Paz de las Aves - Antpittas like you have never seen them before

Published by Mark Gurney (mgobc AT

Participants: Mark Gurney


Ángel Paz opened his forest reserve in the summer of 2005. The initial attraction was a lek of Andean Cocks-of-the-rock, which could be seen after a fifteen minute downhill walk along a trail. Now the star attractions are the antpittas, which have become accustomed to taking worms and will come in to Ángel's calls. He started with a Giant Antpitta, which he had seen taking crabs and other large invertebrates. This observation led him to think that the antpittas were carnivorous, and bought some meat for them. The next time he found a bird he threw some mince for it, but it did not seem interested. After trying caterpillars and other insects, he found that worms were the preferred food. At first the birds were shy and took the food nervously, but over a period of months Ángel gained their confidence and they eventually took worms from his hands. When I first visited the site in October 2005 I saw one Giant Antpitta, which came hopping along the trail towards us, then waited around while Ángel's cousin dug for worms to feed it. Within a few weeks, Ángel had two more Giant Antpittas coming in to eat worms, and before the end of the year they were joined by Moustached and Yellow-breasted Antpittas.

At other sites in the area these birds are some of the hardest to see. With luck, Moustached and Giant can be found by walking forest trails, but you may have to put in many hours before you come across one. They do sometimes come to feeding spots like compst heaps, but their appearance at these seems to be rather erratic. Yellow-breasted is very unobtrusive, but it does sometimes come out on to trails at dawn or dusk — setting out before first light will greatly improve your chances. The best way to look for these species is to walk the trails and pay attention to what is on the ground ahead. I have had much more success by doing this than by using sound recordings. The birds usually respond to recordings by calling back from their song perch in the thickest cover. At Paz de las Aves, any visitor is very likely to see all three species easily even if they are at the back of a group, and on my last visit five of us were treated to seven individual antpittas: two Giants, four Yellow-breasteds, and a Moustached. The birds can be seen at any time during the morning, so you do not need a dawn start and you can appreciate them in good light rather than the gloom of dawn.

The network of trails is extensive, and if you have time to explore them there are plenty of other birds to be found. The forest is home to most of the typical cloudforest birds of the area, including specialties such as Toucan Barbet, Olivaceous Piha, and Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager.

To visit Paz de las Aves you will need to make a reservation with Ángel to make sure that someone is there to take you to the birds and guide you along the trails. He can be contacted on +593 2 2116243 (you will need to be able to speak some Spanish). Tropical Birding can arrange a visit as part of their tours, and lodges in the area should be able to make arrangements for their guests. He currently charges $5 per visitor, or $7 with coffee and a snack (usually one of his wife's very nice cheese bolones). The farm is located several kilometres up a rough track on the left side of the main paved road from Quito to La Independencia, about half-way between Nanegalito and the turn to Mindo. The track entrance is on a bend about a hundred metres before km 66, and Ángel can meet you in Nanegalito or at the entrance to make sure you do not get lost. Buses from Quito pass here frequently, and there are drivers for hire in Nanegalito, but it is worth asking Ángel if he himself has transport available. If you are taking your own vehicle you may need high clearance and 4WD in wet conditions. Ángel does not allow flash photography because this scares the birds, so please respect this. With a tripod you will be able to get good photos in natural light - see the World Rarities gallery and my gallery at