A safe country with great roadway connectivity, Chile has a varied and distinctive geography that makes it an ideal destination for bird-watching. A country of contrasts, Chile is unique in that its territory covers three continents (“tricontinental”) namely the Americas, Antarctica, and Oceania. Extending 4,300 kilometers from north to south, this narrow strip of land unites vastly differing landscapes and climates along the Andes mountain range. The country´s natural wonders start in the north, where you can experience the driest desert in the world, and end in the south, where glaciers and straits feed into the Pacific Ocean.
Because of these widely varying conditions, more than 400 species of birds reside in Chile. That number represents only slightly less than 5% of all bird species worldwide. The destination is located in the neo-tropical eco region of South America, a macro region containing the greatest diversity of birds in the world. An estimated 30% of all bird species live in this macro region.
Chile distinguishes itself from other South American countries in that it´s easy to watch birds in relative ease and comfort. You can spot many native species without much trouble, like the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover.
From north to south, the diverse landscapes, varied geography, and distinctive ecosystems make Chile an exciting destination. We´d like to introduce you to a few of the species you´ll observe in the country´s different regions:
The North and the Atacama Desert
The north of Chile is characterized by the Andean high zone, which stretches across the Arica and Parinacota, Tarapacá, and Atacama Regions. The area is populated by several native species, including certain iconic birds such as the three Flamingo species (the large and small varieties of the Andean Flamingo, and the Chilean Flamingo) as well as the Horned Coot, the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, the Andean gull, and the Puna Teal, to name a few.
The coasts of these regions have their own appeal. For one, the mouth of the Lluta River is a top destination for bird-watching in Chile. The Lluta and Azapa valleys form an oasis that is home to beautiful bird species in danger of extinction, such as the Chilean Woodstar.
Key places: Arica and Putre Valleys, Lauca National Park and San Pedro of Atacama.
Central Zone, Santiago, and Valaparaíso
Without a doubt the central zone hosts the richest diversity of native species in Chile. Here, you´ll have the opportunity to wander from the coast to the Andean mountains as you enjoy the country´s fast and easy roadway connectivity.
The central zone includes the coastal wetlands of Yali in the Valparaíso region to the zone encompassing Cajón de Maipo, Farellones and Valle Nevado, and the area from Campana National Park to the Altos de Licray Reserve. The area offers many excellent spots for seeking out native species. Birds you might see include: the Crag Chilia, the White-throated Tapaculo, the Moustached Turca, Chilean Tinamou, the enchanting Slender-Billed Parakeet, and the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover.
Oceanic excursions are popular in the central zone. Boats usually leave from the Quintero or Valparaíso ports looking for albatross and petrels. These outings are also available during the winter—the best season for going out on the high seas.
Key places: Santiago, Batuco, Rancagua, Chillán, Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, Olmué, San Antonio, Santo Domingo and Quintero.
As an insular territory on the Pacific Ocean, Chile proves an ideal location for bird-watching, especially because of the large populations of native species. The three native birds of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago include the Rayadito de Masafuera (or the Aphrastura masafuerae) of Alejandro Selkirk Island, the Cachudito de Juan Fernández (Anairetes fernandezianus) and the Juan Fernandez Firecrown of Robinson Crusoe Island. These birds live only in this zone. Their existence is endangered by domestic animals introduced to the area such as cats.
Easter Island´s oceanic areas and islets are its main appeal for the avid bird-watcher. These form habitats that host many species, like the Sooty Tern, the Greyback Tern (known as the Manatura by locals), and the tropical Rufous-tailed Hawk. Navigation on the open sea might bring you face-to-face with even more intriguing bird species.
Lakes and Volcanos
The southern zone from the Araucanía to Los Lagos is a realm of temperate rain forests and innumerable coastal wetlands. Migratory birds travelling long distances flock to this nutrient-rich area for their boreal winter.
Birds native to the Valdivian forests include the Chucao Tapaculo, the Black-throated Huet-huet, the Ochre-flanked Tapaculo, and the Slender-billed Parakeet. You can watch flocks of coastal birds land on the shores of the Los Lagos and Chiloé Regions. One such bird is the Hudsonian Godwit, which migrates from Alaska in great numbers to stay on the Chilean coast during the austral summer.
During the winter, the Chilean Flamingo and the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover make their visit, illuminating Chile´s southern coast with their beautiful shapes and colors.
Key places: Alerce Andino National Park, Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, Puyhue, Conguillío, Huerquehue, Cerro Ñielol, Lago Budi, Chiloé, Maullín, Puerto Varas and Pumalín Park.
Patagonia and Antarctica
The southern Chilean Patagonia, which includes the Aysén and Magallanes Regions, has many popular destinations for bird-watching. Its breathtaking landscapes provide excellent lookouts from which you can observe Condors, birds of prey, the Austral Blackbird, the Patagonian Mockingbird, the Canary-winged Finch, and forest birds like the Magellanic Woodpecker. If you´re lucky, you might also spot the unusual birds like the Magellanic Plover and the incredible Fuegian Snipe, a bird with very few sightings over the past years. To see the Fuegian Snipe you´ll likely have to travel far, one option being a visit to the Cape Horn National Park.
Tierra del Fuego is also an accessible location where you can watch colonies of King Penguins living on the Bahía Inútil beach at King Penguin Park.
Key places: Torres del Paine National Park, Karukinka, Sierra Baguales, the Magellan Strait, Tierra del Fuego, Humedal 3 Bridges, Punta Arenas, Pampa larga and Puerto Natales.