Four of the best birdwatching destinations

From clay-eating parrots to exotic hummingbirds, and the evolutionary extremes of New Zealand to the inhabitants of the Danube Delta, put these birdwatching destinations on your wish list.

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BBC Wildlife Magazine travel supplement, March 2014.

Cloud Forest, Ecuador and Peru

Big isn’t always best. If there is a tendency in the wildlife world to celebrate all that is huge, fast or numerous, then highlighting the tiny hummingbird here hopefully goes some way to redressing the balance.

Hummingbirds are found in the Caribbean and all over North, South and Central America, and while there can be no ‘best place’ to see them, the cloud forests of Ecuador and Peru are certainly hotspots.

If you have never witnessed the extraordinary territorial battles of the collared Incas competing over a nectar source – even artificial feeders, as happens in eco-lodges throughout the Americas – then book yourself on the next flight out.

 

Danube Delta, Romania

It’s difficult to pick out a single place as having Europe’s greatest bird spectacle, but the Danube Delta certainly stands up to scrutiny.

For a start some half-a-million white-fronted geese overwinter here, but the presence of just 45,000 or so red-breasted geese is, in many ways, more remarkable. For this is almost the entire population of the species, and with their gorgeous chestnut, black and white markings, these are birds that demand to be noticed and admired.

White-tailed eagles can also be seen on the Danube Delta, and it’s not as if life fades away in the spring and summer either – that’s when great white egrets and Dalmatian and white pelicans breed here, making it worth a visit year-round.

 

Tiritiri Matangi, New Zealand

New Zealand used to have some of the world’s most remarkable avian fauna, thanks to the absence of terrestrial mammals. But then the Europeans arrived, bringing species that the native birds had never seen before and couldn’t adapt to.

Today the full richness of the country’s biodiversity can only be truly experienced on its islands, and Tiritiri Matangi is one of the best examples.

Endemics you’ll see include a swamphen called the takahe–, a forest parrot named the ka–ka– and the wattlebird known as the ko–kako.

There are little spotted kiwis, too, but since the creature is nocturnal sightings are harder to come by.

 

Manu National Park, Peru

An exposed, not overly picturesque clay bank in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon isn’t the most obvious location for a famous wildlife spectacle.

However, here in south-eastern Peru is one of the best places to witness the famous clay licks, where thousands of macaws, parrots and parakeets gather each day to eat dirt – as many as a dozen species are known to visit these banks.

Scientists who have studied the birds’ behaviour believe that the minerals within the clay help to neutralise the natural toxicity of their diet, while the high sodium content may also be beneficial.

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