Quito: Bird Capital of the World

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Text by: Ilan Greenfield

Photos: Jorge Vinueza, Dušan Brinkhuizen (DB) & Murray Cooper (MC)

Quito has plenty to brag about. Fabulous heritage buildings, a Historic Center preserved impeccably across over 300 hectares of urban space, the beauty of its landscapes, surrounded by monumental snow-capped peaks and undulating mountains, which make the area within which the millenary capital lies a hub of photogenic viewpoints… and hundreds of bird species.

These attributes can be difficult to quantify (who is competing, anyway?). And yet, in matters of biodiversity, the Metropolitan District of Quito has numbers on its side. Worldwide, it may very well leave most, if not all, competitors behind.

– A beautiful Black-tailed Trainbearer, a common sight in Quito gardens –

Quito is among the most biodiverse urban centers in the world, a capital of surprising proportions… it is also especially bird-friendly.

It is amazing that a “metropolitan district” – which includes a capital populated by several million inhabitants, an international airport, dozens of malls, expansive suburbs and expanding agricultural borders – is surrounded by so much nature. And not just any “nature”.

Quito (and its surroundings) is home to a biodiversity unparalleled in the world.

Although Bogotá, the capital of the country with the most bird species in the world, has up to 600 registered species within the confines of its Metropolitan Area, the Metropolitan District of Quito exceeds this impressive number with an astounding 800 species (but really, we insist, it’s not a competition!).

– Peregrine Falcon, a fabulous bird of the highland páramo zone –

 

All this biodiversity makes sense: Quito’s range of elevations has no equivalent in the world. Toda esta biodiversidad tiene su razón de ser. El rango de elevación de Quito no tiene equivalente en el mundo.

From almost 1,000 meters above sea level in the cloud forests of Pacto to almost 5,000 meters above sea level at the summit of Mount Pichincha, the microclimates that make up the steep geography of the district are many-fold.

Diversity multiplies when we consider each ecosystem: páramo grassland, Polylepis forests, arid scrub, temperate zone, rural woodland, farmland and forests at various elevations (where the greatest species numbers are concentrated), including elfin, montane, subtropical and foothill forests.

– Toucan Barbet amid orchids in the Northwestern Quito District –

– Pale-mandibled Araçaris, an arresting sight of Quito’s northwestern cloud forests –

– Dark-backed wood-quails, deep forest marauders –

For a ‘birder’, there is no place closer to heaven. One hour from the airport, as soon as one arrives in the country, one could feasibly venture into areas with more bird species than entire continents. It should be noted that the Metropolitan District of Quito is simply a political distribution and does not include surrounding areas of great importance. If we were to expand the district to include places —some of which are closer to the urban core than the district’s westerly forests, for example — then the number of bird species would be even greater. And for the tourist who visits specifically to see birds, there is nothing that compares.

Continue to our Birding Trip planner and organize your next outing in our “birding capital of the world”…

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