Chiloe and its Migratory Birds
May 9th was World Migratory Bird Day. This day promotes awareness of the importance of the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats, the threats these bird species face, their ecological importance and the need to cooperate in order to protect them.
More than 20 migratory bird species come to Chiloe every year. Some come from the south, others from the north and still others from the Andes Mountains. Their favorite spots are coastal marshes like Pullao Wetlands and evergreen forests, where they build nests, rest and feed.
Migration occurs according to changes in climate, availability of food and reproductive needs. It is a seasonal cycle of comings and goings during which these birds seek to take advantage of favorable conditions in different areas.
Migratory birds can be classified into different groups based on their movements:
Boreal Migration: These species leave their nesting spots in the Arctic to travel thousands of kilometers south during the boreal winter. They even turn up in Tierra del Fuego, meaning they have flown from one side of the world to the other. The following birds from this category can be found in Chiloe:
- Greater yellowlegs (tringa melanoleuca): This bird arrives from the Arctic to South America each summer. In Chiloe it is usually found alone or in small groups eating invertebrates in streams and along the shore in areas with protective plant cover.
- Baird’s sandpiper (calidris bairdii): This frequent visitor arrives to Chiloe in the summer and moves along interior coasts in flocks of 10 to 20 birds. It can also be found along beaches on the open sea.
- Eurasian whimbrel (numenius phaeopus): This is one of the most common migratory species during Chiloe summers. It is usually found alone when on the beach, while it prefers groups of hundreds in marshes. It travels from Alaska and Canada to Tierra del Fuego.
- Hudsonian godwit (limosa haemastica): This is the bird that escapes the boreal forest winter in the largest numbers to come Chiloe. The marshes on the eastern side of the archipelago are its main feeding grounds. An estimated 20% of the world population of Hudsonian godwits is found at Pullao Wetlands.
- Western osprey (pandion haliaetus): This raptor arrives to Chiloe from the southern-central United States in search of fish especially from large inland rivers.
- Ruddy turnstone (arenaria interpres): This is a beautiful, but scarce, Chiloe shorebird. These can be found in small flocks feeding near the water. If you are patient and lucky, you might see them turning over rocks to find their food.
Neotropical Migration: This group migrates from the southern United States, Mexico, Central America and northern South America. The following species can be found in Chiloe:
- White-crested elaenia (elaenia albiceps): This is the only neotropical migratory species that nests in Chiloe during the summer. It arrives in October and leaves the archipelago in April to return to the Amazon in Brazil.
- Black skimmer (rynchops niger): This bird arrives to Chile from the neotropics in October where it spreads out among the marshes of the Archipelago of Chiloe. It is known for leaving a showy wake as it forages in flight.
Austral Migration: This group includes the species that nest in the southern cone, especially in the region of Chilean and Argentine Patagonia. These birds migrate north during the fall and winter months. Birds of this type found in Chiloe are:
- Two-banded plover (charadrius falklandicus): This small shorebird migrates from Tierra del Fuego to Chiloe during the winter. It then returns to extreme southern Chile to nest. Some groups stay in northern areas all year.
- Rufous-chested plover (charadrius modestus): This is one of the most common visitors to the Chiloe coast in winter. It feeds in tidal flats, such as Pullao Wetlands, hunting for invertebrates during the low tide.
- Silvery grebe (podiceps occipitalis): This small, water bird enjoys diving in the waters of the archipelago of Chiloe until October. In the winter, it nests in the freshwater lakes of Patagonia.
- Chilean flamingo (phoenicopterus chilensis): This is definitely one of Chiloe’s most striking migratory birds. It arrives from the Patagonia pampa in autumn and stays until August when it heads back to its inland lake breeding areas.
Altitudinal migration: This group includes species that migrate from and toward the Andes Mountains, central valleys and the coast, where they feed before returning to their breeding areas at higher altitudes. The following species of this type can be found in Chiloe:
- Dark-faced ground tyrant (muscisaxicola macloviana): This bird migrates during winter throughout Chile at different times and in varying directions. Then it returns to the foothills above the tree line for reproduction.
- Grey-flanked cinclodes (cinclodes oustaleti): This bird is often found feeding in urban areas. It travels from the mountains to the coast during the winter and stays there between April and October.
- Patagonia tyrant (colorhamphus parvirostris): This bird migrates from the wooded foothills in southern Chile to the north and sea-level forests to avoid the winter cold and snow. It stays in Chiloe until spring when it returns to its nesting grounds.
It is likely that you will see some of these migratory species during the excursions offered by Tierra Chiloé. If you are interested in birdwatching, our guides are well trained to help you birdwatch in a way that is respectful toward the environment. Whether you are an expert or novice, this experience will connect you to nature in a very special way.