Birding Santiago de Chile
Located near the base of the mighty Andes and only one and a half hour drive from the rugged and beautiful Pacific coast, the cosmopolitan city of Santiago de Chile is a pleasant base for some excellent and diverse birding. In just a couple of days, you can expect to see 100-130 species, including seven of the 12 Chilean endemics. There are several great birding sites covering a variety of habitats, within an hour or two hour of the Chilean capital. And one great site just 10km from the city centre.
Habitats, climate, and seasonality
Centrally located in a long, slender country, Santiago enjoys a Mediterranean-type climate with winter rainfall, warm summers and cool winters; a combination that makes birding easy and pleasurable. Spring (September–November) is the most productive time to bird Santiago. Local specialities are more active at this season, and the resident avifauna are supplemented by Neotropical migrants. Birding can be good in winter (April–September), although the highlands are inaccessible and almost devoid of birds. The four main birding habitats are: Mediterranean matorral shrublands, freshwater wetlands, the higher elevation alpine zone in the Andes and the coast.
Parque MahuidaA is an excellent birding destination that lies 10km from the centre of Santiago and comprises matorral habitat. It is best visited early on a weekday as it is crowded on weekends. The park is easily reached by public transport: take the metro to Plaza Egaña station, then take a D02 bus (bus stop is from Avenida Ossa, on the same side as you exit the metro) or taxi to the end of Avenida Larrain. A wide trail ascends the park, passing through some very good matorral scrub, in the general direction of a tall red-and-white antenna.
Within the first kilometre of this trail, it is possible to see four of the seven country endemics present in central Chile! You should easily see Chilean Mockingbird (Mimus thenca) — now only near-endemic, as the species has recently been discovered in Argentina — and Moustached Turca (Pteroptochos megapodius), which are both common. Dusky-tailed Canastero (Asthenes humicola) and White-throated Tapaculo (Scelorchilus albicollis) prefer tall and dense scrub. Only the luckiest birder will see Chilean Tinamou (Nothoprocta pericaria), although, as with so many members of this family, chances of hearing one are high.
Other species to look out for include Austral Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium nanum), Giant Hummingbird (Patagonas gigas) — spring–summer only, Striped Woodpecker (Picoides lignarius) and the nominate subspecies of Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail (Leptasthenura aegithaloides). The stunning Rufous-tailed Plantcutter (Phytotoma rara) also occurs here, although it can also be seen in gardens and municipal parks within Santiago. Check the skies for circling raptors such as Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle (Geranoaetus melanoleucus), Harris' Hawk (Parabueto unicinctus) and even the rare Bicolored (Chilean) Hawk (Accipiter bicolor chilensis), during migration periods and winter.
The park is open from Tuesday to Sunday, opening at 09:00 on Tuesdays to Thursdays and at 08:00 on other days. The park closes late (22:00 or midnight, depending on the day), enabling birders to look for Band-winged Nightjar (Caprimulgus longirostris) at and after dusk. The entrance fee is c.US$0.50 pp and US$3 per vehicle.
This article is an extract from Fabrice Schmitt's article “Capital birding: Santiago de Chile”, published in Neotropical Birding 6 in Spring 2010.
Fabrice is a bird guide working mainly for Manu Expeditions.
Click here for details of Neotropical Birding magazine, which has a great series on urban birding in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The magazine is published twice-yearly by the Neotropical Bird Club and is available as part of membership of the Club. Sign up to read the full Santiago article!
Chilean Mockingbird (Mimus thenca) is almost endemic and common in central Chile
(F. Schmitt — Manu Expeditions)
Chilean Tinamou (Nothoprocta pericaria) is heard but rarely seen (F. Schmitt — Manu Expeditions)
Moustached Turca (Pteroptochos megapodius) is a large tapaculo endemic to Chile
(M. López — www.mauriciolopez.cl)
Stunning Rufous-tailed Plantcutter (Phytotoma rara) can be seen in gardens & municipal parks of Santiago (J. C. Lowen — www.pbase.com/james_lowen)
Keep eyes on the skies for circling Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles (Geranoaetus melanoleucus)
(J. C. Lowen — www.pbase.com/james_lowen)