Colombia is not only home to nearly 20% of all avian life on the planet but this birding mecca also accommodates an incredibly high percentage of highly sought after species. Nearly 80 species are endemic and found nowhere else in the world. Moreover, Colombia remains the best destination to see many species that are very tough to find elsewhere in South America.

On a recent filming excursion to Colombia, we focused on the tanagers and hummingbirds of this bountiful country. But we just could not ignore the plentiful antpitta species too. Rio Blanco, the first site on our journey, is renowned for its antpitta sightings. But even though we were aware of the near-legendary status of this site for some tough antpitta species, we had no idea that we would be able to nail down such radical species like Bi-colored, Slate-crowned, Brown-banded and Chestnut-naped Antpittas in a couple of days.

The Chestnut-crowned Antpitta is one of the most beautiful in the family

The endemic Brown-banded Antpitta is rather drab but far from common

The uncommon Chestnut-naped Antpitta is only found in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia

The vulnerable Bi-colored Antpitta was only discovered in 1999 in Ecuador. The best place to see the bird is without doubt Rio Blanco in Colombia

Colombia holds some 120-plus different tanager species. Whilst a few of these tanager species migrate to North America, most species are sedentary and many of them have very fragmented and small ranges. Without doubt one of the highlights of any birding trip to the neotropics is a large mixed flock of tanagers and we came across several large flocks, some containing close to twenty different tanager species.

A mixed flock of tanagers is always a multi-colored treat

A Blue-necked Tanager

Even in the rain, this Blue-winged Mountain Tanager is radiant

A Scrub Tanager

The stunning Blue-capped Tanager

A Saffron-crowned Tanager

Female Flame-rumped Tanager

Our mission was to try and film two species of tanagers that are both endemic and rare. These species can be found around Mount Montezuma , a site better known for a bloody battle between rebel and government forces. But today this area is peaceful and contains some delightful avian secrets.

Our humble dwelling close to Montezuma

Filming after finding one of Colombia’s rarest tanagers

The two endemic Colombian tanagers that can be found here are the vulnerable Black-and-Gold Tanager and the endangered Gold-ringed Tanager. The Black-and-Gold can be found at lower elevations than the Gold-ringed but their ranges do overlap slightly. Both are beautiful, fairly large species. The Gold-ringed Tanager has a diagnostic yellow ring around its face and, after a few hours of trekking through continuous rain, we managed to track down two of these rare tanagers. This sighting was closely followed by a nice view of a Black-and-Gold Tanager. We were so focused on filming that we did not manage to get any photos but feel free to watch the full show below to get a gander at these two rare tanager species.

But if Colombia is famous for its tanagers, it is just as well known for its hummingbirds and we spent many hours filming these gorgeous birds. My favorite (and I’m not the only one) is the Sword-billed Hummingbird. The name says it all Ensifera ensifera – from the Latin “to wield a sword”. This is the only bird in the world that has a bill longer than its body, so long in fact that it has to groom itself with its feet! But perhaps even more astounding than the sword-wielder is the pure diversity of hummingbirds in Colombia – from tiny woodstars to Giant Hummingbirds.

A Sword-billed Hummingbird in flight

A Green Violetear

A feeding Collared Inca

The rather inappropriately-named White-necked Jacobin

The tiny, bee-like Purple-throated Woodstar

But of all the hummingbirds found in Colombia, perhaps the strangest of them all is the Bearded Helmetcrest. This high elevation hummingbird is best searched for in Los Nevados National Park. Tiny-billed with large feet, a mohican hairdo and a radiant bib, this little stunner is unmissable on a trip to this fantastic country.

Los Nevados National Park is an area of breathtaking beauty

A Bearded Helmetcrest in Los Nevados National Park

A male Bearded Helmetcrest

Here is the full episode featuring the antpittas, tanagers and hummingbirds. Enjoy!

All images courtesy of Richard Crossley.

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Written by James
A life-long birder and native of South Africa, James Currie has many years experience in the birding and wildlife tourism arenas. James has led professional wildlife and birding tours for 15 years and his passion for birding and remote cultures has taken him to far corners of the earth from the Amazon and Australia to Africa and Madagascar. He is also an expert in the field of sustainable development and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in African Languages and a Masters degree in Sustainable Environmental Management. From 2004-2007 James worked as the Managing Director of Africa Foundation, a non-profit organization that directs its efforts towards the uplifting of communities surrounding wildlife areas in Africa. James is currently the host and owner of Nikon's Birding Adventures TV and he resides in West Palm Beach, Florida.