatcher is a long-distance migrant that breeds mostly in northern coniferous forest and winters in the tropics. Over the years, the bird has become very rare to spot. Lucky birders have caught a glimpse of it in the tropical forests of Guyana, making it a go-to destination for serious avian enthusiasts. From their high exposed perch in forest openings, natural meadows, wetlands, canyons and rivers, the birds look out for flying insects for nutrition.