Raptors from our Peru trips

DSCN9890-002Here’s a compilation of the raptors from our two tours of Peru. We went on two trips to Peru, the first one in 2016 and the second one this past July. My wife and I enjoy traveling and going on birding and wildlife adventures. My wife has a real knack for planning and finding places to go and stay but I typically have greater influence as to which country we are visiting and exploring. Every place we travel to I put my raptor vision on the highest sensitivity setting I have. Any glimpse or any raptor-like silhouette is thoroughly investigated by myself. My cameras are close by too. We almost always hire a native guide now on our trips and inform our guide about my raptor affliction so that he or she knows and expects my hyper-enthusiasm for any raptor sightings. It also helps to let the guide know you like a particular group of birds so that they can plan accordingly beforehand. They might know of a nest or locale frequented by raptors. In the tropics there are some interesting and intriguing raptors. The eagles and hawk-eagles have majestic crests at the tops of their heads, the North American raptors lack these crests. Raptors in the tropics kill and eat birds from hummingbird-size to monkeys like howler monkeys (e.g. Harpy Eagle). As you move towards the equator you generally experience higher species diversity but you also experience dense jungle. So higher species diversity but more difficulty in spotting and viewing raptors, at least in my experience. Most standard guides typically don’t stake out known raptor locales. I know there are specialists out there, like Raptours, that target viewing raptors so you probably have better opportunities. We are “vacation” when do our tropical bird-watching so I have to avoid getting carried away or my wife will get upset. We haven’t done any specialized tours, they’re typically general all-around birding tours embedded with opportunistic views of other wildlife such as monkeys. However, I have to try to get at least one raptor species and one photograph or I feel that the whole trip was a complete waste. So there’s some pressure there, that I put on myself.


Last year we traveled to Peru and hooked up with a guide, Saturnino, through his company, Amazon Birding Peru. We met up with Saturnino in Cusco at the airport. We had noticed on the flight from Lima to Cusco that many of the native Peruvians were on their very first flight. They all had their cell phones out and were taking selfies of themselves walking the tunnel, sitting in their seats, and window shots. Upon arrival at Cusco, ladies were waiting with baskets full of cocoa leaves just outside the tunnel of the plane. I immediately grabbed a fist full and starting chewing hoping for an incredible high but that never came. The cocoa leaves are supposed to help in altitude sickness and I suppose they are a nice gesture as well. Cusco is located at 11,152 feet and we were worried about altitude sickness on this trip but nothing ever happened, we were fine the entire trip. After breakfast at the airport, we immediately got on our way. We had the entire van to ourselves, one driver, Julio, Saturnino, my wife, and me. Our trip was simple enough. Venture up over the Andes on the Manu Rd. and stay at some of the lodges along the road.

Here’s the general area where we were on our first leg of the trip, which was a network of roads to the Manu Rd. The red marker is where we were when we saw the Mountain Caracara and Variable Hawk.caracara

If you ever plan a birding trip to Peru, you should definitely go on the Manu Rd. It’s an incredible road that’s perfect for bird-watchers. The most interesting part was the habitat changes we experienced on the road from Cusco to our first destination which was the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge. The western side of the Andes was dry and more open with occasional trees that were typically non-native trees like eucalyptus trees. The land in Peru had definitely undergone human influences for a long time. Satu took off the main road and did a quick excursion on a more remote dirt road. On the road we saw one native Peruvian woman tending her sheep. She was dressed in very colorful standard garb that see in that region. Our first raptor sighting on this leg was the Mountain Caracara. These raptors inhabit more open areas and eat carrion or prey upon any other small animal they can get their talons on. These birds form groups and work together. They can apparently overturn large rocks together, looking for food. Mountain Caracaras have adapted to humans and can live close to humans and in turn feed on refuse or carrion produced by human activity.

A Mountain Caracara, 18 May 2016.DSC_6244-002

Almost immediately after viewing our first Mountain Caracara, Satu spotted a Variable Hawk. Variable Hawks have highly variable plumages, hence the name. Variable Hawks inhabit open to semi-open areas and eat small mammals but also amphibians, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates. They are generalists and from what I read they remind me of our generalist raptor, the Red-tailed Hawk. Red-tails have several color morphs but apparently the Variable Hawk is a little more extreme in that regard. I don’t know. I didn’t see enough of them.

Variable Hawk, 18 May 2016.DSC_6283-002

We stayed at the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge, which was superb lodge, and observed some really great birds at the lodge and in the surrounding area. But the best bird of the 2016 tour was observed on 19 May 2016. We took a short excursion from the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge on this day and took a short drive along the Manu Rd. to see what we could see. Julio drove at a slow pace and out the passenger window Satu spotted a bird perched on a snag. I quickly got my binoculars on the bird and knew right away it was a lifer and it was raptor. We opened the doors and got out and I snapped as many photos of the bird that I could before it bumped. I wasn’t used to seeing an accipiter sit so still for so long. Accipiters are typically more sensitive to any human disturbance. Satu discussed the identification of the bird and carefully checked his bird plates that he stored on his phone. Satu scanned many field guides and stored them at pdf files on his phone for easy viewing. He decided on a Semi-collared Hawk and emailed an expert in the region to confirm the identification. Semi-collared Hawks are rare in the Andes and found in moist heavily forested area around 600 to 1,800 m in elevation. Satu mentioned to me that not very much is known of this species. It’s an accipiter so I imagine it preys on birds but my research online resulted in scarce information so I’m in agreement with Satu. There isn’t much known about these hawks.

Semi-collared Hawk, 19 May 2016, off the Manu Rd.DSCN9890-002

The time had come to leave the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge and to our next destination, the Amazonia Lodgewhich was further down Manu Rd. and required a short boat ride. But it was a long road to get the town, Atalaya, that we would launch from. We would lose elevation and arrive in hot and humid lowlands. Satu had planned to make several stops and eat lunch on the way down.

The Manu Road section (Cusco province) that we observed the Black Hawk-Eagle, Orange-breasted Falcon, and Tiny Hawk.Road to Amazonia Lodge

The first raptor we observed was at a quick stop in which we walked down a shaded dirt road. Most of the forest appeared to be previously cut and there was a good stand of snags nearby that were probably the result of a fire. Satu heard a falcon and he quickly determined it was an Orange-breasted Falcon, a bigger version of the bat falcon. They’re aerial predators just like the Peregrine Falcon and other falcons. They hit and strike at their prey on the wing. Orange-breasted Falcons prey on doves, parakeets, and swifts and inhabit mostly forested areas.

The Orange-breasted Falcon, 20 May 2016.DSCN9920

After viewing the falcon we immediately were surprised by the second raptor at this stop. A Tiny Hawk blew past us but heading down the road the same direction we were. We caught up to it on a tree branch and watched it for several minutes as it preened. Tiny Hawks are accipiters or bird hawks that specialize in preying upon birds. These hawks apparently prey on hummingbirds. I’ve held North American accipiters in the hand and judging by my photographs of this Tiny Hawk, it appears to have bigger eyes compared to our North American accipiters. I imagine if they hunt hummingbirds, they should have larger eyes and remarkable vision.

Look at the large eyes on this Tiny Hawk, 20 May 2016.DSCN9934-002

Here’s a video I took of this Tiny Hawk preening.

We observed a few other raptors on 20 May like the Double-toothed Kite and Swallow-tailed Kite but I didn’t take any good photographs of those. The real surprise on this day was the Black Hawk-Eagle we encountered. We randomly stopped to use the bathroom further down the road near our destination. While walking around the van, we noticed this Black Hawk-Eagle. Black Hawk-Eagles inhabit forested areas and are known to eat larger birds like toucans but also rodents and even monkeys. They are sit and wait predators apparently and hunt from perches. However, not much is known about these hawks.

Black Hawk-Eagle, 20 May 2016.


So that’s our raptor highlights from the 2016 Peru trip. I’m going to move on now into the 2017 Peru trip which included an thorough tour of northern Peru. We were mostly interested in seeing all the hummingbird species in northern Peru, especially the Sword-billed Hummingbird. However, always on my mind are any raptors we might see. I was especially wanting to see any of the bigger eagles or hawk-eagles of Peru on this second trip. It’s hit or miss unless you go a specialty tour. Probably the most common raptor in Peru is the Roadside Hawk. They’re generalists and we saw them everywhere but especially in the lowlands and along the Rio Madre de Dios.

Roadside Hawk, probably the most common hawk in Peru.8478295991_a47fdb5514_o

The first raptor we observed on our 2017 Peru tour was the Long-whiskered Owlet at Abra Patricia and the Owlet Lodge. The Owlet Lodge was by far the nicest lodge we stayed at in Peru for either year. The accommodations were very good and they always had coffee available which easily won over my wife and her coffee addiction. They also had cookies and sweets to down with your coffee. On our immediate arrival at the lodge on 5 July 2017 Satu discussed plans with Roberto, a guide associated with the lodge, and they agreed that that night, the night of our arrival, was the best time to try to see the Long-whiskered Owlet. They don’t like to take clients out to see the owlet every night but nobody had been there in a while and the weather was dry which is good for detecting the owlet. We unpacked and almost immediately left to hike down to a location to try for the owlet. The future forecast for that area was rainy which isn’t good for viewing the owlet. Roberto took the lead and used playback recordings. Satu showed Roberto, who was obviously a very experienced guide as well, my wife’s Anabat, a device for recording bat calls. They marveled at it while they handled it. The owlet playback worked, we heard the owlet and it was approaching.

The Owlet Lodge (red marker), Amazonas, Peru.Capture

The Long-whiskered Owlet, 5 July 2017. A terrible shot but the bird didn’t cooperate very much.DSC_2706

Long-whiskered Owlets, currently the smallest owls in Peru, are endangered according to BirdLife International and are on the IUCN redlist. Apparently this is due to their small population size and their narrow habitat preferences which includes the moist higher elevation forests of the Andes. The habitat is essentially the same as the Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey, which is also endangered. They have very delicate facial whiskers or plumes that project outward from their faces. This photograph doesn’t do that any justice. I couldn’t find anything online about its food habits. Most accounts mention the lack of research on this species.

We observed our third raptor, another owl, at the Owlet Lodge on 7 July 2017. The Black-banded Owl inhabit a wide range of habitats from forests, clearings, and coffee plantations. They eat invertebrates and vertebrates including small mammals. Not much is known of these owls as well. This was among the cooler sightings we had hiking in the forest. Owls typically don’t bump during the day, they’re sleeping or roosting during the day, so photographing this owl was pretty easy.

The Black-banded Owl, 7 July 2017.DSCN0826-002

I got some video of the Black-banded Owl.


We moved to southeastern Peru for our next leg of our tour of Peru. We flew into Puerto Maldonado and immediately went to the outskirts of the city and observed a Black Caracara. Black Caracaras inhabit a plethora of different types of habitat including clearings, river bottoms, lowland forests, and close to human dwellings like ranches. They will eat just about anything including carrion. I read that tapirs apparently call to them to come over and pick the ticks off them. I don’t know if I believe that or not but someone apparently felt strongly enough to include it in their food habit description of this bird. We encountered a “pet” tapir, Manolo, at the Manu Birding Lodge so I guess anything is possible.

Black Caracara, 9 July 2017.DSCN0881-002

A statue of a Harpy Eagle eating a howler monkey, Puerto Maldonado, Peru, 2017. This statue is on the road to and from the airport, you can’t miss it. Stop and view it and someone in the car might see a Harpy Eagle in the near future. Harpy Eagle

The fourth notable raptor we observed on our 2017 tour of Peru was the Bicolored Hawk, another accipiter or bird hawk. Bicolored Hawks inhabit a mixture of habitats and secondary growth. Bicolored Hawks do not occur in higher elevations. They eat small birds like doves and thrushes, reptiles, and bats even. We observed our Bicolored Hawk at the Manu Birding Lodge. The hawk had perched near the lodge at dusk and was definitely hunting.

The Manu Birding Lodge, Madre de Dios, Peru.Manu Birding Lodge

The Bicolored Hawk, 10 July 2017. Actively hunting.

The next raptor we observed was interesting. This hawk reminded me of the Snail Kite. The Black-collared Hawk inhabit areas near water but also coffee plantations and even suburban areas. They eat mainly eats fish but also bugs, snails, lizards, and rodents. Look at the bill on this bird, it reminds me of the bill on the Snail Kite, an apple snail specialist. We observed this hawk at Cocha Blanco, an oxbow lake, near the Manu Birding Lodge.

Black-collared Hawk, 12 July 2017.DSCN9999-002

The last notable sighting of a raptor, which isn’t exactly a raptor, was the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture. New World vultures are more closely related to storks thanks to some DNA work years ago. However, most people still lump them in with the raptors. Vultures are sorta like the Rodney Dangerfield of birds I think. They get no respect. They’re ugly for one, and they eat carrion that they see or smell from long distances. They are dependent on other animals to open carcasses due to their weak bills. Greater Yellow-headed Vultures fly and glide very much like the Turkey Vulture, the most common North American vulture. The difference is that they have a yellow head as opposed to the red head of the Turkey Vulture. The bird I photographed below is a juvenile that decided to perch right next to the Manu Birding Lodge on a snag.


Well, that’s it. These species represent our best sightings for raptors (or vultures) in 2016 and 2017 in Peru with Satu (Amazon Birding Peru). We were fortunate to see these birds since many species in Peru are secretive and the dense jungle and forests make detecting raptors even harder. Raptors can be difficult to detect regardless of what continent (except Antarctica–there are no raptors there) you are on. I think I mostly admire raptors because their hunters and survivors. They’re survivors in that many species, especially in North America, migrate great distances, and thus, put their lives at risk for extended periods of time and over great distances. But they’re also cool, variable-sized, beautiful velociraptors with wings. If you watch them enough, you’ll witness their focused hunting prowess. I just can’t get enough of them sometimes. They’re definitely my favorite group of birds.


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