Brazilian Superlatives

Brazil is home to many superlatives and many of these are covered in feathers.

Brazil, at 3,287,956 square miles, is the largest country in South America, the 5th largest in the world. Brazil is considered the world’s most biological diverse country in the world with about 103,870 animals and 43,020 plants. About 700 new species are discovered in Brazil each year. 1,806 species of birds have been recording in Brazil, 235 of these birds are only found in Brazil. South America’s largest country hosts 60% of the continents bird species!

What follows is a selection of some of Brazil’s avian superlatives that I encountered in the Pantanal.

Largest Stork in the Americas: Jabiru

This truly impressive stork, like the Hoatzin, seems to belong to a long, lost epoch. This massive bird has the second longest wingspan of any land bird in the Americas, losing out to the Andean condor. It was always something special to see this bird, either on the wing or on the ground. The Jabiru can be surprisingly approachable, just stay outside the range of its deadly beak! Like the jabiru pictured below. The stork followed our boat along the riverside.


Largest Parrot in the World: Hyacinth Macaw

This macaw was certainly on my wishlist. It is amazing to see a bird that you have seen many times in zoos, pet shops, movies or as part of an animal act, wild and free flying. Most people around the world, looking at an image of this bird would be able to identify it as a parrot or a macaw. We had many quality looks of this iconic parrot in the Pantanal. And they were very approachable at Porto Jofre as they cracked nut with their powerful beaks.

Hyacinth Macaw

Largest Toucan in the World: Toco Toucan

The largest toucan in the world is also the prototypical toucan. This South American Big -nose seems to be advertising products all around the world, albeit in a modified form. The Toco can be seen on advertisements from everything from Fruitloops to Guinness Stout, marking the Toco one of the world’s most recognizable birds. We started to get far off view of Tocos in the northern Pantanal. It wasn’t until we reach the end of the Transpantaneira Highway, at Porto Jofre, that we got jaw-dropping views of many of these unreal birds.


Heaviest Bird in the Americas (Largest Flightless Bird in the Americas): Greater Rhea

These avian grazers where very easy to see from my porch at Pousada Piuval. Another bird that I was really looking forward to seeing. This large flightless, 60 pound bird is a smaller version of Africa’s ostrich and are related to other flightless birds that are still in existence. (emus, cassowaries, kiwis).



The Cristalino Towers

In Amazon Basin, most of the birding we did was with from trails in the forest or from boat and we we seeing birds that favored the riverside, ground, or understory. To see the birds that made a living in the forest canopy, we could spend a lot of time straining our necks and peering into the forest tangle to look at a far off bird butt, or we could climb the observation towers that put us up above the trees.

There are two 50 meter (165 feet) observation towers at Cristalino that allows you to see all the layers of the forest with many stopping points on the way up to the top.

IMG_3380Sunrise from the top of Tower One.

On the morning of July 5th we climbed the steep steps of Tower One, 165 feet to the very top platform which was high above the top of the forest canopy. We timed our climb to be in place before sunrise, not just for the stunning views but also to take advantage of optimal of bird activity in the canopy.


All eyes on deck as we pick through the large amount of birds working their way around  Tower One.

The idea was to be at the top of the tower to observe the avian activity while the sun was still low on the horizon and then move to the lower platform as the the morning heated up moving the bird activity below the canopy. This morning proved to be our most prolific in our short time in the Southern Amazon Basin. At times the bird activity was nonstop and we seemed to be surrounded by avian movement with lifers coming quick and fast!

Paradise Jackie

We got good looks at a paradise jacamar from Tower One.

B-G Barbet

A southern Amazon speciality, the black-girdled barbet. This sketch is of the male.

IMG_3504The paradise tanager is a truly stunning tanager amongst many stunning tropical tanagers to be found in the Amazon. At Tower One we finally got great looks at this canopy dweller.


Pousada Piuval

Tropical Birding does birding tours all around the world. But the location that regularly generates the highest species count of any tour is not in the Amazonian, or any other, Rainforest. The highest count is to be found in the northern Pantanal. This is Pousada Piuval!


It’s almost impossible to walk anywhere in the mornings and evenings at Pousada Piuval and not trip over the world’s largest rodent, the capybara.

Pousada Piuval is 68 miles south from Cuiabá and is the first ecolodge you come to on the Transpantaneira Highway. It is situated on a 7,000 hectare cattle ranch and it’s wide open vistas were a refreshing change to the dense forests of Cristalino. We would not be having frustrating searches for wraith-like antbirds. At Pousada Piuval, just from my deck, I would see two browsing greater rhea, capybaras, and hundreds of wood stork circling in the sky!

Greater Rhea

On our first morning of birding we registered close to 100 species of birds. Just for comparison, an average checklist from the temperate region, say the San Francisco Bay Area, would be about 30 species. You would be doing really well if you ticked 50 species.

The reason that Pousada Piuval is such a great world birding hotspot are many. The shrinking ponds attracts large numbers of waders in concentrated numbers including egrets, herons, wood-rails, sunbitterns, Wood and Maguari storks and the epic Jabiru stork. Different habitats come together which means a hight species diversity.

It also helps to understand the diversity if we look at a few facts about the Pantanal. The Pantanal is a seasonally flooded wetland covering 80,000 square miles making it the largest wetlands in the world. The Pantanal contains the world’s largest inland concentrations of waterbirds on Earth. Because of it’s importance to a large number of species, the Pantanal has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

IMG_4147Large numbers of wood storks aka “dryheads” flying to their nighttime roosts.

We had many quality experiences with the birds of the Pantanal at Pousada Piuval. Including a group of white woodpeckers, a species sometimes placed in the same genus as the local acorn woodpeckers.

White WP

Campo flicker

The stunning Campo flicker is simply a “lawn” bird at Pousada Pivual.


Pousada Piuval is such a magical place! The palm snag right next to the swimming pool hosted two stunning wild blue and yellow macaws.


The Cerrado

The Cerrado of Brazil is a biome that is found northeast of the city of Cuiabá and it is distinguished for its open plains, low vegetation and its spare trees. It is home to endemics that would make world bird listers salivate to think of adding to their life lists. It is also home to more plant species diversity than any other savanna in the world. There are about 10,000 species of plants in the Cerrado with more plant families represented than the Amazon!

The star of the show is the often elusive collared crescentchest (Melonopareia torquata). This was our main targets bird and we were going for it on our first full day of birding. This bird can be impossible to detect if it isn’t calling because it’s a first rate sulker in the low bushes of the Cerrado.

We began our hunt on a dirt road that began off of the main two lane highway.

We drove half a mile in and got out and birded the roadside. It’s wasn’t long before our guide, Andrés, heard the call of the crescentchest in the bushes to the right of the road. We trekked in on foot down a dusty culvert. We weren’t far in before we found the source of the call. We spotted not one but two of these highly desirable Brazilian specialties.


This shot of one of the collared crescentchests might have come out okay if it hadn’t been for that pesky piece of vegetation!

Tours like this can seem like simply ticking off birds on your life list without getting quality views. But in this case we a wonderful five minutes with these two Cerrado gems.

Reflecting back, sometimes with high numbers of new birds seen in a biodiverse rich county as Brazil, I am reminded that what lasts in the memory are the quality and not the quantity of sightings that really matters. To see a bird and to see it well in it’s prime habitat, just doing what it does for a living is the best birding experience.

IMG_2416The southern lapwing is a very common bird in South America but getting quality views of this common plover against the rich earth tones of the Cerrado in good, morning light, really shows the beauty of this bird.


National Bird of Brazil

The National Bird of Brazil is not the Toco toucan. Nor the harpy Eagle, the hyacinth macaw, or the Jabiru stork.

The National Bird is slightly bigger than our American robin, in fact it’s in the same genus: turdus (thrushes). The National Bird of this mega diverse country that contains about 1,832 bird species is the unassuming rufous- bellied thrush. A brownish thrush with a reddish wash underneath.

I was pretty sure that I would see this bird sometime on the 15 days of my birding tour. But I didn’t expect to see it on my first day in Cuiabá. I was walking from my airport hotel around the corner to get some currency at the local bank. When on a wall appeared Brazil’s national bird! Well that was easy!

IMG_3728Why such a drab bird in nation full of amazingly colorful birds? Well the answer may be in the thrush’s melodious dawn song that the Brazilians love so much. Maybe it is a harbinger of the upcomming rains. The National Bird of Costa Rica is the even less impressive clay-colored thrush but it is it’s music not its appearance than endears it to Costa Rican’s and so maybe to all Brazilians. Maybe the rufous-bellied thrush is singing about the upcoming life-giving rains.


There is more that meets the eye with the National Bird of Brazil. This thrush teaches us to listen and not just look.