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The Andean Cock-of-the-rock: Peru’s colorful and unique national bird

The Andean Cock-of-the-rock: Peru’s colorful and unique national bird

4 February 2020

What an amazingly beautiful bird! The Andean cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruvianus) is the perfect species to be named as Peru’s national bird. Known as the tunki in Quechua, its playful behavior seems typically Peruvian. It’s brilliant plumage is reminiscent of some of the colorful costumes seen at many Andean festivals.

One of the most impressive Andean birds, this large passerine is found on the eastern slopes of the Andes. There are four sub-species, and their range extends from Venezuela to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Only one other bird shares its species, the Guinean cock-of-the-rock.

It lives in the lush cloud forests that cover Andean mountainsides, between 1,600 to 7,900 ft. (500 to 2,400 m.). Cusco’s cloud forest, especially near Manu National Park, is a top spot for finding them.

A majestic andean bird

One strikingly unique feature of the Andean cock-of-the-rock is its splendid appearance. As with many bird species, the male is more colorful than the female. Its large crest, head, shoulders and chest are a spectacular bright scarlet red to orange, with its lower parts a pale greyish to black color.

The female tends to be a paler brownish-red. At about 13 in. (32 cm.) long, the largest males can weigh up to 11 oz. (300 gr.). 

Breeding

The Andean cock-of-the-rock’s remarkable breeding displays attract birdwatchers from around the world to Peru’s cloud forest. If you’re lucky, as I have been, to see them up close in breeding behavior at one of their forest leks (meeting places), you will never forget it. What a great show they put on! 

The birds gather in the low light of early morning or late afternoon, and the males take up positions on large branches. Then, the biggest males face off and engage in raucous mock battles. They bow, jump, and flap their wings furiously, squawking and grunting at each other.

Smaller males, spectators along the sides, squawk their encouragement, like the crowd at a bird wrestling match. Oh my- is it ever noisy! And funny! They act so tough, like ready for a really badass brawl, yet they never seem to touch.

Meanwhile, the females observe from a distance, sizing them up. At some point, they approach the males and the noise level gets much louder.  Eventually, one of the larger males “wins”, and the chosen females approach him admiringly. Time for bird sex. They fly off into the forest- it’s so romantic! The rest of the males also fly away, to wait for better luck on another day. 

Don’t miss your chance

On your trip to Peru, you might want to visit Cusco’s rainforest to experience seeing the Andean cock-of-the-rock. If you’re a really dedicated birder, you know all about Peru, and you won’t want to miss some of the best opportunities for birdwatching in the world. Why not combine that experience with some of the best treks in the Andes, and visits to the most important Inca archeological sites? And yes, why not this year! 

Please contact us to find out more at andeanlodges.com. We at Andean Lodges will be very happy to make expert arrangements for you and your travel companions to enjoy a great birding experience and much, much more in the region with some of the richest biodiversity on the planet- amazing Cusco!

 

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