New Updated Guide to Ecuador’s Birds

New, Updated Guide to Ecuador’s Birds New, updated guide to Ecuador’s birds
McMullan’s illustrations
Miles McMullan, authorMiles McMullan, author of Birds of Ecuador Field Guide

Miles McMullan, author
Miles McMullan, author

As popular interest in South American birds has exploded in recent years, so has the demand for high-quality guide books to accompany birders in the field. One of the most impressive efforts to meet this need, Fieldbook of the Birds of Ecuador, was released by Rainforest Trust partner Jocotoco earlier this year.

The pocket-sized field guide, written by Lelis Navarrete and illustrated by Miles McMullan, breaks new ground by combining the birds of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands together in a single volume for the first time.

It also offers timely updates on the status of Ecuador’s birds. Over thirty new bird species have been discovered in Ecuador in recent years, and these are included. Similarly, the Fieldbook of the Birds of Ecuador reflects new scientific understandings of species’ range, behavior, and habitat requirements.

New species, along with Ecuador’s already legendary diversity of birds, are represented in over 4,000 illustrations, many never before published. Accompanying these plates, which include major plumages for each species, are concise physical descriptions, identification notes, range maps, and updates on distribution and conservation status.

“This is one of the most beautifully illustrated and compact field guides in the tropics,” said Rainforest Trust CEO, Dr. Paul Salaman. “No visitor to Ecuador should be without this guide.”

Fieldbook of the Birds of Ecuador builds upon the pioneering standard set by Dr. Robert Ridgely’s Birds of Ecuador, originally published in 2001. And like Birds of Ecuador, the new guidebook was created, in part, with the aim of protecting Ecuador’s bird species – many of which face grave threats due to habitat destruction.

In his introduction, Dr. Ridgely explains the important role guide books can play for conservation: “Little bird books may not seem like much of a contribution, but bird books like these open eyes, one pair at a time.”

McMullan, whose colorful illustrations fill the pages of Fieldbook of the Birds of Ecuador, approached the project with a similar goal in mind.

“The book is designed to be an accessible, yet comprehensive reference in a popular non-scholastic format,” he said. “I wanted to create a popular and affordable book that can act as an introduction for people, including young Ecuadorians living in rural areas where the conservation message is most urgent.”

To birders travelling to Ecuador with the new guide book, McMullan offers a simple piece of advice: “Relax and enjoy it.”

You can purchase your copy from

(Excluding postage costs, all proceeds from book sales will go toward Fundacion Jocotoco’s conservation efforts in Ecuador.)


Maps Give Fresh Perspective on Rainforest Trust Reserves

The Rainforest Trust conservation team is not deterred by a little rain. We work in some of the wettest places on earth and it shows on the satellite images. For years, Google Earth images of our project sites have been obscured by the nearly ever-present rain clouds that keep these bio-diverse areas thriving. For our conservation team, which has come to rely on Google Earth images to survey impacts in and around reserves, as well as examine potential project sites, these clouds are a mixed blessing.

“There are many critically important areas in Colombia and Ecuador that have remained in a state of semi-mystery to us due to the persistence of clouds,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust.  “Trying to peer through those clouds on Google Earth can grow pretty frustrating.”

One evening a few weeks ago, however, Salaman turned on his computer, loaded Google Earth, and was stunned to find the sun shining on all of South America – even on the most rain-choked of mountain ranges.

“I nearly fell out of my seat. This was the view I had been dreaming of for years,” said Salaman.

Salaman’s surprise was the result of Google Earth’s June 26 release of a new, much improved map of the entire earth.

Based upon NASA’s 2002 Blue Marble map of the world, Google’s newly-released map, a massive collage of recent satellite images, offers a level of resolution far beyond the capability of its predecessor. Compared to the old image, which displayed data at half a kilometer per pixel, the new map contains fifteen meters per pixel and offers far greater clarity. According to Google, you would need a piece of paper the size of an average city block to print the 800,000 megapixel image.

To produce the new, clear skies featured on its map, Google patched together sets of cloud-free data.

These new images will have an immediate and profound effect on Rainforest Trust’ conservation efforts.

“For years, we’ve been working in two sites, Las Tangaras and Buenaventura, which are found in the Chocó Region. This area, located near the border of Colombia and Ecuador, is inundated with rain almost all year, and, as a result, the Google Earth images of it have been badly obscured by clouds. So, as far as what was happening on the ground, there wasn’t much we could see. But now, with the new maps, we can examine the reserve without even a wisp of cloud to block the view. The difference is amazing,” Salaman said.

Along with the increase in clarity come updated maps for several parts of the world, as well. Some of these, including remote areas in Brazil that have suffered recent deforestation, will be extremely useful for Rainforest Trust.

“While we know that clandestine logging is probably taking place, without images to prove and pinpoint it we’re limited in what we can do. Now, in a matter of seconds we can scan entire reserve boundaries and keep constant watch on activities in even the most hard-to-reach corners of the globe,” said Salaman.

“This is a huge benefit of satellite images; they give us a glimpse of remote places that would take us days, or sometimes even weeks, to reach otherwise. For decades the lack of good images in the Northern Andes and Chocó Region has been a major concern for conservationists,” he added.
In addition, satellite images also provide conservationists with the perspective needed to grasp large scale land change that can be used to help predict future developments.

“Being on the ground tells you one story, but seeing things from the air can tell you another one. Satellite images help give us a big picture look at the areas we look in. This is crucial because it allows us to see trends in agriculture or grazing and identify areas that are most vulnerable to expansion,” Salaman explained. “That way we get there before the destruction happens.”
Want to learn more? Watch this video:

Colombia’s Parrot Protectors

Yellow-eared Parrot
Artificial nests
Yellow-eared Parrot

Growing up twenty-five years ago on her family’s farm deep in Colombia’s Andean highlands, Alba Lucia Morales was often tasked with keeping hungry parrot flocks away from her father’s corn crop. Although the large flocks of Yellow-eared Parrots, which descended like green clouds, could devour his harvest if left undisturbed, Alba’s father, unlike other farmers, did not kill them. Instead, he took his daughter to the fields and taught her to build scarecrows and plastic snares that snapped in the wind to keep the birds away.

Though she still lives in the mountains of Colombia’s Antioquia Department, much has changed since Alba’s scarecrow-building days. She is now a single mother raising two boys of her own, and of the many difficulties she faces, fending off groups of Yellow-eared Parrots  is not one. The large flocks of forty or more birds she often witnessed as a child have become memories.

Lacking a formal ecological training, the loss of the parrots was a mystery to Alba. Nevertheless, after spending so much time among the gregarious birds growing up she keenly felt their absence.

As it turned out, the disappearance had much to do with the rich growing soils found in Colombia’s Central Andes. Farmers and herders, enticed by these productive soils, cleared ninety-five percent of the original forest in this part of the country. With the forest gone – especially the towering wax palm upon which the Yellow-eared Parrot depends for nesting sites and food – its population went into what looked like a terminal spin. During a 1999 census, only eighty-one of this species, endemic to Colombia, were counted.

With the Yellow-eared Parrot teetering on the brink of extinction, our Colombian partner ProAves jumped into action and began a long-term project to save the species. With our support, ProAves was able to buy and save 7,448 acres of critical habitat as part of a fourteen-mile-long Yellow-eared Parrot Conservation Corridor. With the creation of a reserve and the installation of artificial nesting boxes (necessitated by the lack of mature wax palms) the Yellow-ear Parrot population rebounded. With current population tallies at approximately 1,500, the parrot’s comeback has become one of Latin America’s great conservation success stories.

Much of this success is due to the support of local people that participated in protecting the bird. Perhaps none more than Alba and her sons.

To support her two sons, Martín and Octavio, Alba works as an administrator on the El Imperio farm, which is adjacent to ProAve’s Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve, but nearly all her free time is dedicated to the parrots. She volunteers to lead tourists to the parrot’s nests, has worked on securing the reserve’s borders, and has taught herself much about the local flora and fauna, which she eagerly shares with visitors.

“Before the reserve was mainly visited by researchers, but Alba’s support has made it possible for tourists and a lot of non-academic visitors to see the parrot and support its conservation. In that way she has helped build a whole new group of supporters,” said Alejandro Grajales, a staff member on ProAves’ conservation team.

While Alba’s daily responsibilities at the reserve are important, her greatest contribution may wind up being her role in sparking interest and support for the Yellow-eared Parrot. Her gift of connecting people with the parrots is unmatched. After serving guests a hot cup of coffee or tea to fend off the mountain cold, she personally escorts many tourists to the nesting site, spilling information and enthusiasm along the way.

“For her there is nothing more satisfying than helping people see the parrots and leave with a smile on their faces,” Grajales noted.
Alba’s quest to protect the parrots is more than a personal mission. Her passion has inspired another generation of supporters – principally her sons – to continue the project. In educating her boys, she took her father’s message of respect for the parrots a step farther and has imparted them both with a love of nature and a sense of responsibility towards the surrounding landscape. These lessons have already produced results.

Like his mother, Martín, who is 15, spends his free-time guiding tourists and helping to protect the parrots. After several years of bird watching, Martín developed a strong interest in photography and now spends many of his evenings photographing the parrots.

Adopting the hobby was not easy. With the savings from several months of labor in hand, Martín, who works as a laborer at El Imperio , was forced last year to choose between his growing interest in photography and the practical necessities of farm life. Urged by others to buy a cow and calf, Martín declined and instead used the money to buy the digital camera he uses now.

Alba’s younger son, twelve-year-old Octavio, attends school in a nearby town during the week, but joins Martín on the weekends to explore the reserve and lead tourists. (Due to the costs involved, Alba was faced with the tough choice of choosing one son to attend school; she chose Octavio.) According to Grajales, the two boys, whom he describes as “emerging environmentalists,” are the best guides to visit the reserve with.

With the Yellow-eared Parrot population now rebounding, Alba is pleased with the results; but she hasn’t lessened her efforts. The parrots, which have yet to return in the numbers she saw as a child, remain an endangered species and agricultural expansion is a constant threat to unprotected parrot habitat. Meanwhile, starting with her two boys, Alba continues to build support for the parrots one visitor at a time.

View photos of the reserve and Alba’s family by clicking here.

To watch Alba and Martín tell their own story, please click on the video below.