Yellow Rumped Cacique; Photo by Helmy Oved

Birds Of The Pantanal Tours

Yellow Rumped Cacique; Photo by Helmy Oved

15 Spectacular Species To Watch For

The Brazilian Pantanal is world-renowned for its extraordinary biodiversity. The wildlife of the Pantanal includes some 236 mammal species, 80 species of reptiles, and an incredible 1000+ endemic and migratory bird species. Here are a few of our favorite birds to watch for when you travel on International Expeditions’ Pantanal tours (including Brazil: Jaguars & Rainforest):  

1. Brazilian Teal

This beautiful duck is found in freshwater lakes, marshes, and ponds throughout much of eastern South America. Its grey-brown body is offset by brilliant blue, green, and teal shades on the wing, and males have a red bill. They usually nest on mounds of plant matter in or near water, and occasionally in tree hollows.

Brazilian Teal by Dario Sanches

2. Buff-necked Ibis

Brazil has numerous ibis species, but the buff-necked ibis is arguably among the most striking and commonly seen. It’s found in a wide range of habitats (savanna, open forest, and around water) and has diverse nesting areas (swamps, reeds, rocks, woods, etc). They’re identified by their bright, buff-tinged heads, black underparts, and red legs.

Buff-necked Ibis

3. Capped Heron

This gorgeous water bird is endemic to the neotropics and found from central Panama to southern Brazil. It’s noteworthy for its brilliant blue and pink peak, bright yellow feathers on its neck and underbelly, and long, skinny plumes coming off its head, which make it look like a distant cousin to Africa’s secretary bird.

Capped Heron By Ron Magill

4. Chaco Chachalaca

Endemic to central South America, this plain but unusual bird looks a bit like an elongated chicken. Mostly dark brown on top with a lighter brown to buff underneath, Chaco chachalaca’s only vivid color comes from a tiny red wattle. It’s primarily a vegetarian, feeding on seeds and fruit, but has been known to eat the occasional caterpillar.

Chaco Chachalaca By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE - Chaco Chachalaca (Ortalis canicollis), CC BY-SA 2.0

5. Great Potoo

These weird birds, which look like owls but are more closely related to nightjars and frogmouths, are masters of camouflage. Their unusually large heads and mottled brown and grey feathers allow them to spend the day perched on stumps or branches, virtually unnoticeable with the naked eye. The largest of the potoos has a unique moaning call that sounds haunting at night.

Chaco Chachalaca By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE - Chaco Chachalaca (Ortalis canicollis), CC BY-SA 2.0

6. Greater Rhea

Like their cousins, the ostrich and emu, these big (around 4’11” tall on average) birds have small heads and bills and long necks and legs, with spotted brown and white feathers. Native to eastern South America and weighing around 60 pounds, the greater rhea has large wings that help them run at speeds up to 37 miles per hour.

Greater Rhea

7. Guira Cuckoo

Related to the anis, the guira cuckoo is commonly found in open and semi-open habitats in eastern South America, mostly in flocks ranging from 6 to 18 birds. Measuring around 13 inches long, these birds are identified by their orange-rufous crest, orange-yellow bill, dark brown uppers, whitish-buff underparts, and a long, dark brown tail tipped with white.

Guira Cuckoo

8. Hyacinth Macaw

One of five species of macaw found in the Pantanal, hyacinth macaws are usually found in pairs as they generally mate for life. Currently classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN, the bright blue bird boasts yellow markings around the eye and beak and is both the largest macaw and the longest species of parrot (over 3 feet from head to tip of tail).

Hyacinth Macaw

9. Jabiru Stork

This beautiful (yet awkward) bird is the second largest flying bird in the Americas after the Andean Condor. They can often be seen stomping away at muddy shallows of water in the Pantanal, hoping to force insects to the surface for feeding. The Jabiru can grow as tall as 55 inches and have a wingspan as large as nine feet.

Jabiru Stork

10. Laughing Falcon

This bad-ass bird of prey is mistakenly known as the snake hawk, but it does specialize in catching and eating snakes (including highly venomous species such as the coral snake. Measuring 18 to 22 inches long, with a 31 to 37-inch wingspan, it has a pale buff head with a broad black face mask. The loud, laughing call for which it is named sounds surprisingly human-like.

Laughing Falcon By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE - Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans), CC BY-SA 2.0

11. Monk Parakeet

Also known as the Quaker parrot, this vivid green bird is so common, it’s considered an agricultural pest in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Their population explosion is partly due to the expansion of eucalyptus forests for paper pulp: This gives them a protected place to build their stick nests and plunder cornfields. They’re commonly kept as domestic pets, where their colors may differ.

Monk Parakeet

12. Plush-crested Jay

As its name indicates, this bold bird’s most distinguishing characteristic is its cool, crested coiffe. Its brilliantly colored body is predominately cobalt blue, with streaks of lighter blue above its eye, streaming back from its beak, and on its neck. The yellow eyes are matched by a creamy yellow breast, underwing, and wing tip.

Plush-crested Jay

13. Rufous-tailed Jacamar

This New World near-passerine bird is found throughout much of Latin America, from Mexico down to southern Brazil. Measuring around 10 inches long with a 2-inch black bill, they resemble elongated hummingbirds. These attractive insectivores are metallic green on top, mostly orange below, with a green breast band, a white throat on males, and a buff throat on females.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

14. Southern Crested Caracara

Found throughout around 75% of South America, this brilliant bird of prey is the second largest species of falcon in the world (average 20 to 26 inches long, 2 to 3.5 pounds, with a 47 to 52-inch wingspan). They’re mostly dark brown, with yellow-orange legs and bill, white throat and nape, and white/brown-barred chest, mantle and tail. Look for them scavenging along the ground.

Southern Crested Caracara

15. Toco Toucan

The largest of the 40 species in the toucan family at up to 29 inches tall, the toco (a.k.a. common or giant) toucan ranks among the most beloved birds you’re likely to see during Brazilian Pantanal tours. Its colorful plumage includes a white throat and chest, eyes ringed with blue and orange, and a huge (6- to 9-inch) yellow-orange bill with a black base and spot on its tip. –Bret Love

Toco Toucan

BIO: Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism/conservation website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.