Wildlife Wednesday: Peru’s Andean Cock-of-the-rock

Rainforest Trust

Nov 11, 2015

Species

  • A male Andean Cock-of-the-rock displaying its prominent crest. Photo by Chad King
  • Andean Cocks-of-the-rock inhabit the mid-levels of trees. Photo by Garrett Huffman

Andean cocks-of-the-rock look like phoenixes dipped in ash, with brilliant orange heads and blackened wings and tails. No other bird quite epitomizes the amazing biodiversity of Peru, and Andean cocks-of-the-rock have come to symbolize the natural treasures of the nation. In celebration of the creation of Sierra del Divisor National Park as a major accomplishment in Peru, no bird better fits the spotlight than Peru’s national bird, the Andean cock-of-the-rock.

Native to the Andean cloud forests of South America, the Andean cock-of-the-rock has four subspecies spread over their eponymous mountain range from Venezuela to Bolivia. It typically inhabits the lower and middle forest levels but, when hungry, can be found foraging in the canopy for fruit. Generally shy, it tends to avoid contact with humans, and to see one in the wild is a true treat.

Like many birds, the Andean cock-of-the-rock exhibits major sexual dimorphism, with the males possessing a prominent crest on their heads that threaten to engulf their faces. This permanent fashionable “hat” is all the rage with the much-drabber females, and it is used in mating displays, in which the males gather at dawn and compete to impress potential mates. In these early morning rituals, the males show off their vibrant plumage and emit strange calls that sound like something from a horror movie, bobbing to and fro as they engage with rival males.

But their display is all for show, as the Andean cock-of-the-rock is a negligent father. He leaves the females he mates with to raise their young alone. The female will lay two pearly white eggs in cup-shaped nests constructed from her spit, vegetation, and mud. The mother must protect her young from birds of prey, big cats, and boa constrictors. Even human pose a threat, as they occasionally take young cocks-of-the-rock from the wild to become exotic pets.

The Andean cock-of-the-rock is a spectacular sight to behold, and its shy nature makes finding it in the wild like embarking on a treasure hunt. With its vibrant displays, even brighter plumage, and odd morphology, it is a bird that will continue to fascinate as more is learned about its elusive behavior.