Ecuador is a bird-watcher's paradise with over 1,600 identified species of resident and migrant birds. The variety of habitats and compact nature of the country make this a major bird-watching destination. The Galápagos Islands have some 60 recorded bird species, of which 28 are endemic.
White-Throated Toucan -- Ramphastos tucanus -- Also known as the red-billed toucan, this is one of the more common and larger toucan species in Ecuador. It averages around 6 centimeters (2 1/3 in.) in length and weighs around 600 grams (1 1/3 lb.). The bill of the white-throated toucan can be as much as 18 centimeters (7 in.) long. The bill is hollow, yet still heavy enough to affect the bird when it flies, giving it a swooping flight pattern. Toucans do not build nests; instead, they live in hollowed-out sections of tree trunks. Ecuador has related toucan, toucanet, and aracari species. Prime Viewing: Throughout the Amazon basin's lowland forests, nesting in the holes of tree trunks.
Scarlet Macaw -- Ara macao -- Known as guacamaya in Ecuador, the scarlet macaw is a long-tailed member of the parrot family. It can reach 89 centimeters (35 in.) in length. The bird is endangered, particularly because it is so coveted in the pet trade. Its loud squawk and rainbow-colored feathers are quite distinctive; it usually flies in pairs or small flocks, squawking in flight. Prime Viewing: The wet lowland forests of the Amazon basin.
Magnificent Frigate Bird -- Fregata magnificens -- The large magnificent frigate bird is a naturally agile flier and it swoops (unlike other birds, it doesn't dive or swim) to pluck food from the water's surface -- or, more commonly, it steals catch from the mouths of other birds. Frigate birds have a long bill, with a sharp hook at the end. The male possesses a bright red throat pouch, which it inflates as part of its mating ritual. Immature frigate birds have white heads and bellies. Prime Viewing: All coastal regions of Ecuador and on the Galápagos Islands.
Blue-Footed Booby -- Sula nebouxii -- The largest and most emblematic of Ecuador's booby species, the blue-footed booby has bright blue webbed feet. Impervious to human presence, the bird will only move if stepped upon. Their name comes from the Spanish word bobo, which translates roughly as "stupid" or "silly." Boobies are monogamous and have a distinct mating dance. Prime Viewing: On the Galápagos Islands and parts of the Pacific coast, particularly on Isla de la Plata. However, you are most likely to see them on T-shirts saying "I Like Boobies."
Osprey -- Pandion haliatus -- These large (.6m/2 ft., with a 1.8m/6-ft. wingspan) brownish birds with white heads are also known as "fishing eagles." In flight, the wings of an osprey "bend" backward. Prime Viewing: Throughout Ecuador, although predominantly near freshwater lakes, rivers, and coastal estuaries. Also found on the Galápagos Islands.
Laughing Falcon -- Herpetotheres cachinnans -- The laughing falcon gets its name from its loud, piercing call. This largish (56cm/22 in.) bird of prey has a wingspan that reaches an impressive 94 centimeters (37 in.). It specializes in eating both venomous and nonvenomous snakes, but will also hunt lizards and small rodents. Prime Viewing: Throughout the country up to around 2,400m (7,8874 ft.).
Hoatzin -- Opisthocomidae hoazin -- The hoatzin is believed to be an ancient species, closely related to very early bird species. Infant hoatzin actually have vestigial claws on their wings and can swim, although they lose both the claws and the ability to swim after a few weeks. The hoatzin is locally known as "smelly bird," or "stink turkey," because it has a strong, unpleasant odor. Despite its size, and thanks to its smell, the hoatzin has never been prized as a food source, widely hunted, or captured for the exotic-pet trade. Prime Viewing: Throughout the Amazon basin. Often found on low branches near rivers, streams, and lagoons. They have a loud, raucous cry.
Andean Cock-of-the-Rock -- Rupicola peruvianus -- This midsize bird can reach up to 28 centimeters (11 in.). The male cock-of-the-rock features striking scarlet and orange plumage, and a large crest over its beak. The female has a duller coloring and smaller crest. This bird nests on rock walls, from which it gets its name. Prime Viewing: Midlevel cloud forests on both slopes of the Andes, although those on either side of the Continental Divide are considered to be of separate subspecies.
Andean Condor -- Vultur gryphus -- A member of the vulture family, the Andean condor is the largest flying bird on the planet, with a wingspan of around 3m (9 3/4 ft.). In prehistoric days, the condor feasted on the carcasses of wooly mammoths. The bird nearly went extinct owing to lack of food, but was saved when Spanish settlers introduced wide-scale ranching throughout the Andean region. Today, however, the condor is again endangered -- fewer than 100 are believed to exist in Ecuador. Prime Viewing: High-elevation Andean paramo nationwide, above 3,000m (9,843 ft.).
Yellow-Rumped Cacique -- Cacicus cela -- This is a midsize black bird with brilliant yellow plumage on its back and shoulders. Caciques weave large hanging nests and have several loud and distinct calls. (Some of these calls could be used as sound effects for modern video games.) This bird tends to nest in large colonies. Prime Viewing: Lowland moist and dry forests on both coasts, especially common throughout the Amazon basin.
Galápagos Penguin -- Spheniscus mendiculus -- A rare and endangered flightless bird, the Galápagos penguin is endemic to the Galápagos Islands and is the only tropical penguin species in the world. Prime Viewing: Galápagos Islands, predominantly on Isabela and Fernandina, although smaller populations are found on Bartolomé, Santiago, and Floreana. A truly lucky visitor will see one while snorkeling.
Flightless Cormorant -- Nannopterum harrisi -- Endemic to the Galápagos Islands, this is the only cormorant species in the world to lack the ability to fly. This bird compensates with webbed feet and superb swimming abilities. Also called the Galápagos cormorant, this is one of the largest cormorant species, reaching lengths of up to 100 centimeters (39 in.). Prime Viewing: Galápagos Islands, on Fernandina and Isabela.