Birds of the Amazon

The Amazon rainforest contains some of the highest bird biodiversity in the world, boasting at least 1,300 avian species [1]. Scientists still debate the reasons why the Amazon contains so many bird species, but one prominent theory suggests that during post-glacial periods of sea level rise, the Amazon was inundated and formed several archipelagos, allowing evolution and speciation events to occur simultaneously [2]. The upper Amazonian areas are notably species rich, hosting between 400-430 species of birds, depending on the presence of migrant and water birds [3]. The Amazon also harbors the greatest amount of endemic birds of any forested area in the world (endemic birds to the Amazon means they are found in this region alone, and not anywhere else in the world). Unsurprisingly, bird watchers often flock to the rainforests of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia to view such rare species.

Throughout many different areas of the tropical Amazon, there can be an incredible amount of bird species in one particular location. For example, near Manaus, Brazil, 352 different bird species were identified during one study [4]. Another study by eminent ornithologist, John Terborgh, found 526 different bird species within Manu National Park, a cloud forest and rainforest on the eastern slope of the Andes in Peru [5]. This location eclipses the total number of bird species that can be found in the entire country of Canada (491), though Manu National Park covers an area 64 times smaller than Canada.

The harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) is one of the largest raptors found in the Americas. It is a top predator and plays an important role in regulating prey population sizes in the Amazon [6]. The harpy eagle preys on tree-dwelling mammals, large birds and even reptiles. The range of this bird once continued from southern Mexico through Central and South America, but has declined in many areas due to direct mortality by humans or destruction of habitat. The harpy eagle and other large birds in the Amazon depend on vast tracts of intact forest to efficiently hunt and reproduce.

Areas throughout the Amazon serve as bird refuges, particularly in the wet eastern slope of the Andes Mountains. However, as with many species that inhabit mountain ecotones, birds in cloud forests face the risk of habitat loss through climatic fluctuations beyond their thermal tolerance due to climate change. Although data are inconclusive regarding which species are most at risk, scientists have suggested that future studies should focus on how birds in these areas may be prone to localized extinction due to range shifts [7].

As of 1990, in the Upper Amazonian areas, between 400-430 species of birds exist, with slightly more when migrant and water-birds are counted as well.

Common foods for Amazon Rainforest birds include leaves, fruits, nuts and insects.

  1. Amidon, D.E. (1973). Birds of the Congo and Amazon forests: A comparison. In B.J. Meggers et al. (Ed.), Tropical forest ecosystems in Africa and South America: A comparative review (pp. 167-277). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  2. Nores, M. (1999). An alternative hypothesis for the origin of Amazonian bird diversity. Journal of Biogeography26 (3), 474-485.
  3. Haffer, J. (1990). Avian species richness in tropical South America. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment25 (3), 157-183.
  4. Stots D.F. and Jr., Bierregaard, R.O. (1989). The birds of the Fazendas Porto Alegre, Esteio, and Dimona, north of Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. Brazilian Journal of Biology49, 861-872.
  5. Terborgh, J., Fitzpatrick W.J.W. and Emmons, L. (1984). Annotated checklist of bird and mammal species of Cocha Cashu biological station, Manu National Park, Peru. Field Zoology, No 352, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago.
  6. https://abcbirds.org/bird/harpy-eagle/
  7. Nores, M. (2009). Are bird populations in tropical and subtropical forests of South America affected by climate change? Climatic Change97, 543-551.

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