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The Birds of the MANU BIOSPHERE / Peru

By Barry Walkerow
Manu Expeditions / Cuzco - Peru
The Manu Biosphere Reserve has within its boundaries, the highest concentration of bird life on earth. At the time of this writing, approximately 925 species have been recorded and ornithologists expect this figure to break the 1000 mark in the near future as remoter areas of the reserve are explored.

There are a little under 9000 species in the world, therefore, Manu holds one in every nine species found on the planet. No other protected area on the earth contains so many birds. The explanation for so many avian diversity is that the Manu Biosphere Reserve contains a great variety of altitudinal zones and habitat types. Altitudes vary from over 4000 mts above sea level in the high Andes down to 350 mts in the lowland amazonian rain forest, and every 1000 mts gained or lost, the structure of the bird community differs.

This, coupled with the variety of forest types, grasslands, lakes and microhabitats such as bamboo stands, reedbeds and treefalls, has produced the highest bird count for any area in the world.
Manu is a birdwatchers' paradise and many ecotourists visit the reservation specifically to watch birds. On a 2 /3 week birding trip to Manu from the highlands to the lowlands, birdwatchers regularly record 450 to 500 species per trip, a staggering number.

At 4000 mts, a stunted forest holds several Tanagers, Flowerpierces and a Thistletail found nowhere else in the Reserve. At 3400 mts below the high grasslands (down to 2500 mts), the hu-mid temperate forest characterized by treeferns and chusquea bamboo (continues...)
stands, is the home of the Gray-Breasted Mountain Toucans, Swallow-tailed Nightjar and Collared Jay. Below 2500 down to 1500 mts there is the humid subtropical forest, the home of Manu's most well known and spectacular birds; like the Andean cock-of-the-rock. A visit to a lek (a traditional display site) is a must, as up to 20 brightly colored males sing and display in an attempt to attract the seemingly indifferent females. Here too are Quetzals, Toucans and a wide variety of Tanagers.

A mornings birdwatching here can be a fantastic experience as mixed species flocks containing several dozen species of birds move through the cloud forest, some sally-gleaning, some probing crevices, others climbing tree trunks or limbs. Between 1500 and 900 mts is the humid upper tropical forest where some of the difficult to see birds of Manu exist. The forest at this altitude is under much pressure in the rest of South America due to cutting for the growing of tea, coffee and cocoa.

In Manu it remains intact. Here, mixed species flocks may contain Orange-fronted Plushcrown, Versicolored Barbet, Chestnut-breasted Wren, Woodcreepers, Tanagers, Peruvian piedtail and many more. Leaving the Andes behind with it's rushing streams the visitor to Manu suddenly finds him or herself in a flat, humid tropical forest with surprising white sand beaches. They provide a valuable nesting habitat and are loaded with visiting birds. Here, they can breed unmolested. In short, the Manu Biosphere Reserve is home to some of the most important and varied birdlife found anywhere and indeed certain species such as Black- faced Cotinga can only be seen here!

Truly, a paradise for the birdwatcher and a much needed protected area for the birds.

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